The Drakensberg Grand Traverse, one of the world’s great multi-day hikes, is set across some of South Africa’s wildest mountain terrain. On Tuesday afternoon, exactly 41 hours 49 minutes after setting off Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel crossed the finish line having shaved almost 20 hours off the previous record. They had run 204km non-stop.
“This attempt started as a seed more than two years ago,” said Ryan on completion. “To have finished it now feels quite surreal. We felt good from the start and knew if the weather held, we would have a great chance of breaking the record. However, until you cross the line, you can’t be too sure.
There were a few anxious moments when I tweaked my ankle two hours into the attempt and I was worried that it might mean the end so soon.
The South African ultra runner paid tribute to his partner Ryno Griesel, a well-known adventure racer who set the previous GDT record. “Running through the night was challenging at some of the more technical parts, but it really helped to have Ryno there. He knows the mountain like the back of his hand and it was reassuring to have someone so experienced with me.”
The feeling was mutual. “Ryan has got to be the best runner in the world when it comes to these conditions,” Ryno told us. “Running the DGT, as opposed to speed hiking, takes a greater toll on your body than I realised. I became dehydrated during the first day and had a couple of tough hours, but Ryan pushed us through it and kept me going.”
When asked how he was feeling, Griesel summed it up in one word: ‘Privileged’. “It was such an incredible experience to see this dream of ours realised after years of planning and to enjoy so much support from friends, family and strangers from around the world.”
The pair set off from Sentinel Car Park at midnight local time on Sunday and crossed the line at Bushman’s Neck Border Post some 41 hours and 49 minutes later on Tuesday afternoon.
As there is no set route for the DGT, one can choose any route so as long as it passes eight checkpoints along the way including The Chain Ladders, the Mont-aux-Sources summit at 3,282m and the highest of all the summits (and the highest point in Southern Africa) Thabana Ntlenyana Summit at 3,482m.
Both of the athletes cited the sunrise from this summit as something that would stay with them forever. As Griesel said, “It was a special moment and we both stopped for a few seconds to appreciate the view. It was both inspiring and humbling to greet the day from such a vantage point.”
For more info on the challenge, including the route profile and stats, check out their dedicated Drakensberg Traverse webpage.
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