By staff writer: Jess Meniere
What originally started out as a rough sketched-up route in Ryan Sandes’ note-pad soon took the shape of the legendary 13 Peaks challenge, a route that clocks over 106km and tallies a total of 6000m elevation, and tags 13 of Cape Town’s summits. The challenge has seen many trail runners, hikers, dog-walkers, and adventure-seekers blister their way to finish, from the local trailers to several out-of-towners to a handful of (and growing) internationals. Designed to showcase all of Table Mountain’s magnificence, it does just that and more. It is not for the faint-hearted but takes tough, dogged determination to get through it, and once you have, it will stay in your heart and burn at your feet forever.
The segment starts at (1) Signal Hill, runs to (2) Lion’s Head, climbs to (3) Maclear’s Beacon, trails along to (4) Grootkop and (5) Judas Peaks, traverses up to (6) Klein Leeukop and (7) Suther Peak, across to (8) Chapman’s Peak, up to (9) Noordhoek Peak, summits (10) Muizenberg Peak, snakes up (11) Constantia Berg and (12) Klassenkop, to tag (13) Devil’s Peak and finally ends back at Signal Hill to earn a finisher’s badge. There are only a few simple rules to follow, according to Ryan; “don’t be a chop, keep safe, and run at your own pace.” As a personal challenge, you set the time, earning either a one-day (sub-24-hours), two-days (sub-48 hours) or a multi-day (completed over several days) badge.
The 13 Peaks has created a community of many challengers, diverse in ability and size – with 800 people have completed it so far; here are a sample of 13:
1. The mastermind, Ryan Sandes & his ‘Impossible Badge’
Having linked together all of his favorite peaks in the Table Mountain and Cape Peninsula area, Sandes estimated that the route’s total distance would be no more than a breezy easy 55km. Convincing his close friend and trail-blazer, Kane Reilly, to join him and take on the peaks, the pair set off for an “epic day out.” 19-hours later, Sandes and Reilly had doubled their originally estimated distance and tagged a total of 12.5 peaks. While their adventure had been cut short after their head torches ran out of battery, the route had been recced. As the duo parted ways with a celebratory high-five and a handshake, “promising to go back and complete it”; the 13-Peaks challenge was born.
Having completed the route in under 24-hours, Sandes’ shares that his adventure with Reilly was one of his favorite days ever spent on the mountain. It was a route that he had to share, an experience for everyone to enjoy, and so, he created the “one-day,” “two-day,” and “multi-day” categories to make the challenge more accessible to everyone. The ‘race’ is personal, and everybody who attempts the 13 Peaks has their objectives and way of completing the challenge. Sandes shares it’s unlike any other ultra-marathon; you do it on your terms, time, pace and over how many days you want.
As trail-runners and hikers clocked the mileage, completed the route and claimed their badges, all embarking on their own personal pursuits, Sandes got to thinking, “how fast could he run the route?” While he had already gone back to set a 15-hour record, Sandes said, he laced up and set out to add one more challenge to the category list, ‘The Impossible Badge’: 13 peaks in 13-hours or less.
Sandes finished in an unbelievable 13h41m10s, crowning him the first and at present, only “Impossible Badge”. While Sandes’ has plenty of stories of his own from the 13 Peaks, he admits that the best part of this adventure has been meeting and hearing the stories of others, acknowledging that everyone’s extreme is different and their mission is their own.
2. The first one-day badge woman, Linda Doke
Salomon ultra-distance trail runner and coach Linda Doke, first heard about the 13 Peaks mid-recovery from emergency stomach surgery. An operation which, at the time, left her and doctors uncertain if she would ever be able to run long distances again. Fortunately, “the recovery went brilliantly,” says Linda, and after being able to test out some long-distance endurance trails in Europe, she returned home a month later to take on Cape Town’s ultimate challenge.
The date was set for Women’s Day (August 9th) with a decision to run it unaccompanied; Linda set off on a mission to “mark women’s strength” and affirm “that one should never be held back by fear.”
Fueled on salted nuts, fruit squeezes, soft apricots, and a banana or two – Linda set off at 8 pm to tackle the trail. Her favourite peak, “that’s a tricky one,” she shared, as there were in fact, two – the first, her ascent of Table Mountain. Ascending via India Venster, Doke marveled at the path which lay ahead, “speckled with puffs of thick mist that rose and fell,” one minute, her view was smudged with grey, the next, the whole of the Cape Town CBD and its sparkling garb of city lights revealed. 45km in, her second favourite peak was the summit of Noordhoek Peak, watching the dawn light override the night sky, “it was just me, the mountain and the sunrise,” concludes Doke.
