On Saturday 29 October 2016, Christiaan Greyling and Edward van der Merwe set a new record on the Jonkershoek Traverse in a time of 8 hours and 21 minutes. This challenge was first completed by three Matie students on 19 May 1962 in 19 hours and 30 minutes and thereafter improved decade by decade. Before Greyling and van der Merwe broke the record on Saturday, it was held by Ryan Sandes, Kane Reilly and Andre Gie. Greyling and Van der Merwe, both Industrial Engineers, worked hard on the execution of the plan, but nature tends to through some curve balls…
The route – known in some circles as the ‘Jonkershoek Marathon’ traces the top edge of the Jonkershoek valley in a horseshoe-shape. It runs from the beacon of Botmaskop to the beacon of Stellenboschberg. The route follows very few established paths, where most of the route consists of no paths, demanding a combination of navigational and mountaineering skills. Seven summit peaks are to be ‘ticked-off’ along the way: Botmaskop, Squaretower Peak, North Twin (Pieke), Rifberg (Virgin & Third Ridge Peak), Second Ridge (Katedraal), First Ridge (Katedraal), Haelkop and Stellenboschberg. The route is only 31km, but with a total ascent of 3500m+, extreme technicality, scrambling and exposure to extreme conditions makes this a demanding and challenging course.
MOTIVATION BEHIND THE CHALLENGE
Greyling, a well-known South African Trail runner, was selected to partake in the World Champs in Portugal on Saturday, but due to an ASA boycott he was prohibited and therefore used this opportunity to express the freedom of trail running in his own backyard. “It’s always been on my bucket-list, and when Edward approached me to ask whether I would be keen, it was easy to commit. Edward’s motives to complete this route was to raise funds for school kids in Lesotho. I’ve known Edward only from our local training squad, but knew he has a brave heart and I felt comfortable with him as a partner. I had little time, and besides for one scout trip one morning before work, I’ve spent most of my time analysing Edward’s scouts on Google earth and built the perfect route. I had a good feeling about the attempt and believed that whatever the outcome, it will be an amazing time in God’s Creation” – Christiaan
When Van der Merwe, a post-graduate Matie student, was asked what motivated him to attempt to break the Jonkershoek Traverse record, he responded by saying: “I am passionate about social development (especially children), and not just change for the sake of change, but rather sustainable change where individuals and communities experience lasting change. To do the challenge was at the back of my mind for years. It all came together when the opportunity arrived to use my talents, for a cause beyond myself. I used this to raise funds and awareness, to give the children of Semonkong, Lesotho, a chance to better education. I admire Christiaan’s experience in trail running and enjoyed his positive energy”.
The route was really a highlight of my year, and I can’t wait to go back and show my wife the trail. There are so many mind-blowing sections and views that pump my veins full of energy, even a few days later! ”- Christiaan
“My highlight was spending a day in the mountains with Christiaan and, unquestionably, the epic route. It poses a unique challenge of trail running, bundu bashing, rock climbing, trying not to fall of vertical cliffs and the awe struck views that gets better around every corner. Another highlight was Christiaan giving a very interesting scream and doing the fastest 10m dash that I have witnessed as he basically stepped on a massive cobra.” - Edward
Very friendly and familiar faces awaited Greyling and van der Merwe at the top of Swartboskloof, whereafter a very difficult section lay ahead with the second biggest climb of the day still to come. “The avo sarmie at Swartboskloof was a real game changer. We were thankful to see people who trusted and believed in our capabilities”. – Christiaan and Edward
The view from the start at Botmaskop, not looking very promising with all of the smoke.
At our arrival on top of Botmaskop we were faced with an unexpected challenge: a wildfire. It very quickly seemed impossible to do the traverse, with the Banhoek valley on fire and the ridgeline covered in thick smoke. However, we decided to go ahead with the attempt and to assess the situation as we moved closer. We knew that it would be life threatening to get caught on one of the ledges in thick smoke or flames. Just after Pieke, we could see the fire on our left and we knew that we were in front of the flames and our only chance was to outrun the fire. At Rifberg, the smoke was getting thicker, and when we popped over a ridge, we saw that one of the gullies was burnt to ashes, with a number of bushes still in flames. This gave us another safe option, should we have to turn back. We went from burned patch to burned patch, from escape route to escape route, more focused on the risks and challenges than breaking the record. We later realised that if we had started 30 minutes earlier, we would have been in a very difficult situation.
Part of the route burned minutes before we arrived at Rifberg
“The traverse takes place on no real trail, so knowing the route is key, you can also not simply follow a GPS track. Oftentimes, I questioned whether it was possible or safe to ascend a certain section. I trusted a lot in Edward’s route knowledge and we had faith in one another and God”. Christiaan
A very close encounter came when we were on the most technical part of the route, between Swartbos and Haelkop. I was about to jump off a rock and turned around in mid-air, as the biggest cobra I’ve ever seen was awaiting me.” - Christiaan
“Navigation is the biggest challenge of the route. There are sections on the route where you could spend hours if you take the wrong ledge or gully to climb and it could easily end up in a life or death situation. The physical challenge of the route is not to be underestimated, evident in the time it took us to complete approximately 32km. I also found it challenging to get into a mind-set to actually get going after Rifberg, as up to that point, we were almost sure that we would have to get down the mountain sooner than later, due to the fire. Another challenge was to get Christiaan to stop taking pictures of the flowers for Landie.” - Edward
One of Christiaan’s biggest challenges of the day, to take the perfect flower picture for Landie
Chris Walley for the epic photos and video. Roelie Feenstra and Clinton Macintosh, who joined us for the first bit and last bit of the route. Also the supportive crew at Swartboskloof, with food and water, as well as those with us at the top of Botmaskop. I would also like to thank the mountain experts like Coos Diener and Ernst Lotz, who willingly share their knowledge and mark the route with cairns and promote this great challenge. To each and every one who reads this and support Edward’s campaign#onechildonebackback – Donate here