13 Peaks… What an incredible challenge! The luxury and privilege of having such pristine sections of trail and views that are the best in the world was something that we recognized as something to be taken advantage of.
What is 13 Peaks?
It is a trail challenge set by Cape Town-based world-champion trail runner, Ryan Sandes. 13 of the most iconic peaks on Table Mountain is traversed in the set order, spanning a route of over 100km in distance and over 6,000m of vertical ascent.
There are 4 different badges to be earned… the 1-day, the 2-day, the Multi-day, and the Impossible. You do it in your own time, and it works on an honesty system. You’re only cheating yourself if you don’t follow the challenge rules.
Personally, I was never planning to do the full challenge. 13 Peaks was something that hardcore trail runners did. And while I certainly enjoy running trails, and I identify as being hardcore, “hardcore” was not a word I would put ahead of “trail runner” in any definition of myself. My sister was doing the training runs (recces) with a few of her running club mates, and I joined the group for the recces as a way to get out into the mountains again. The group was a mix of experienced athletes in various ultra-distance events, but we were all mainly road specialists and not experienced trail runners. Wasfie lead the charge in terms of overall planning and route design, etc.
As the runs progressed and Wasfie eventually dropped the detailed plan he’d put together for us to do it over 3 weeks in 7 runs, it started to seem manageable. Also, the group was so awesome to be with that I would not be able to handle the FOMO of not doing all the runs. New, deep friendships were being formed that was so special and something that I started to crave.
When you are out on a mountain in appalling weather and unable to find a path to the peak you are chasing, dealing with cold, rain, and wind…a certain kind of bond forms that is not easy to duplicate elsewhere within such a short time.
The challenge begins…
So we started the full challenge Multi-day in the afternoon of 22 September and did the section from Signal Hill until the start of Platteklip Gorge, did a big day on a very hot Heritage Day (where I saw my life flash before me on the Llandudno Ravine descent), and ran every weekend day from then until we finished on 10 October. Wasfie did a great job in breaking up the route into manageable chunks that were challenging but doable for the group, even though he was personally capable of finishing the challenge as a 48-hr, or 2-day badge.
Becoming each other’s keepers
One of the best parts of the group dynamic was how we looked after each other. Someone was always making sure that the person at the back was ok and that they are not left alone out there on the trails. I was out by myself one day towards the end of a run, lagging behind and not having anyone else in sight. I was feeling very sorry for myself and a bit upset that I was left alone out in a place that isn’t safe, but I soon found that someone was in fact waiting for me at a point on the trail to get me to the finish safely.
We had an injury on route when Ibtisaam rolled her ankle badly just after the tar road from Constantiaberg, and 2 of the guys played paramedic on the mountain to get her safely to the section finish at Constantia Nek, which was a pretty incredible feat considering the climbs and gnarly descents on that section.
When someone couldn’t make a Sunday run because of family emergencies or commitments, some of the group would redo that section with them in the week to play catch-up, so that they are back on the wagon for the next run with the full group.
Some joined for only certain runs and didn’t do the full challenge, and their support and bringing the gees was incredible. Of the 12 that started the full challenge, 11 of us finished. Ibtisaam’s foot is still in a moonboot, but our group’s mission is not complete until we see that her challenge is complete. The dirty dozen leaves no *man behind. (*man is gender neutral in our group)
My final stats: Distance run– 113.13 km(clearly I take the 13 theme quite seriously) Vertical ascent – 6,581m Running time– 35h 10m Running days– 7
Maybe do it again and finish in less days? There have been whisperings of it.
But now… some R&R and basking in an incredible achievement. THANK YOU, 13 PEAKS!
And while some of us are still basking, 3 of the group are planning to do the challenge within a 48hr timeframe to earn their 2-day badge. Wasfie, Ebrahim, and Louis… go well speedsters! You know you have a support team that skriks vir niks to help you through it.