Navigating through the darkness with only a head-torch to guide her along the mountain’s single-tracks, she shared another memorable yet challenging moment. As she tagged Judas Peak, mesmerized by the night’s fog which swirled in the gusty wind, she quickly dug out her phone to capture a “mandatory selfie,” completely engrossed in the task, she was left disoriented and suddenly lost. The thick mist reflecting the beam from her head-torch was blinding and sent her scrambling in an attempt to retrace her tracks. After a frenzied and frustrating 10-minute search, she eventually re-routed and was back on the trail, tagging peak upon peak.
While Doke shares there were no particularly low moments, she admits her biggest challenge was the climb up Constantiaberg – realising too late that she had taken a more grueling, less optimal route-up – and the disappointing dead-GPS tracker on Devil’s Peak, all too close to the finish line.
But thirteen peaks and thirteen selfies later, Linda Doke had finished, claiming her title as not only the first female to complete the one-day badge but also as the first female to finish the segment solo. Tagging Signal Hill after 22h57m, she said, “ felt downright fantastic!”
3. The barefoot adventures
Dominic Holling has added a new mix to the almighty 13 Peak challenge, he did it barefoot. He’d been ‘bare-footing’ for a while, (introduced by friend Max Elsworth, they had done a number of hikes in and around Cape Town) before they heard about the 13 Peaks. Naturally, it sounded like an obvious challenge to try it barefoot – something no one has yet to contest. Holling explains that “running barefoot is a completely different experience compared to running in shoes.” Adding, “you are completely immersed in everything around you, with an added sense of feeling and connection to the trails that you are running.”
Their goal was to conquer all 13 peaks in 4 days, all barefoot – “a pretty crazy goal,” admits Holling, “especially with the minimal amount of training and planning we had done.” Joined by Nicholas McDonald and Josh Jackson for a few of the days, the two intrepid barefooted trailers completed the segment in 4 consecutive days in a total and very impressive time of 40 gruelling hours.
“Completing the segment barefoot really enhanced the whole experience, including the pain, and it was agony at times,” shares Holling. “It definitely slowed us down at times, and made us easily tired,” amusingly adding, “to be honest we’re not fully sure why we ran the 13 Peaks barefoot, but we made that decision and we did it, that’s all that matters.”
Holling openly admits that the challenge was hard and besides the general pain, there were cuts, cold weather and a shortage of water on one of the days – but that all quickly disappeared, “as you reach the top of the peaks, suddenly you appreciate the beauty around you and realise this was why you did it.” This barefooted adventure crew’s favourite peak was Noordhoek, reaching it after an incredibly tough steep ascent, and a very painful walk across the road – only to be greeted by a spectacular view from the top – lush colour and beautiful scenes. Their least favourite and an experience in itself was Devil’s Peak – exhausted, cold and on their last day, they ascended literally into the clouds, by the time they reached the top, they could barely see a metre in front of them and had to literally cling to the beacon just to stand. Holling jokes that there “were times in their 8-hour days on the mountain when quitting seemed like a really great option,” especially at the end of day three when he found himself quite literally limping down the mountain. But the hardened crew kept on with the knowledge that the next day it would be over, and their challenge of breaking in the 13 Peaks barefoot would be accomplished. So, touching that final beacon at Signal Hill was a truly amazing feeling. Holling adds that their theme song “Till I Collapse” by Eminem, which they played when they were really struggling, gave them the motivation to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.
Holling says he would love to do it again and maybe even tackle the challenge for a second attempt with his barefooted crew, cashing a better time with better preparation – over a longer time frame, allowing for shorter days, but allowing them to get more rest in between the peaks.
4. A parental & paw-full pack: Megan, Gerard, their 7-month baby & dog Mo.
As very patriotic Capetonians, Megan and Gerard Noel had just accepted an offer to move to the Natal Midlands – there was no other choice than to tackle their bittersweet farewell with one last challenge. With the mountains being their favourite playground, it seemed only appropriate to take on the 13 Peaks, the grand finale curtain close to their Cape Town adventure. But first, they needed to up their game and get their training on. To prove that life does not end when you have a new baby, they added their four-legged first-born, Ridgeback cross-something pavement-special, Mo and their 7-month-old daughter Rumi to the team. Sharing their peak schedule with friends so that they could join them for a farewell hike, create memories and help to carry the extra nappy, they were ready to go.
As nature lovers, Megan and Gerard want to ensure that Rumi grows up appreciating and respecting the outdoors, to fall in love with a lifestyle where getting outside is fundamental to her happiness, personal growth and having fun. It’s up to them, they shared “to be the example and showing her how it’s done, is the first step.”
