Murraysburg is just a dot on the vast Karoo map – a blink and you’ll miss it “dorpie”, somewhere between the N1, Nelspoort, Graaf Reinett and the Three Sisters. And the idea of road-tripping eight hours to do a 95km trail race in this remote part of the Karoo, might seem crazy, but the Sneeuberg Traverse, held in on the farms and in the mountains outside Murraysburg, is totally worth the trek.
Organised by Willem Avenant from Karoo Running with the help of local farmers, the run was originally developed in the wake of the anti-fracking lobby in the Karoo, to promote protecting the pristine beauty of the area. Creating ecotourism through a trail race in the Karoo, would highlight the environmental value of the area and bring much needed revenue to the local community.
The Sneeuberg Traverse, a three-day trail race, is based at the “Toverwater” (Magical waters) farm outside Murraysburg. A true eco-trail experience, the camp is situated next to a massive waterfall and deep rockpool on the the farm, which is abundant in wildlife. Runners camp out in tents in a stone kraal under ancient pear trees, and at night, the food is cooked around the campfire.
Every day the runners are transported on the back of bakkies and Landies to a starting point to run into various sections of the surrounding farms and up into the mountains.
Karoo days are hot, reaching 35+ degrees with storm clouds building almost every day. The race routes range from gentle jeep track, to rugged rocky ascents on trail or bundu-bashing across the veld and fynbos. There are dozens of farm gates, and hundreds of sheep. We often spotted springbok pronking across our routes, wildebeest, kudu, steenbok, zebra and riverine rabbits in the distance and we all but tripped over the giant tortoises dotting the landscape. Porcupine quills, snake skins, leopard skat and big Aardvark burrows hinted at their presence, but they remained elusive.
Day One’s jaunt across dry scrub and up onto a rocky ridge populated by ubiquitous sheep, was rewarded with an endless view over the great Karoo, and a rocky twisting descent that was easier to run down than to brave in a hair-raising 4×4 challenge.
Day Two saw us cross into a far more lush section of the Sneeuberg, up into the blue mountains overlooking steep drops into hidden valleys full of wild flowers. Through gates, over fence stiles, pushing through thick bush down steep fence lines, past stone farmhouses surrounded by poplars, onto winding tracks up and over bouldered mountains, to a farm to be greeted enthusiastically by lambs and Angora goat kids, runners lying strewn across the lawns.
Day three was hot, hot, hot – starting at a gentle trot through a valley, up onto Spitskop, with its “valley of desolation” views and down a searing descent to a flat, fast finish in 38 degrees at Toverwater.
The “gees” (spirit) of the race is typical Karoo hospitality with local farmers and their families coming to join us around the campfires in the evening. Delicious catering made with love and enthusiasm by Miles, Marion and Katrina, kept the runners feeling pampered – think hearty stews, braais, curries and delicious baked puddings.
Highlights include a full moon rising over the wide landscape, storms building and breaking, rumbling over the Sneeuberg, vivid blue skies so clear they hurt our eyes, a pair of black eagles circling above us as we ran a ridge, lying in our tents listening to the chirp and hustle of frogs and Kiewits, being befriended by a tame Springbok, sitting around the fire listening to local farmers’ stories, and running free in endless space, away from everything.
Willem and his crew are proud and passionate about their corner of the world, and their love of the land filters into the race. You come away, carrying the Karoo in your heart and appreciating its fragile, tough beauty, wanting to protect it and share it.
For more information: http://karoorunning.weebly.com/the-sneeuberg-traverse.html