Three Peaks Challenge 2013

Having a national park set in a city is not unique, there’re many such urban escapes around the world. But here’s the thing: how many cities can boast not only THE most beautiful national park (please allow for the writer’s completely unbiased opinion), but one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature? And if that doesn’t elevate its status sufficiently, then how about being the only natural site on the planet to have a constellation of stars named after it? (Mensa, meaning “the table”, is named after Cape Town’s Table Mountain.) Just how cool is that!

Table Mountain, by far the most recognised site in South Africa, has withstood six million years of weathering and erosion, and hosts the richest, yet smallest floral kingdom on earth, with over 1 470 floral species, many of which are rare and endangered.

Capetonians are extremely proud of their magnificent mountain, and they’re happy to celebrate it in all sorts of ways. And so it was that in March 1897, 25 year old Carl Wilhelm Schneeberger undertook the challenge of ascending Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, starting from, and returning each time to, the old Johannesburg Hotel in Long Street. His goal was to complete the task in a single day, between 6am and 6pm. He achieved the challenge in 10hrs50, and was duly presented with a gold medal for his effort.

Then, 100 years later, experienced mountain climber and twice Two Oceans Marathon winner Don Hartley initiated a centennial commemoration of Schneeberger’s achievement by organising the inaugural Three Peaks Challenge. Thirteen runners took part, and the race was won, very appropriately, by Hartley.
a rough sketch of the route
And so began a tradition that has entrenched itself as one of Cape Town’s greatest challenges. The Three Peaks Challenge is always staged on the first Saturday of November, and sees 120 participants slogging their way up from Greenmarket Square (the site of the old Johannesburg Hotel) onto Tafelberg Road, up to the beacon on Devil’s Peak (964m), down to Greenmarket Square, then up through town again, up Platteklip Gorge and across to Maclears Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain (1 081m), back down all the way to Greenmarket Square and then, tackling the final haul up Kloof Nek Road and to the beacon at the top of Lion’s Head (558m), before staggering back down to – you guessed it – Greenmarket Square.

Platteklip Gorge - or more appropriately, Plattekill Gorge
The gruelling physical challenge of the 2 830m of elevation gain during this +/-50km race is exceeded only by the heart-breaking, mind-mashing, brain-burning psychological strain of having to descend all the way back down to 30m above sea level between each ascent. Thankfully, I was warned by a seasoned Three Peaker (or should I say, Pikker J) that even glancing up at the top of Table Mountain when leaving Greenmarket Square for the start of Leg 2 would be at my peril.

This was my first Three Peaks Challenge, and the 17th staging of the event. It seems crazy that it took me so many years before entering this race, but there was always something else it clashed with – in 2012 I had just run the Grand Raid de la Reunion, in 2009, 2010 and 2011 I ran the Skyrun, and in the years before that there were Tuffer Puffers to recover from, and other lame excuses… 

Now having done the race, I’m smitten – what a fantastic way to celebrate the beauty of Cape Town than to tackle its three most famous peaks all in one go!

Men                                              Women
1st  -   Charl Souma (5:46:57)          1st  -  Katya Soggot (6:15:02 - new record - 3rd overall)
2nd  -  Nic de Beer (6:05:20)             2nd  -  Linda Doke (6:36:10 - 5th overall)
3rd  -  Mark Pikker (6:33:02)            3rd  -  Caroline Balkwill (7:20:20)

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