Endless single track cattle paths contouring around steep mountain sides, with spectacular views of rugged mountains stretching off into the distance in all directions. What I found today was a mountain bikers wet dream, and a trail running paradise like nowhere I have been before. Sometimes you are in an incredible place with amazing scenery but it’s difficult to run as there’s no path. Today I found a place with the best of both worlds. Admittedly I have been to more beautiful places but this place is spectacular in its own right. What it lacks in natural beauty it more than makes up for it in pathways seemingly made for running. Those of you who enjoy trail running or off road mountain biking will know the exhilarating feeling of climbing up a mountain and then finding a smooth path to run along that hugs the contour as it goes. These paths are usually shortlived before they split up and dissappear. This place was different. The paths seemed to go on forever and I can bet you that nobody has ever run or cycled any of them. The local people who I saw there seemed as surprised to see a white man running through their village as they would be to see Jesus appear on a flying pig. They were wonderfully friendly and I even had some traditional beer as an on route refreshment. This is as rural as you get in this country. This is Backcountry Transkei.
Where is this place you might ask? Not many of you will have heard of the Nsizwa Mountains unless you live in East Griqualand. The Nsizwa Mountains are a range that straddle Southern KZN and the Eastern Cape or former Transkei. It consists of a steep escarpment to the East, South and West, with large plateau of rolling hills on the top. The altitude at the bottom of the escarpment is around 1000 to 1200m, depending on which side you are on. The plateau is at an altitude of 1700m with the highest hills being just short of 2000m. There are quite a few people living up top, but there is a very large area higher up that is inhabited by only their cattle and goats. It’s these livestock that have made the pathways. There are no fences, just trails leading from one water hole or spring, to the next.
I had been meaning to explore the Nsizwa mountains for a long time now in the hope of finding some new Trout streams. Alas I found no trout, but the terrain for running was incredible! By the time I had explored the Mzimvibu River valley and a few smaller tributaries I had already run 20km and my legs were feeling decidedly weary. The walk up to the top was a good 600m climb after which I was absolutely knackered! I from the top it was still a good 10 to 15 km to get back to where I left my car. My spirits were lifted at the top after I found some water and the most perfect path for running on. I realised how special this path was and I somehow found the energy to run. It’s like I got a 5th wind as I trotted along the path which kept along a perfect contour as it hugged the mountainside. The cool breeze blowing up the valley cooled me and gave me a further boost. It’s amazing how much fatigue is merely a state of mind. Or should I say that overcoming fatigue is a mental thing. That smooth cattle path with those incredible views was just what the doctor ordered as I got to the top of that mountain.
I only ran about 5 km up on the top before taking the shortcut home. If only I had gone straight to the top, I would have had the energy to enjoy the hill running that much more. I have no idea how many km of pathways are up there but the plateau is several thousand hectares in size and there a lot of cattle up there. It definitely going to have to be one of my next long runs. Today I ran at least 30km but most of it was following a road through the rural areas at the base of the mountain. Next time I will definitely save my energy for exploring the Nsizwa Plateau.