They’ve always erred on the side of adventure and both love the outdoors. They previously travelled to South America on a sabbatical, where they first wet their feet on long distance and overnight hiking. They completed some epic hikes (Huayna Potosi in Bolivia (6088m), Cerro Castillo in Chile, Ciudad Perdida in Colombia).
Having spent a lot of time on the peaks, Megan and Gerard knew the Cape Town mountains well, so when Ryan developed the 13 Peak, it quickly made its way onto their bucket list. Another milestone and huge achievement were “getting Megan back on the wagon” after a long road of surgery, screws and rehabilitation post a shattered humerus on their honeymoon in Sri Lanka. They knew that this was going to be physically challenging, but something they were ready to try.
Their favourite peak was a toss-up between Grootkop and Suther Peak – two peaks which they’d never done before with incredible views and fun climbs. Her most memorable and terrifying moment, Megan recalls, was “trying to reach the official Klaasenkop beacon, the drop beneath is something else and there was a moment I questioned what the hell are we doing?” Watching her daughter Rumi, strapped to husbands back as she lay horizontal and head hanging low, while Gerard clung to the tree branch and navigated himself over the crevice, was not an easy task. She adds, “Rumi of course shrieked with delight while my heart stopped.” Megan added a “disclaimer, that the Thule baby carrier is epically safe and ensured that Rumi was securely strapped at all times”
Maclear’s Beacon was also an experience to remember, the heavy winds had seen the closure of the cable cars, and although Platteklip seemed like the most accessible plan B, it was jam-packed with fellow hikers trying to find their way up and down the mountain. Megan’s brother, Damien, had joined them that day and insisted he knew a quieter and quicker path, which although direct access to the top, was an exposed and hair-raising route, an epic climb! The highlight, Megan adds, was “climbing up below a massive pair of Verreaux eagles right on the cliff face.”
Some challenges from the segment included; unpredictable weather, “hiking with a baby (changing nappies on a cliff can prove to be quite tricky), but you quickly learn the tricks and essentials.” Keeping Rumi occupied and happy, especially if she was niggly, always required a team effort, and “often we just had to keep going,” they shared. The extra weight of a baby carrier, lugging it under branches and over rocks, was challenging at times, and of course, navigating steep drops, chains and ladders with a dog and baby were testing. The cold. The heat, running out of water, running into a Cape Cobra, and being unable to get an icy beer at La Parada after their Constantia Nek descent because of lockdown restrictions were hard.
Although it was a non-consecutive multi-day finish (with a few extra obstacles like surgeries, teething, lockdown and packing up their lives in Cape Town added to the challenge), they finished in an impressive cumulative time of 48 hours 1 minute 25 seconds. With memories made to last, swimming in the top reservoir, singing Old MacDonald on repeat, hiking with friends, views, and getting to the bottom of Devils Peak to be met by friends with a running pram – the final stretch was golden. Megan and Gerard conclude that “next time, we’re getting babysitters and running it in one day! Jokes. Two days obvs.”
5. The fastest female, Naomi Brand
(17h 45m 56s) 32-year-old Pretorian-born ultra-trail runner holds the record for the fastest female finisher. Naomi Brand is an elite long-distance trail runner with some serious mileage and several national and international wins under her belt (Addo Elephant Trails (100 Miler – 1st place 2017), Addo Elephant Trails – 76K (2nd place 2018), Ultra Trail Cape Town 100K (3rd place 2016), UTCT 100K (3rd place 2017), Karkloof 100 Miler (1st place 2017), and Tarawera Ultras 102K (3rd place 2020)).
From the moment Ryan Sandes had conquered all peaks and raised the racing bar on all the summits, Brand was in, long-distance on her favourite mountain ticked all the right boxes. The idea of competing against herself with no external pressure but her own upped the ante even more. Having done all the segments before, she knew what to expect, and with a finishing goal of under 18 hours, the challenge was set. While realistically, Brand didn’t think it was achievable, she put together a well-mapped race strategy, employing the support of friends and strong athletes to second her along the way. Brand modestly admitted, “this was a group effort,” as she clocked in on the final peak at just under 18 hours, an incredible 17h45.
Brand talks candidly about the warm-up to the race, the challenges of living abroad away from Cape Town and missing out on her trailing community, together with a hard year of a pandemic lockdown. Initially, she admits she was hesitant to message and ask all the incredible athletes who seconded her to do so; daunted, she says by putting herself out there in front of some serious athletes. “It’s always scary to run with these athletes,” but run, she did. Surrounded by friends and on home ground, Brand achieved 1st place on the 13 Peaks female ‘podium’. She quickly acknowledges the incredible support she had from family, friends, her coach, and the many supporters who all helped her achieve this dream.
