It was amazing to see the great turnout for the Namaqualand Flower Run considering the long drive up the N7 (450km) from Cape Town to get to Garies.
I arrived in Garies at about 22h30 after the long drive. I stayed at Sophia’s Guest House to save myself the hassle of going to the campsite and pitching a tent in the dark. Garies really is tiny, and there is very little in the way of modern conveniences!
The next morning we drove out to the start, which is about 6km outside Garies itself. This is actually the Rooiberg Hiking Trail eco-tourism site. Lovely accommodation and camping sites are under construction next to a beautiful small dam.
The route starts out by following the valley, crossing the river a few times and soon starts a gradual climb. After 3 kilometers this then turns into a monster climb: well laid out trail following tight switch-backs, and then granite slabs, often covered in lichen, at impossibly steep angles. I tried zig-zagging to make it easier, but the gradient was simply too steep: you end up climbing on the balls of your feet with your heel suspended by your lower calf and Achilles which are both threatening mutiny.
At about 9km you finally reach the summit, passing just below the trig beacon on the actual peak, before starting your descent. It is worth noting here that the summit is 1691m above sea-level, and the start is at 447m above sea-level: that’s a vertical gain of 1244m. Platteklip pales in comparison at only 640m.
I somehow had a picture of a long, runnable descent in my mind. Instead, we dropped off and to the left on a difficult descent over varied terrain with the added difficulty of staying on course by trying to spot and follow the route markers. One moment you are banging hard over granite slabs, the next loose, sandy trail.
Nicholas Rupanga finished in first place, setting a new record of 2hrs 17min. I finished in 9th place in a time of 3hrs. As a testimony to the difficulty of the descent, my splits show it took 1h40 minutes to reach the summit, and 1h20 to get back down again!
After the race we were treated to an awesome plate of potjiekos cooked by the locals: krummel-pap, boontjies, butternut and roosterbrood.
I believe the 10km course was absolutely stunning: they followed up the valley, and then climbed out up quite a steep trail (we came down it later on our way back) before a long runnable downhill which provided some superb running.
I camped in the Municipal Caravan Park on the Saturday night: it was quite a party! When I finally turned in well after midnight, I fell asleep to the sounds of fellow trail runners playing a game of Twister!
A final note: I paid R190.00 for this awesome weekend. I got 2 nights camping, entry to a superbly organised race, a beautifully prepared lunch, a First Ascent T-shirt, another First Ascent Mens Vader Tee shirt as a lucky draw prize. This really makes me question the ridiculous prices being charged for some of the trail runs at the moment! Double thumbs up to race organisers Dom and Ben.
Not only was it unquestionably the best value for money, but it involved the local community and contributed to their eco-tourism efforts in the region.