Baviaanskloof Trail Run is ever-changing and addictive. Through its nine years, this 40km Eastern Cape adventure through a World Heritage Site has been flooded or bone dry, lush with game or burnt out. No matter what, it gives runners what they want, which is why they keep coming back.

leopard Legend of Legends Award Alan Ainslie Baviaanskloof Trail Run
Legend of Legends Award alongside the winners trophy, both by artist Alan Ainslie.

Those who have returned to complete Baviaanskloof Trail Run three times become an official Legend. To mark the achievement three-timers receive a framed, signed, limited edition work by renowned artist Alan Ainslie.

As the years roll on, the league of Legends has grown! And so, a new honour has been introduced: the Legend of Legends Award for those who have completed Baviaanskloof nine times! Legend of Legends who have completed all nine PiA Solar Baviaanskloof Trail Runs receive a magnificent framed limited-edition Alan Ainslie leopard award. That honour belongs to Emil Hougaard, Chris Gedye, and Bennie Burger who completed their ninth on 9 September 2017.

Speedy Legend of Legends

Emil Hougaard has got to know the route quite well over his nine runs, including a win in 2015, and placed fourth overall this year in 4h33min.

“I don’t really have a single run that stands out as a favourite,” explains Emil, “but the one where I almost broke the four hour barrier remains close to my heart.”

Emil Hougaard vertical blue sky Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 by Craig Muller Backyard Adventures
Emil Hougaard descending one of many steep sections at Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017. photo Craig Muller | Backyard Adventures

To put it into context, the 2017 winner, Bernhard Kapp, cracked in by just a few seconds in 3h59min34s.

Emil continues: “Each of the runs are unique and this is what makes the event so enjoyable. We’ve had flooded rivers, drought, and incredible wildlife encounters.”

The 2017 Baviaanskloof Trail Run was special for Emil due to the effort organisers Darrell and Evie Raubenheimer put into recognising the runners’ achievements. “Receiving the Legend of Legends Award and being acknowledged for doing all nine events is quite special. Darrell and Evie make quite a big deal of it at every run!”

It’s not just the excellent organisation that has kept Emil coming back. “I love that area. Being out there feeds my soul! This run ensures that I get there once per year.

“The people that visit the area are like-minded – so it is good seeing some friends from a far, and meeting awesome new friends every year.

“It’s a nice weekend away with no cell phone reception!”

Escape into Baviaanskloof Trail Run

Legend of Legends number two, Chris Gedye, found the 2017 Baviaanskloof Trail Run stood out with it’s bizarre landscape. “Running on top of the mountain range which looked like a lunar landscape after the fires that swept through the area awhile ago really set this year apart.”

Chris Gedye Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 by Craig Muller BAckyard Adventures
Chris Gedye running strong near the beginning of Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017. photo Craig Muller | Backyard Adventures

His first run, back in 2009, will always be his most memorable. Chris says “My first one will always be special as I was running in uncharted territory. Especially so in a World Heritage Site like the Baviaanskloof!”

What has kept Chris coming back to Baviaanskloof Trail Run for nine years? “The ruggedness of the run and the solitude whilst camping.

“It can be scary camping with leopard and other big game around.

“In general it is a superbly organised event by Darrell and Evie Raubenheimer. The prizes by Alan Ainslie are world class. Limiting the field is great too – you could run on your own for hours and enjoy the solitude.”

Unmissable, even in the face of illness

Bennie Burger Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 by Craig Muller BAckyard Adventures
Bennie Burger slowly but surely making his way to the finishline before the cut-off. photo Craig Muller Backyard Adventures

Bennie Burger (64) almost missed his ninth Baviaanskloof Trail Run because he had flu!

He managed to get to the race start in a healthy condition, but it wasn’t plain-sailing.

“It was scary when the antibiotic course from the previous week caught up in the last few kilometres,” explains Bennie. “The lingering fear of not making the cut-off became a monster. Luckily I made it with 40 minutes to spare albeit an hour longer than in 2016.”

A huge relief!

His most memorable run was in 2012: “There was lots of water and one nice deep river-crossing. The fynbos was absolutely beautiful.”

And what has kept him coming back, all the way from Nelspruit, for almost a decade? “The remoteness of the place and a very welcome break from the office!

“Big thanks to Darrell and Evie Raubenheimer for putting it together as well as to all the sponsors for making it financially possible.”

