Lesotho Wildrun 2013 – Pure & Unimaginable

The 34 runners who made it to the start line of the 2013 Lesotho Wildrun

The 34 runners who made it to the start line of the 2013 Lesotho Wildrun

The Lesotho Wildrun is a pure mountain running journey through the magnificent, remote and wild mountain kingdom of Lesotho. This three-day, 120km mountain wilderness experience takes place through the Ketane Ha Mothibi and Thaba Putsoa ranges, roughly 60km SE from the Lesotho capital of Maseru.  The unrivaled magnificence of this mountain kingdom promises participants trail running like none they’ve experienced before.

This year’s Lesotho Wildrun took place on 18-20 April 2013, starting near the mountain frontier village of Malealea. Entries for this unique experience is limited to 50 runners, which allows runners to experience long stretches of serene solitude through the extensive network of trails that traverse the mountain ranges and valleys from village to village in Lesotho – an area only accessible on foot.

The weather forecast for the three days of remote mountain running was looking pretty grim as the Wildrunner team left Cape Town, with a massive cold front pushing through to reach the mountain kingdom on the evening proceeding the start day.  The minimum temperatures for Semongkong was forecast for only 8°C! True to the forecast the first rains arrived on the Wednesday evening just about the same time as the runners congregated at Malealea for their event briefing and welcome dinner.

2km into day 1 and the going gets tough

2km into day 1 and the going gets tough

Day 1 – 43km from Ha Searle to Semonkong

At 4am the next morning the rain continued to fall unabated, breaking only for the start shortly after 7am.  For the first few hours it rained but later on that morning the sunken clouds began to break apart and open up the views across the magnificent Ketane plateau – complete with a light dusting of snow on the higher peaks.  Day 1 is a 43km linear route taking the runners almost due East from Ha Searle to Semonkong, passing by the remote mountain villages of Ha Poriki & Ha Hlalele en route.  One of the most spectacular parts of day 1 comes after the check point and Hammer fuel station around the 26km mark.  Runners cross the Ketane River only to climb up again and traverse the slopes just behind the massive 162m Ketane Falls and sheers cliffs of the downstream Gorge.

With the amount of rain around the going was tough with the ground being soft and pliable under the constant onslaught of rain.  The 2000m + of altitude gain took effect, and the combination of cold weather and slower speed meant that some runners found themselves a bit short on gear to keep them warm.  Some even pulled in to the tiny village of Poriki and holed up in a hut for a few hours to warm up.

Day 1 near the 28km mark - the traverse above the Ketane river.  Behind where the river disappears is the 162m Ketane falls.

Day 1 near the 28km mark – the traverse above the Ketane river. Behind where the river disappears is the 162m Ketane falls.

Jacques Mouton forged ahead of the chasing pack to finish the day in 7:10:09, with Stephen Kriel & Sean Doherty 2nd with Andy Stewart just a minute back in 3rd.  Linda Doke stamped an early authority on the ladies race with a 2nd overall in 7:20:11, Tracey Almirall only 13 minutes behind and 4th overall.  Robin McDonald was the last runner in before the darkness cut-off in 11:45:28.

Day 2 – 28km circuit around the Maletsunyane Gorge

Day 2 of the race saw runners tackle a spectacular 28km circular route that traverses both the eastern and western edges of the magnificent Maletsunyane Gorge.  The cherry on the cake is being treated to what is arguably the most breath-taking waterfall scene in Southern Africa – the 192m high Maletsunyane Falls. This is certainly one of the highlights of the event, offering a chance for all of the runners, fast or slow, to take a break and immerse themselves in these truly mind-blowing surroundings.

Out of the blocks the runners found themselves clambering over some big boulders along the Maletsunyane river valley upstream from the falls, followed immediately by a winding trail along the river banks.  The route winds its way to the edge of the Eastern side of the Maletsunyane Gorge, with sudden an unexpected views into this 500m deep chasm.  As a result of the rain, other smaller   – but no less unimpressive – waterfalls threw themselves over the edges of the gorge to plummet to the Maletsunyane river below.

Day 2 near the 5km mark – the Boalathapo waterfall thunders 100m over the edge of the Maletsunyane gorge.

Day 2 near the 5km mark – the Boalathapo waterfall thunders 100m over the edge of the Maletsunyane gorge.

Soon enough the route takes the inevitable route to the bottom of the gorge to cross the Maletsunyane river and immediately after the big climb of the day starts up the spine of an endless ridgeline out to breach the western rim of the gorge.

Day 2 near the 7km mark – looking back along the route with the Maletsunyane gorge behind.

Day 2 near the 7km mark – looking back along the route with the Maletsunyane gorge behind.

