Daniel’s 9Peaks account

A few weeks ago I told you of Daniel Barnard’s new 9Peaks Challenge record of 4 days, 16 hours, 34 minutes, which he set solo. Here’s the story from Daniel about his the adventure unfolded.

There is a man by the name Kobus Bresler, who shared his story of the 9Peaks Challenge with me a couple of years ago and it sparked the idea for myself and a friend, George Louw to attempt it. We did so about a year and a half ago and broke the group record for the challenge – in a time of 4 days and 18 hours by summitting the highest peak in each of our nine Provinces.

But it was a new year and time for a new adventure. I wanted to do the 9Peaks Challenge solo AND to better the group record at the same time. So my goal for the challenge was obviously to break the solo record of 8 days, 6 hours and 52 minutes, but deep down I wanted to crush our group as well. In winter this was not likely, but I was determined.

So why did I choose winter to do the challenge? There is no simpler answer than that this was the only time I had available. Winter is risky because of snow in the mountains, little water or even no water close to the peaks. And then there’s the cold itself, which means more gear, carrying more water and upping the energy intake.

I planned the trip only a week prior to the challenge because at least I knew what to expect. Planning also included where to go, which roads to take, which peaks to hike during daytime and where I only had access to the peaks during the day. Timing to reach certain peaks was crucial to me.

I started out on Saturday 23 July 2014 from Parys, my home town, driving down to Zandrivier Boerdery Guesthouse at the foot of Seweweekspoort peak in the Western Cape.

It was 06h00 the next morning at Zandrivier Boerdery Guesthouse and I decided it was too cold to start. I had coffee first and then a phone call from a friend asking whether I’m off yet.

“Well, I am just waiting for the sun to come out,” was my reply, “to at least start the challenge with some comfort”. I knew that once I started the clock with my first footstep, I would be sleep deprived, tired, cold and possibly dehydrated for the next few days.

The moment the sun came out, I took my first step at 07h30 on 24 July. The Seweweekspoort hike is short, but very steep and there is no footpath from the northern side, well none that I know of. I hiked with confidence while I was already planning the rest of my route. There were two options to get the next peak, Murch Point in Northern Cape – the scenic road or the N1 and then the long gravel road. This was important to me because I was driving in my Honda Civic which has a very low ground clearance. In fact the road to Murch point wasn’t my biggest concern; getting to Kwaduma and Sentinel after that at the right time was the actual problem. Kwaduma in the Eastern Cape had to happen during daytime, because of the crazy dogs that roam there.

Anyway, I finished the almost eight kilometre hike to Seweweekspoort Peak and back in 4:41 hours. This is an indication of the steepness. Back at the car I threw my gear in the boot and started the long drive to Murch Point immediately.

 

Seweweekpoort

I decided to take the N1 from Laingsburg to Richmond and from there the gravel road to Middelburg. Just before Middelburg I turned towards Nieu-Bethesda where the peak was waiting for me.

I was in contact with Chris from Schanskraal earlier that week to get permission to hike to the peak and to possibly get access to it via his farm. In the end access via the farm wasn’t possible due to my car’s limitations. I decided to park my car next to the public gravel road and access the peak from the eastern side. Murch Point is a fairly easy hike in and as the hikers would say I straightlined that one. This basically means that you hike in a straight line towards the peak and do not follow the natural contours of the mountains. Faster, but you do use more energy. This didn’t worry me for now, as my next peak, Kwaduma, was a long drive away and my legs could rest in the car. I hiked Murch Point in total darkness, covering a distance of 7.4 km in a time of 2:30 hours.

The drive to Kwaduma in the Eastern Cape was strenuous. I slept for two hours in the car in Elliott and finally arrived at Tabase police station around 06h30 the next morning. I got my gear ready straight away, because this one had to be finished in daylight. The dogs in the area belong to the cattle and goat herders, but they are not very domesticated and kind of follow you. I also knew that this hike would involve a lot of straight lining and possibly some trial running, so I wasn’t prepared to run into darkness. An added bonus came when I realised that I forgot my smokes in the car and the fear of not having a smoke break made me go even faster. The 30 kilometre hike took me only 8:25 hours! I was relieved to get back to my car way before sunset.

Daniel on Kwaduma

My concern now was to get some proper sleep and the options were to either sleep in the car at Tabase, drive to a bigger town and sleep there or drive to the next peak and sleep at the campsite. The next one was Mafadi in Kwazulu-Natal – the highest peak in South Africa. I had a six-hour drive ahead of me and I wasn’t going to gamble on the roads. I eventually drove to Underberg and booked a spot at the Khotso Adventure Farm backpackers. I slept for a solid eight hours.