Sweep to Legend status

Ghida Bernard smile group Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 by Craig Muller Backyard Adventures
Ghida and Anthony Bernard are back at Baviaanskloof Trail Run with friend Tienie Ferreira. photo Craig Muller | Backyard Adventures

Ghida Bernard completed her third Baviaanskloof Trail Run this year, earning her Legend status. She swept the course for two years, running 2017 competitively for the first time. Ghida finished with her husband Anthony, and friend Tienie Ferreira in 6h17min.

“My hubby has run the last five or so,” explains Ghida. “Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 was a personal victory as it was my first long distance trail. I set the goal last year at the start of the race when I decided I want to experience it for myself.

What an experience indeed! Mentally and physically challenging – but the view makes it worth it.

“The event is well organised, the vibe relaxed and fun, with a real sense of community. There is something magical in the Baviaans.”

First trail for field ranger

Not all the 2017 runners were return customers:

Eric Singqotho vertical Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 by Craig Muller Backyard Adventures
Eric Singqotho not enjoying his first trail run very much… photo Craig Muller | Backyard Adventures

Eric Singqotho, ECPTA Field Ranger and marathon runner, completed his first Baviaanskloof Trail Run. “He found my route a bit, er, harsh!” laughs race organiser Darrell.

Eric can laugh about it too, afterwards: “It was the most beautiful race that I have ever run. In fact it was not a race, but a punishment, haha!”

It wasn’t all suffering though. “I enjoyed climbing those beautiful mountains and those steep paths with loose stones,” confesses Eric. “I’ve been running for 17 years but that was my first trail run. Climbing those mountains gave me a hard time because I’m a road runner.

“I started the race very fast because I thought it was just like other race. I didn’t prepare too much for it because I felt strong after Comrades Marathon.”

Eric still managed to finish strong, placing sixth overall in 4h41min.

Will be back? “I will definitely do it again because after all that punishment I smiled. I felt like a Legend myself.

“And I really enjoyed running with a cup in my hand haha!”

spekboom Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 by Craig Muller Backyard Adventures
Spekboom seedlings for all finishers at Baviaanskloof Trail Run. photo Craig Muller Backyard Adventures

Conservation at the heart

Eric ran with a cup, like all Baviaanskloof Trail runners, because the race has a strict no plastic policy. No single-use plastic is used at all.

Finisher plant

Another way Baviaanskloof Trail Run addresses the environment is via spekboom crown and finisher trophies. Winners are crowned with a wreath and every finisher takes home a 100% biodegradable cup containing a spekboom seedling.

This plant stores solar energy to photosynthesise at night. This makes a spekboom thicket 10 times more effective per hectare at carbon fixing than a tropical rainforest.

Conservation donation

Approximately 30% of the entry fee is channelled to the Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency (ECPTA) and the Honorary Conservators of the Baviaanskloof. Later this year they will refurbishing the Bergplaas Mountain Hut using Baviaanskloof Trail Run funds.

Secret route

You won’t find the Baviaans route anywhere online. It is in a wilderness section of the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve that is frequented by endangered and threatened wildlife.

To provide the rhino who live in the area with security runners are not permitted to upload or distribute details of the route.

Voice of the trail-boss

Darrell Raubenheimer organises the Baviaanskloof Trail Run and Rhodes Run each year, in partnership with his wife, Evie.

Darrell Raubenheimer Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 by Craig Muller Backyard Adventures
Darrell Raubenheimer giving the race briefing at his ninth Baviaanskloof Trail Run. photo Craig Muller | Backyard Adventures

“Every one of our events are special.

“This year the route was more runnable due to the after effects of the severe veldfires. The protea thickets had disappeared, landscape was a moonscape – totally denuded.”

Darrell has noticed that there is a type of runner who keep coming back to Baviaans year after year: “Adventurous, with a love for true wilderness, they are self-sufficient.

“The venue is remote, the route not the easiest but the experience out on this trail is a huge reward. We don’t pamper our runners: no smoothing rough edges.”

Baviaanskloof Trail Run podiums

First Bernhard Kapp Elizma Horne (10th overall)
 3h59min 5h00min
Second Steve McCarthy  Helena Slabbert
4h04min 5h14min
Third Dale Moulton Charmaine van der Merwe
4h21min 5h34min

 

trophies black rhino Baviaanskloof Trail Run 2017 by Craig Muller Backyard Adventures
Striking running black rhino trophies sculpted by Alan Ainslie, with spekboom crowns. photo Craig Muller | Backyard Adventures

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