Then at the 24km mark, one of the most spectacular views you could ever wish for as a trail runner emerges over the rim of a hill.  Magically it’s also a view that can only be seen from one direction and all day the image of this spectacular waterfall is floating in the minds of runners – but nothing can quite prepare you for the scene.  The gorge is so wide it cannot be contained in a single image, so the impact is just out of this world.  In front of you water thunders off a 192m single drop to the gorge floor below. From the view point the drop is vertical and all around you are scenes of rock spires and other smaller waterfalls.  Pure magic that has to be seen to be believed.

To top off the magic, the surrounding peaks had a dusting of snow  – visible from most of the day as the clouds opened up from time to time to reveal a landscape straight out of a fairy-tale.

The short run back to the cosy Semonkong lodge is hardly noticeable as the mind reels in the impact of the spectacular views past.  Before you know it you are sitting by a log fire inside the Semonkong Lodge, sipping a cold Maluti beer and shooting the breeze with fellow Wildrunners.

After a disastrous first day, Tim Ellerbeck stuck with front runner Jacques Mouton.  For most of the 28km the duo had Andy Stewart alongside, but somewhere in the last few kilometres Andy dropped back slightly to finish less than a minute behind.  Linda Doke cruised in 4th overall in 4:33:46, with Tracey Almirall 5th overall  in 4:47:03 – running in with Stephen Kriel & Sean Doherty.

Day 3 – 40km from Semonkong to Ramabanta

The final day emerges and tired bodies appear from warm rooms and step into another brisk Lesotho day with temperatures hovering around the 8°C mark.  Retracing their steps along the last kilometre of day 1, runners wind their way out of Semonkong and start heading NW upstream along the Maletsunyane river.  The first half marathon makes its way on an ancient footpath to the top of the infamous Baboon’s Pass.  This is one of the most spectacular sections of the three days, with traverses along the slopes of narrow river valleys rimmed with limestone cliffs.

Fresh snow from the preceding day’s weather greeted runners as they climbed the final 100m up to Baboon’s pass.  The high peaks of Thabo Putsoa to the NE lying thick with snow.

The Noel brothers pass below the 3096m high Thaba Putsoa peakss on day 3 near Baboon’s Pass.

The Noel brothers pass below the 3096m high Thaba Putsoa peakss on day 3 near Baboon’s Pass.

The last 20km winds down Baboon’s Pass to the Makhaleng River valley far below – a descent of over 1700m.  It’s easier running in most places, so the distance clicks by and before you know it the final river crossing presents itself in the form of a 50m rocky stagger across the frigid Makhaleng River – this year being a little fuller than normal and requiring a support rope to be put in place!

Immediately after the river there is a final ramp up 600m to the finish line on the lush lawns of Ramabanta Trading Post lodge – a fitting end to a spectacular and unimaginable 3 days of pure trail running.

Tim Ellerbeck made sure he touched down on Baboon’s pass before smashing the second half to finish in 5:17:07 – clocking up a lead of almost 20 minutes on 2nd place Andy Stewart.  Jacques Mouton came third, but had done enough to secure overall victory and the 2013 Lesotho Wildrun title in a total time of 17:09:11.

Linda Doke proved too strong for her rivals in the ladies race, notching up wins over all three days and a 3rd place overall in a total time of 17:50:10.  Tracey Almirall placed second in a total time of 18:37:16.

Bernie Marais (28), Karen James (4), Michelle Theron (29), Matthew Townshend (41) at the Maletsunyane falls on Day 2

Bernie Marais (28), Karen James (4), Michelle Theron (29), Matthew Townshend (41) at the Maletsunyane falls on Day 2

In the end 30 brave, hardened runners completed this pure and magnificent journey through the mountains of Lesotho and received their prized Royal Quality Basotho finishers blanket complete with the 2013 Lesotho Wildrun logo embroidered in one corner.

The 2013 Lesotho Wildrun was proudly sponsored by First Ascent, who provided world-class Wildun gear for the runners, with aQuelle provide much needed bottled water throughout the event and Hammer Nutrition providing endurance fuel at the checkpoints and in the runners goodie bags.

Entries for the 2014 edition of the Lesotho Wildrun will open on the 26th September 2014.

The Lesotho Wildrun experience is run and managed by the Wildrunner team. Wildrunner was established in late 2007 by experienced trail runner, Springbok Orienteer & adventure racer, Owen Middleton; who together with his partner, Tamaryn Jupp form the core of the Wildrunner team.  Owen has been involved with organising specialist outdoor adventure events since 2002. Wildrunner now organise over 31 events per year, in four South African provinces.  The majority of those are the ever-popular and unique brand of events called ‘The Trail Series’.  In 2009, Wildrunner Events launched the Wildcoast Wildrun, and the Lesotho Wildrun experience in 2012. Other iconic Wildrunner events include the Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge and the Helderberg Mountain Challenge.

For more information on the Lesotho Wildrun 2014 and other events, visit our website here (www.wildrunner.co.za);  follow us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/wildrunnerza ) or Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lesotho-Wildrun/162775820430341)

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