When I woke the next morning I felt refreshed, but my ankles and feet were starting to complain. That morning I also met Steve Black, the owner of the farm. He is sponsored by one of my favourites, North Face, and is one of those super endurance runners. We talked a bit about adventure and the mountains and he gave me some inspirational words. “Live only for the moment,” he said. At that stage I didn’t know how often during the following climbs I would repeat those words out loud. But it was a lot, so thanks Steve.

From Underberg I drove to Injisuthii, the starting point for Mafadi. On the way there I spoke to my friend, George. I mentioned to him that I am feeling surprisingly well and confident and I was wondering if I shouldn’t go trail running style into the mountains of Mafadi. Mafadi is about a 40 kilometre hike and if I could do it faster with less gear, I could sleep some more down the line. George holds the record for Mafadi and back via Leslie’s pass in just under 10 hours – his advice was to go for it.

The gamble was that less gear could mean hypothermia on the escarpment with below zero temperatures. I wasn’t taking any sleeping bag or bivvy along. This simply meant that there was going to be no stopping or resting for long periods. This made me kind of nervous on the hike in. I started the hike over lunchtime and I knew I was going to be at it for 15 to 20 hours.

I reached the famous Leslie’s pass just before sunset and had a quick break. I hiked Leslie’s pass with no trouble at all, but when I reached the escarpment I was thinking that I made a mistake with the gamble. It was freezing cold. I put on all the clothing I had with me, loaded up some energy and then just lived for the moment. I did not enjoy the 12km hike to Mafadi peak itself. But in hindsight that was the easier part, because on the way back I got so lost down Leslie’s pass in the dark that I think it took longer down than up. After 16:38 hours of hiking I reached my car at about 04h00 in the morning. I slept there for four hours, cold and slightly broken.

When I woke and got back to cell reception everyone was anxious to hear from me and to find out how the hike went. I was a tired man and wanted some more sleep. Luckily my timing for the rest of the peaks was still on track. I needed to do Namahadi in the Free State, sleep a bit and then go for Toringkop, of which the gates would only open the next morning, Thursday.

The drive to Namahadi was not far but slow. Again I was worried about the gravel access road to Sentinel car park, the start of the hike. My luck was in and they just graded the road.

Now, I remembered from our previous attempt that this one was roughly 16 kilometres and I decided to do it with lightweight gear and little food. This turned out to be a mistake.

Daniel on Namahadi

Firstly the total distance was in actual fact 26 kilometres and I had no chance of keeping warm once the sun was gone. I had to run all the bits I could. I reached the peak just before sunset and really pushed hard to get off the mountain. I made it back safely with no harm done except that my energy levels were bottoming out. I finished in eight hours and could now sleep till 04h00 the next morning for my last day.

At 04h00 I started driving to Suikerbosrand in Gauteng to reach Toringkop. I knew I had four peaks to climb that day or to at least get them done before 01h30 the next morning in order to break the group record. Fortunately you can drive right up next to Toringkop. This rule also applies to Nooitgedachtwest in North-West due to the easy access. I had no trouble with Toringkop and Nooitgedachtwest, even the traffic through the city was excellent.

 

Daniel on Nooitgedacht

As I left the farm at Nooitgedachtwest my first car trouble struck. FLAT TYRE. It wasn’t a problem, but it wasted time. I quickly changed the tyre, took the N14 towards Pretoria where I fitted a new tyre and then used the N4 to get to Die Berg, close to Lydenburg. The highest peak in Mpumalanga was also an easy run, I finished the nine kilometre route in an hour.

 

The rock that caused the flat tyre

Now it was dark and I had a long drive to Haenertsburg in Limpopo to reach Iron Crown. I knew the roads there weren’t great. I drove towards Hoedspruit and took the R36 north to Tzaneen where I stopped for coffee and some snacks. From there to the Iron Crown parking lot was another two hour drive due to the gravel roads and my car’s clearance.

This last hike to Iron Crown was a quick walk of 50 minutes and there I was – bagging all nine peaks by 00h04 Friday morning. A new record time of 4 days, 16 hours and 34 min – almost 1 hour and 30 min faster than the group record myself and George set a year and an half ago.

I was grateful for the achievement and prayed to say thanks for the watch over me during the trip. But I was also exhausted and still needed to drive to Hoedspruit where my family was waiting for me.

Completing the challenge didn’t mean I could relax on the roads. I again decided to stop in Tzaneen for a coffee and a quick nap in the car. The 30minute nap turned out to be four hours, but when I woke at sunrise I was well rested. I drove to Hoedspruit and I was so happy to see my family. The driving and climbing was done and I had the whole weekend to relax and recuperate.

I remember saying to myself during one of the climbs that I hope none of my children would ask me one day to take them on this speed challenge. Hopefully by the time they grow up the next record will be impossible to break.

 

Author: Mandie Barnard