Once upon a time, before trail running, before Parkour, we hiked up various mountains in South Africa and ran down like crazy people… we called it Extreme Jogging. This blog is a tribute to the good old days, friends & family, my Creator and everybody that love running in nature!
Extremeness: Technical terrain, navigation, the distance & the altitude gain
Location: Drakenberg, Mnweni, South Africa
Joggers: Adriaan Joubert & Pieter van Heerden
Post author: Pieter van Heerden
In the heart of the Drakensberg – 50km to the west of Bergville, lies Mnweni Cultural village. This will be the start and finish, of what can only be described as an epic trail run, the Mnweni Marathon.
39km of rough trails, grassy trails, rocky trails and no trails await us with 1800m of climb as we set off in the dark at 6.00am. Adriaan and I take it easy pretty much from the start as we know it will be a long day.
The trail starts with 4km gravel road that winds slowly upward. From here the trail cuts into the lower mountains. The trail is still fairly easy at this stage, with short grass and a fairly well established footpath used by the locals that live in mud huts around here. Navigation is an issue, as the path splits almost every 500m’s. After about 8km we make our 1st navigational error and take a higher road. Luckily we realise the mistake and with a little bundu bashing we are back on track – not having lost more than a minute.
At around 10km’s we are already fairly deep into the valley and can almost see the Mnweni valley. Here the path splits – some take a very steep scramble up a hillside to get a marginally shorter route. Adriaan and I however opt to take the contour road - a better choice according to Bruce Arnette – a Mnweni legend!
We reach the river and there it is time to get a short 5min rest to re-supply with water and get something to eat. From here the trail gets tricky to find – as there really is no trail. After a lot of boulder hopping and a short bundu bash section we find a runnable trail. From here we can see the Mnweni pass that is towering above.
We hit the real uphill at around 9.30. The pictures of Mnweni pass speaks more than words – so I won’t say much about that – except that we were really glad to reach the top just over an hour later. The views are truly magnificent and if you had any – would take your breath away!
The 2km over the plateau is very hard to run – besides the tired legs the terrain is very uneven. We are feeling good knowing we now have 20km’s under the belt and passed halfway in time. We are blessed with a beautiful day. The skies are clear and make quick work of this section. This is the section where if there is mist at the top – even the most experienced runners, with GPS, run around in circles not knowing where to go – as there are no trails up here to follow.
Rockeries pass is next for a very hair raising descent. The trail is very loose and rocky – and VERY steep. We blitz down the pass sliding all over the place. We pass Lisa de Speville – a seasoned trail runner and AR athlete – but our legs paid the price. Even the most beautiful part of Drakensberg with the most dramatic views cannot help us now. The trail finally “flatten” out to something more runnable after an hour of rough downhill practically falling down the mountain! It was on this downhill that I almost stepped on a bergadder. It hastily retreated into the grass before I could get a picture of a fine specimen.
With just over 5km’s to go and a more runnable grassy single track – we miss a turn-off and have to bundu-bash some more before we hit a jeep track. Luckily we could see the jeep track across a river. From here it is mostly downhill and the way home to an ice-cold beer after a 8h21m trail in one of SA’s most beautiful locations.
Start of the Mnweni trail @ 6.00am
Trail is in really long grass - making running very difficult as you cannot see the ground below
Starting to climb out of the valley
The 1st proper view of the Mnweni valley - the summit just to left of the middle pinnacle
Looking down you realise how steep the pass is - speed now 30min per km
Awesome views close to the top
Trail is very steep and as the name suggests - rocky
The mountains here are really dramatic
The end of the steep section is near - then just 15km home
The trail flattens out and become more runnable again