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Running the Formidable Drakensberg Grand Traverse

A view of the Drakensberg Grand Traverse

The Drakensberg Grand Traverse is considered the ultimate Drakensberg hike. Stretching approximately 220 kilometres from the north's Sentinel car park to the south's Bushman's Nek Border Post, it's a challenging trek that typically takes strong hikers anywhere between six to 10 days to complete due to the steep and rocky terrain.

However, Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel had a different plan - to run it in under three days. Their goal was to claim the title and break the previous record of 60 hours, 29 minutes, and 30 seconds. To achieve this, they had to travel on foot, carrying all their own gear without any form of support along the way. It was a battle against both the mountain elements and the clock. Fortunately, they were equipped with a YB Tracker, allowing real-time tracking of their progress.

Hikers have been crossing the entire Drakensberg range for decades, but in February 1999, brothers Gavin and Laurie Raubenheimer completed the route in an impressive 4 days, 9 hours, and 39 minutes (105h 39m), establishing the recognised challenge. Since then, this record had been surpassed three times as new challengers evolved their strategies, transitioning from traditional hiking to speed hiking and eventually adventure racing.

Sandes and Griesel's attempt marked the first known venture with a pure running focus. The most recent record of 60h 29m 30s was set by Ryno Griesel and Cobus van Zyl in April 2010. They approached the route with an adventure racing strategy, maintaining a steady pace through power hiking and jogging whenever the terrain allowed. Their only breaks were a four-hour sleep near Champagne Castle and another three-hour sleep after Thabana Ntlenyana. With favorable weather conditions, they managed to complete the route in a faster time than Andrew Porter did on his solo attempt the previous year.

The runners' primary concern is always the weather. Based on experience and research, March is considered the period with the lowest likelihood of snowfalls or rainstorms. However, it's notorious for mist and heavy cloud along the escarpment edge, which could potentially lead to navigation challenges and hinder rescue operations in emergency situations.

Introducing the runners taking on this epic challenge

Ryan Sandes is renowned as one of the most accomplished ultra trail racers worldwide, having emerged victorious in endurance mountain events across every continent. In 2008, he triumphed in both the Gobi Desert and Sahara stage races, followed by a first-place finish in the Atacama Desert marathon in Chile in 2009 and the Last Desert event in Antarctica at the end of 2010. In 2011, he shifted his focus to major one-day events, achieving remarkable results, including winning the iconic Leadville 100-miler in the United States and setting a new record at the Salomon Skyrun in 2012.

Joining Sandes was Ryno Griesel, whose background lay in adventure racing rather than professional running. However, his passion for the mountains was so profound that in late 2013, he bid farewell to his business suit and embraced a "full-time shoe salesman" role for the mountain apparel brand Salomon. Griesel had scaled various mountains in Africa, Europe, and Nepal, and he currently held the record for the Hobbit 100km mountain run with back-to-back wins in 2012 and 2013.

Griesel co-held the record for the DGT alongside Cobus Van Zyl at 60 hours, 29 minutes, and 30 seconds (April 2010). He was in charge of navigation, logistical planning, and ensuring that the attempt adhered to the rules and mountain ethics of the challenge, a matter both he and Sandes felt strongly about.

The YB3 tracker provided valuable data that utilised to track Ryan and Ryno during their journey. For more information and to access the route tracker, visit the challenge's website.


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