By: Julie Avenant
Imagine running along an isolated mountain track far removed from the encumbrances of everyday life, hearing baboons barking among the boulders above you, startling an almost-invisible-until-you-are-next-to-them herd of kudu unaccustomed to humans in their tranquil browsing ground, and seeing giant tortoises pass by unconcerned. You’ve arrived in the Sneeuberg mountain range in Murraysburg district, central Karoo.
The route for the Sneeuberg Traverse trail run was the inspiration for Willem Avenant starting Karoo Running in 2016. Willem wanted to bring runners from all over the country to traverse the skyline of the Sneeuberg mountain range, capped by Spitskop’s iconic pointed peak. It took Willem over a year of working with private land owners to arrange access, and months of scouting missions on foot through areas rarely or in some cases never accessed in order to find link-ups between the privately owned landholdings in the mountains. The farmers in the area tend to think of links between farms in terms of jeep tracks, some still used, some abandoned. He was told that there was no way to cross between certain peaks and valleys. Willem found understanding for what he was looking for from the local farm workers, some of whom have lived on these farms for generations, and knew of old cow or kudu paths linking remote areas. Finding these paths among sometimes shoulder-high Karoo bushes that he had to “swim” through was part of the fun and challenge for scouting the route!
The Sneeuberg mountains are one of the most remote and isolated areas in the central Karoo, with hidden valleys of refreshing green poplar groves, towering cliffs with views for hundreds of kilometers, and two-to-three-hundred year old farmsteads, some still operational, some abandoned due to the extremely harsh reality of living in such a remote place. Big cats such as leopard and serval (tierboskat) are known to still live in the mountains, and though sightings are extremely rare, tracks are seen.
The inaugural Beaufort West Toyota Sneeuberg Traverse in November 2016 brought together 13 trail runners of varying abilities from across South Africa to experience the three-day, 100-km stage run over the Sneeuberg mountain range. Accommodation was in tents on a farm, and three meals per day of hearty Karoo cuisine were catered by Chanel & Sias Bezuidenhout, who manage the Merino restaurant in Victoria West.
Highlights for the runners included watching shearing in progress on an active sheep farm, splashing in the Rooipoort Dam after finishing day two’s run, walking around the farmstead with its beautiful poplar grove, lush gardens and tame peacocks, and ending the race at one of the jewels of Murraysburg, a hidden waterfall with a large pool beneath to swim in after completing the race. Stretch classes were provided after each day’s stage by Fran Siebrits of Tuning In: Body and Mind Practices for a Healthy Lifestyle. Sports massages were also available for an additional cost after each day’s stage.
But most of all participants enjoyed the camaraderie and new friendships forged around the campfire and relaxing on camp chairs between the tents each evening, trading trail stories, showing off blisters, and breathing in the achingly clean and pure mountain air, perfumed with the herbaceous aroma of Karoo bushes.
Entries are now open for Sneeuberg Traverse 2017, from 1-4 November. In order to keep the race a boutique experience, entries will be capped at 30 people. Entry form and logistics details are available at www.karoorunning.com.
The route combines farm roads, abandoned jeep track, and technical single track. The route is marked, but knowledge of navigation is required, and a GPS is mandatory.
Day 1- 27km, 690m elevation gain
Day 2 – 35km, 740m elevation gain
Day 3 – 40 km, 960m elevation gain