This 30km route description should be read at a faster pace than the 50km one, as you will be running at a greater cadence and speed than the long-haulers. However, you should still appreciate the historical anecdotes and Safety tips, gained mostly from a trip into the Scottish Highlands where I stumbled upon a wise sage in an illegal whisky distillery. Onwards!
Start – Contour Path (0-6km, 6kms) – Forests and Cavemen!
The forest is beautiful, filled with indigenous yellowwoods, but your mission on this section is to use your early morning hit of caffeine to focus and not have an Epic Fail on the lethal river crossings, gnarly, moss covered roots, or slippy-slide clay traps. That said, most runners will ignore this, charge off like a Neanderthal at a Mammoth hunt, and soon, come to mild grief. After thus paying homage to the mountain, having sacrificed your shins at boulder 56, you will be awake enough to continue.
NB! On the Woodcutters Trail, you split off to the LEFT (at about 6kms mark), Upwards, on the narrow Newlands trail, to reach the contour path, at the circular picnic bench thingy – the nocturnal meeting point of tree bark muti hunters. Turn LEFT, onto the Contour Path. You may bump into some 50km runners, offer encouragement, they have done 5 more kms and 2 gruesome hills. Your turn is coming.
Contour Path – Nursery Ravine (6 – 12kms, 6kms) – King of the Mountain
If you look at the elevation profile of the Contour Path from a satellite, orbiting somewhere near Mars, then the trail may look as if it follows a contour, but, no such luck, it’s a real Red Herring name (which for the uninitiated is not some May Day fish pate’)!
The Aloes – an infamous scree slope, boasting a superb Bakkies Botha klap of a climb, a building site obstacle course of ragged boulders, and an endless pitfall descent, that will have you guessing if you have somehow missed Kirstenbosch and landed up in Cavendish Square. Continue past Skeleton Gorge and on to Nursery Ravine – not a baby climb.
R1000 bux awaits the fool (male & female, you cannot win both categories) who reaches the Cairn at the top first (and who completes the full 30km race before cut off). Nursery Ravine is a marvellous section, you pop out above the trees, and enjoy electric views in between gasps of breath. The burnt section near the top is from a recent fire started by rock fall, which should help speed up your progress under the cliffs. No dithering! You just climbed 500 vertical metres, and are on top of the Back Table – which is also not flat.
At the top of the climb, turn LEFT, there is fresh water in a stream, which you cross and then take a RIGHT turn up Nursery Valley, in the direction of the dams. (North West for the 2 folk that are using compasses). This is a recovery section, eat, harmonise and prepare for the next climb through Echo Valley to Maclears Beacon. After the Dam wall, the museum and a km of easy concrete road, turn RIGHT. This remote, wilderness leg of the race can be a lot of fun when the weather sets in. Ideally, run with someone else, who knows what they are doing. This can be difficult to determine as there are many different people pretending to be trailrunners – eg triathletes, mountain bikers, even road runners! Bizarre, I know. Try a simple: “Do you know what the hell you are doing?” And take it from there.
From Echo Valley and a few dodgy boardwalks, you turn RIGHT towards Maclears Beacon, onto the Eastern Table, away from all the hedonistic delights of the Cableway coffee shops and Curio stores.
The Beacon is a memorable pile of stones, to which you may add your own pebble, celebrating your frostbite and the summit!
Move on, to a truly remarkable few kms, the cliff edge trail, of the front face. If cloudy and windy, don’t be alone and do concentrate. Although the trail is marked, the rocks often present ambiguous options. If you make it to the top of Platteklip, the site of much cursing and insults for the Organisers last year, by the near hypothermic bikini parade (ie dress warmly, with layers!!!), you are doing well.
Down, down you go. Huge steps, failing sense of humor, but the increase in oxygen levels will warm your soul. Chat to ascending tourists, leaving positive PR for our city that depends on their dollars.
Platteklip Base to Finish (21- 30km, 9km)
After the big zig zags, the trail reaches the Contour Path, and this time it is a fairly good contour, until shortly it isn’t. Sprinting, and determined not to be cut off, 50km runners may attack you from the left, you turn RIGHT and enjoy some flat running, sort of.
Ascend again at Saddle Path, and you are on Devils Peak, on your way to Oppelskop and Mowbray Ridge. Sublime trail running. If you get to Woodstock Cave, there will be a free offer of some heavenly herbs from Cave enthusiasts B.Marley and co, but, you are off route. Take the Blockhouse descent easy, no running until you have made it off the cliff safely.
From the Blockhouse, descend to Plumpudding Hill, and it’s just a few kms to the Finish and the Start of your Celebrations. Medics are available.