Runtheberg Extreme 50km / 2400m
Day 1: 25km of spectacular real mountain running along the skyline of the mountains forming the border between KZN and the Free State (Net Vertical Ascent 1580m). A portion of this route takes in The Cavern Drakensberg Resort’s famous Big Five hiking route.
Day 1 starts at The Cavern (1481m) and finishes down the valley at All Out Adventures.
The trail makes a gentle start on a well-worn hiking track through the magical Fern Forest before starting the steep ascent (500m) up the mighty Hlolela mountain. This track is slightly less well-worn and as you zig-zag steeply up, you begin to understand why! The zig-zags end at the base of the Ace of Clubs – 3 dramatic sandstone cliffs that protrude from the end of Hlolela Mountain. Runners must then negotiate a scramble up Cilla Gully before tackling the Nose – a narrow trail that falls steeply away on both sides – you had better have a head for heights! Once on top (2137m) you are rewarded with a gloriously panoramic view of the Amphitheatre and the whole Northern Drakensberg, well worth the effort and the vertigo! The trail then undulates (something of an understatement!), and after conquering Hlolela (Peak 1 of the Big 5), there are some serious ups and downs en route to Battle Ship (Peak 2).
From there it’s a sketchy descent on an uneven and tufty slope to Venus Bath. In the wet months this is a favourite swimming spot that offers awesome views of the valley below. What remains before heading back down through the sandstone cliffs is Sugar Loaf (2050m) and Cold Hill. Cold Hill, so called as it is usually the first peak where the winter snow falls, offers breathtaking views of the Amphitheatre. Stop a minute to take this in and catch your breath, in preparation for the tricky descent that follows…
The trail then follows a steep diagonal down Devil’s Staircase, to the top of the sandstone cliff line. There is a second scramble down the rather treacherous Cavern Gap – mind the rolling rocks – before you are back on the hiking trail which leads to the Cannibal Cavern. The trail goes through a dramatic 40 meter high, 30 meter deep sandstone over-hang, and comes out on to the top of Surprise Ridge. The “surprise” here is the beauty of the close up views of some of the Drakensberg’s most famous land marks. The trail then takes the horse path through the protea trees to the final peak, Camel’s Hump.
After Camel’s Hump it’s a quick steep descent down Surprise Ridge to meet up with the Grotto trail – one of the area’s most MTB tracks. This beautiful single track follows the contour of the hill past Fan Falls before runners are taken south along the cliff line of Trilby Hill, staying high on the undulating but fast-running single track with spectacular views of the Amphitheatre above and the Montusi Valley. The last few km cross a flat high plateau with spectacular bird’s-eye views and some unforgettable cliff-line trail before a fast mountainside switchback singletrack down into the Race Village and home!!
Day 2: 25km (Net Vertical Ascent 820m) more of beautiful mountain trails through the scenic Puteril’s River Valley.
Day 2 starts and finishes at All Out Adventures
The route leaves the Adventure Centre and follows the Quad Trail for a while and then meanders down the switchbacks of Dassie Pass to Puteril’s Stream where the first river crossing of the day takes place. After some boulder hopping and possibly some wet feet, the trail follows the river for some fast scenic running before climbing out of the valley and into a long cliff-top section that backtracks high above the river. The route follows a fairly flat line at the top of the cliff before dropping down to cross the top of the Waterfall (don’t overtake on the right!!) and climbs up a rocky hill to the view point below Montusi Mountain Lodge. The trail then winds below the Montusi horse paddocks before taking runners through Fergie’s Forest and a gentle climb to the first Checkpoint and Water Table at the Montusi Dam. At the Checkpoint Extreme runners take the left split along the water’s edge, through the fence and over the stream where the big climb of the day begins. The trail climbs sharply above the dam and through the Baboon Forest (keep your eyes open for big baboons here) where it flattens out and follows a fabulously runnable and spectacularly scenic bench cut path high above the Alpine Heath Valley as the Amphiteatre looms in the near distance. Heading towards the Montusi Peak runners will climb through a rock band before reaching the flat-topped summit, loop around and then begin the exhilarating descent, negotiating several steep ledges on the north face of the mountain until joining up with the Nook Road for a gloriously fast run down to the runway. The trail then heads towards the Wanhoop Valley (literally the Valley of Despair, which it can be on a hot day), meandering along the river before climbing to the aptly named and unmissable Lone Tree. There is a nice stretch of flowing running before a fairly steep descent from the escarpment back down into the Montusi Gorge before the final river crossing and climb up the rocky face of Owl’s Pass and back towards home, with just one last forest loop around the Race Village to get through before emerging out of the trees to the welcome sight of the Finish line.