Bergtender, Make That A Single
By Ras Vaughan
Shooting For The Moon, and, Yet Again, Landing Among The Stars
My Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse was a no-go. The morning of Day Six I awoke to pummelling winds that lasted all through the day, at times threatening to lift me off my feet and blow me off the high ridges. The wind continued to build into the evening, blowing in storm clouds, into which I had to climb. Getting drenched, I was forced into my tent before dark to take shelter and hope for better weather in the morning, about 12 miles shy of my turnaround point goal.
Instead of sunshine I awoke to 1/4 inch of ice coating my tent. Freezing cloud had turned my environs into a beautiful but inhospitable icescape, complimented by drizzling rain. Descending the steep gully from Thamathu Pass was treacherous and slow, and as the day warmed slightly everything became sodden. I knew then that either the weather would have to clear and dry me and my gear out, or I would have to bail at Bushmans Nek. The rain not only continued but increased, and my decision was made. There's a reason it's named The Dragon.
Going fast and light on these adventures necessitates a balance between what gear you carry and what conditions you can endure. I had exactly the right amount of gear to survive a few days of this weather, but not to move efficiently and safely in it endlessly. I couldn't rationalize climbing back up into a storm above 10,000 feet with wet gear and very limited bailout possibilities. The continued rain and additional lightning after I arrived at Bushmans Nek only confirmed my decision. So my grand ambitions to leave my mark on Africa ended much the way Humankind began: huddled in a cave. But Africa has certainly left its mark on me.
Even though I’m not necessarily known for making prudent decisions, in this instance it was the right one. The storm continued all through the next day. It was the tail end of a cyclone that struck Durban sown at the coast, knocking out power and internet all the way up to the Drakensberg. The Drakensberg Escarpment rises drastically and dramatically to the highlands of Lesotho, so weather rolls in off the ocean and over the savannah until it suddenly hits a wall of rock 3000 meters high. This produces the sort of extreme and quick-developing storms for which the Drakensberg is famous, and which ended my Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse attempt, leaving me stranded in an unfamilar part of a foreign country with no friends or connections I could contact. But that’s another story.
It was an amazing Blessing to complete a single Drakensberg Grand Traverse. Aside from the weather, I had exactly half my food supply left and half of my batteries charged, so I was in perfect shape to finish in 12 days. I feel good about what I accomplished, and it would be an understatement to say I had a life-changing experience. Meeting the Herd Boys of Lesotho was amazing, and I have a lot more to share about them. In the end, the story of my failed Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse is about the Herd Boys, more so than about me. And my failure to achieve my first world athletic goals only makes for a better story. “White Man Triumphs in Africa” is a headline on the wrong side of history, and an overused one at that.
I shot almost 60 gigabytes of GoPro footage during this adventure which Joel Balleza and I will be making into a film about the project in the coming months, so there are plenty more details forthcoming.
Below are the stats for my single solo DGT.
Special Thanks to Altra Running for making this project possible.
Thanks also to Gossamer Gear for their substantial support.
And thanks to Nathan Sports, Seven Hills Running Shop, Trail Butter, and Honey Stinger for their support.
START AT SENTINEL CAR PARK: Day 1, 9:45 AM, Monday, September 11, 2017
WAYPOINT #1 THE CHAIN LADDERS: DAY 1, 11:15 AM
WAYPOINT #2 MONT AUX SOURCES: DAY 1, 2:25 PM
WAYPOINT #3 CLEFT PEAK: Day 2, 6:25 PM
WAYPOINT #4 CHAMPAGNE CASTLE: Day 3, 2:58 PM
WAYPOINT #5 MAFADI: Day 3, 9:51 PM
WAYPOINT #6 GIANTS CASTLE: Day 4, 6:50 PM
WAYPOINT #7 THABANA NTLENYANA: Day 5, 5:08 PM
WAYPOINT #8 THAMATHU PASS: Day 7, 8:15 AM
FINISH AT BUSHMANS NEK: Day 7, 2:47 PM, Sunday, September 17, 2017
6 days, 5 hours, 2 minutes