Exploring Mont Rochelle – Ziyaad Solomon
After a relatively late start to the morning (7am) we started our road trip to Franschoek. Okay, it’s not that far from Cape Town but when you live in the southern suburbs traveling for more than 30 minutes to do something is considered a road trip so pack the padkos.
Driving through this area is always special and my parents shared some history and stories about how the area came to be. I also recognised some sections of the Stellenbosch Cycle Tour which I completed last year. This race is a complete blur because I had no idea where I was most of the time thanks to the storm we were riding in. But you should ask me about this experience in person sometime because I go off the point. As we drove through the main road we saw people decorating their stores and the streets with French flags and banners. We realised this was our first experience of Bastille Day in this area!
While others opted for the official Bastille Day Trail Race we decided to explore a private nature reserve called Mont Rochelle. The Perdekop Trail was recommended by Coach Simon from the Rooted in Dirt blog. It sounded simple enough until I found out it had 1000m of climbing on just a 12km route! After some of my own research (http://www.montrochellehiking.co.za/trails) I had a general understanding of what to expect. I was also told that the route was easy to follow on my own or in a group of first timers. Most of the information online is for hikers so all the sites said the Perdekop trail would take 4-6 hours. I estimated that it would take us at least 2 hours to complete the route while running the flat sections and descents and a lot of power hiking on the climbs.
Entry into the nature reserve was just R50 which I thought was a reasonable price considering I’d have access to the mountains and trails in this reserve for the entire day. Yes, I use the hashtag #OutsideIsFree but R50 is basically nothing when you consider the cost of trail races.
The start of the route was clearly marked: painted footprints and a few arrows marked the rest of the route. The trail started with a short jeep track section which continued into a steep and technical descent. The sounds of a river flowing were getting louder and louder. I was dreading the thought of an unexpected river crossing or sketchy rock hopping. I was not keen for that chest deep river crossing the Bastille Day trail runners had to endure! Luckily for us there was a nice little bridge that gave us safe passage over the powerful flowing river. It had rained throughout the night so the rivers were full and waterfalls could be seen in the distance. This also marked the start of the crazy climb I was expecting. A few kilometers in, we bumped into Simon who had started much earlier and was heading back. We greeted, had a short conversation (no selfies) and we carried on. I was running with Nikki but I was a few hundred meters behind her and was definitely feeling the week’s training in my legs. No matter how hard I ran down the descents she was already climbing the next section; she’s a total trail dassie. Once she starts climbing you’re going solo. I decided to pop in my ear phones, put on some hip-hop and grind out these climbs on my own. I’m usually not one who runs with earphones or music but sometimes I just need that extra motivation to get it done. Once the brutal parts were over I put the music off and enjoyed the sounds of nature and the sounds of my steps on the earth beneath me. The higher we climbed the colder it got. There was water flowing down the trails and I tried to dodge in order to keep my feet as dry as possible. But with my Salomon S/Labs and Falke Stride combo I knew my feet were in good hands. I realise that sounds weird but you know what I mean. After a while I started to notice some white patches on the side of the trail. I stopped to check it out and realised it was snow… well ice.
I made sure to use this break to refuel and kept on moving. 5km into the run and I had finally caught up to Nikki. At this point a bunch of clouds came over us. Visibility was extremely low and we were really not sure which way the trail went. We climbed to the nearest point to take a few photos and have some snacks. We were now an hour into the run and knew we had only 1 km to go but decided it would be safer to head back now.
I’m always cautious when running on new trails or in new areas. My philosophy is that runners and the general public should always respect the mountain and remember that even a perfect summer’s day can make a complete 180 and you can be stuck in a thunder storm within minutes. As we made our way back it was really fun running down where we just suffered climbing up. A few slips off the trail and toe knocks later had Nikki leaving me in her dust again. I decided to walk for a few minutes and just take in the scenery. It was amazing, peaceful and I felt completely free. I descended back to the bridge over the river. There’s something really calming about the sound of flowing water but not if you have a big pee on. The technical descent from the start was now a killer climb but I power hiked my way up to the jeep track at the start of the route. However, I made sure to run the last few meters back to the cars so people knew I was a trail runner. Check my Strava to see the full route and elevation profile.
All in all, it was a great experience and I am definitely going back because I need to finish the full route and get to the Perdekop summit. But maybe not after a rough week of training.
A quick change into dry clothing and we made our way to the finish line of the Bastille Day Trail Race. The rest of the day was filled with trail war stories from friends and good food and vibes at the Bastille Day Festival.
My advice: when exploring new routes make sure you do your research. Check Strava routes and ask friends or more experienced trail runners about the trail you’ve chosen to explore. There are lots of resources online but sometimes they’re not easy to understand or remember when on the trail. Also, I advise going with a group or at least a partner. It’s better to be lost together than to be lost on your own. That lucky person will either get the blame for the countless detours you had to take since you got lost or get all the kudos for choosing such an epic adventure!
Words by Ziyaad Solomon
Edited by Ragmah Edwards