Wartrail first timers

After battling with the afternoon traffic out of Johannesburg we finally arrived in Lady Grey at 9pm on Friday evening, just in time to miss the briefing. So we hung around for Adrian to give a short an fast briefing seeing it would be our ( Waldus and myself) first Wartrail. The briefing went so fast the only thing I picked up was that my number was 29. Anyway, we were excited and could wait for the race to start.  

Day 1

2:45 and Weylin’s (my twin brother, who did the MTB with us) alarm goes off. I had my usual coffee with rusks to start the engine and then picked up my bag, which suddenly felt quite light considering last time I was on a mountain for 10-odd hours.

My goal was to travel light, fast but have enough food and water. 4am the whistle goes and the pace was fast. At the entrance of the trail we hit the first river, which meant wet shoes all the way. I have done the first 12km before and know what to expect. The last time I did this section I ran all the way to the tower. This time it was no option. Waldus was looking strong and setting a good pace we managed to reach the top with Team Salomon and Tatum from Team Merrell.

We reached Cp2 at a good pace and refilled within two minutes and set out again. On this stretch we had a relatively good track on which we could actually run quite comfortably. We managed to stay within a good bunch of six as we headed out to the famous Balloch.

Reaching Cp3 was a mission but the cold stream water made it worth the while. Filling up bottles and cooling off in the walk was the aim. We had to ensure we had water for the next four hours so we grabbed as much as we could.

At Cp4, Avoca peak, we were met by friendly marshals who offered us some snacks and sweets. After that we reached the magnificent Dragon’s Back. What a hike and view! The Dragon’s Back is a one metre ridge with valleys on both sides. The sense of raw exposure here is huge. At an average altitude of 2700m you are close to the gods and with the wind picking up and thunder and lightning in the distance we picked up the pace to ensure we reached Cp5 before any possible rain. At this point we were alone and Waldus hit a low just after me. We pulled through and felt 100% when we reached Cp5.

15km to go to the end – this was a steep downhill walk/run. The grassy slope covers steps and narrow rivulets that will swallow up an unsuspecting hiker. Once down the steep slope the path follows the river to the huge cave at Balloch where hot showers and a hot meal were well earned. We managed to secure 18th place and were surprised to have finished in sub 12 hours. We had an afternoon nap before the celebrated meal Adrian organised that ended an awesome day in the mountains.

Day2

The bike stage started at 6h30 sharp and after five kilometres of flat the first climb starts and takes you out of Balloch Valley. I think my Whasp Gel Recoup recovery drink helped because I felt pretty strong on this hill. At the beginning of the day Waldus and I agreed we would stick with Weylin on this leg – the last time he did 135km was in the 2009 Cape Epic.

The morning weather was perfect at 10 degrees and the climb wasn’t too warm. The first real climb is Ludean’s Nek and after my first zamie I knew I was ready for this one. Reaching the top we had 7km downhill and flew down at high pace trying to make up time. The seconds would only be 30km before the end due to the bad roads. So we had to look after ourselves until then.

Cp2 was a quick bottle change and go. Keeping the end in mind, pushing Weylin on the hills started to take its toll. Weylin started to pick up some issues with his crank and screws started to come loose. We had to get to our seconds who were waiting just after Sterkspruit. We hit Sterkspruit and on the tar road over the hill we found them. With cold Cokes and tools ready. Weylin fixed his bike, I wet myself under the water container and Waldus had a chow.

Last 30 odd km’s. The section can be described as limbo.  It is a hot lonely hilly part of the route. I knew it was coming and mentally toughened up for this leg as I had lost focus a bit in the previous leg. Weylin’s body started to take toll on this section and Waldus volunteered to cut his extra tube and offered to pull Weylin on the uphills. This made a huge difference in our time and helped Weylin a lot. Seeing that Waldus has a sub 10kg bike he was the man for the job. I also gave Weylin one of my ‘groen mambas’ when he hit the wall. 30 min later he was cycling 25km/h and we were trying to keep up. We finally hit the tar road and final turn off down to the river.

We reached camp and a hot meal with an interesting shower under a tap in the veld. The food was great – homemade hot chocolate and cupcakes ended this day well. Adrian also briefed us on the 3rd day and said that the river was in flood and was too fast to paddle without the experience. He said he wouldn’t be paddling the next day and only six of the 70 entrants were allowed to get on the water. This meant we had to leave our boat on the rack and hope for better condition next year. Over all, we had a great time and spectacular views. A race I would attempt again anytime.

Thank to Adrian and Mike for all their hard work.

Author: Keane Ludick | Garmin Wartrail, 19 – 21 March 2011