Brand relives her highs and lows – her favourite peak was Noordhoek Peak, together with her wonderful friend and support athlete, Matt Leon; they took a moment (the only one on the race) to stop, stare and take in the sunrise for a renewed burst of energy. Descending Noordhoek Peak with a hurt and blistered toe, sudden tiredness hit her. Matt pulled her through this dip, as together they chorused through ‘Mountain Joy Silver Linings’ singing hard, arms lifted aero-planning downhill. It struck her that no one has been left unbattered from the hardships of Covid, and finding joy in the moment and, more importantly, joy in each other is what it’s all about. Her biggest low was Devil’s Peak, and although a peak she knew well as she had previously lived at the bottom of this peak – it was mentally and physically challenging.
Brand is not big on eating during ultra’s and instead fueled on liquids (broth soups), handfuls of chips and jellies, baby foods, Coke, and Red Bull to give her the energy boosts she needed. Her go-to is “rather drink more than less.” Besides finishing under her goal time, her all-time favourite memory was her coach driving behind her on Tafelberg road as she ran together with other athletes towards the finishing peak at Signal Hill. The finishing was very emotional and the best possible finish – surrounded by all the people she looks up to – Brand adds, “I felt like the luckiest person on this planet.” Her best day in years wasn’t only her victory but shared with everyone she loves. Brand finishes her racing day recount with gratitude, acknowledging that she can run and is fit and healthy to do so. “Applauding Ryan for an awesome race that brings people together from all walks of life to enjoy and challenge themselves on the mountain.”
6. The man with every badge, Julian
A newbie to the trail running scene and one of the first handfuls of hardened runners to have completed The 13 Peaks, Julian, it seemed, was ready for more.
In 2019 Julian swapped the tar for trail and set the bar high, entering several ultra races as well as 100kms + races. After successfully completing all of his high-achieving 2019 goals (Addo 100 Miler, Hout Bay Trail Challenge 40km, Two Oceans Ultra Road 5 km, Comrades 87km, Bastille 50km, Table Mountain Challenge 44km, Maxi Stellenbosch 100km, Skyrun 100km, UTCT 10km), he gave it a bit of a rest, intent on spending time doing other things and building on his business and relationship goals set out for 2020. The year started off well – business was booming, with the first two months of the year being his busiest yet. However, the promising start was short-lived with the extended Covid lockdown, meaning his business came to a grinding halt.
Legend, friend and training partner Ashraf Orrie ‘Mr. O’, added him to a WhatsApp group with runners training for their first 13 Peaks challenge. All personal friends of Ryan Sandes, Julian was excited to join the group with the goal of attempting to get his One Day badge the first time around. Julian was very much the underdog of the group, averaging kilometres way below the others who had already been training for a couple of months. Julian admitted, “he had a lot of catching up to do to earn his position in the crew,” adding “he now had something to work towards and was truly grateful for the opportunity.” The ultimate ‘team’ comprising of Ryan Bekker, Daniel Albertse, Dean Ollis, Warren Kent, Dave van Ginkel and Kyle Bucklow all warmly welcomed him into their ‘tribe.’ Weekly training sessions ensued, scouting the route and running the Gone2Gone Segment together was a great build-up to the day.
Eventually, the day arrived with perfect weather conditions and a curfew in place. Arriving at Lions Head to find their first obstacle, the road to Signal Hill was closed, which meant an extra 5km warm-up run to the beacon, without the moral support and goodbye of family and friends to see them off on their adventure. “With only the moonlight guiding our way so as not to attract too much attention to our run,” – navigating curfew and lockdown regulations – they only turned on their head torches at Platteklip, where they were safely on their mission and now unstoppable.
The first half was a slow, steady pace. With the help of JJ De Villiers (also a 13-Peaker), they trailed their way easily to Klein Leeukop and all the way to Chappies without any problems. “Ryan Sandes joined us at Silvermine for a Peak which lifted my spirits quite a bit after having already covered more than half the distance and having some fun with the GoPro along the way.”
The wheels started to come off after tagging Muizenberg Peak, and “our One Day Badge goal soon became a Two Day one.” Julian only became aware of this reality upon arrival at the Constantia Nek parking area, and it was at this point in time, he decided to carry on alone. “I never thought I would be running it solo, although already 2 hours behind schedule, I was determined to finish in the 24-hour allotment.” With extra supplies, live tracking on his phone, Julian set off to make up for lost time. Klassenkop cost him a lot of additional time. Having never done the segment before, he had no idea where he was supposed to go and only got back on track after bumping into a friend who redirected him. “Putting pedal to the metal,” Justin gave it his all, with the looming curfew at 6pm, “I knew I ran the risk of being stopped at the end and being made to turn around at the Signal Hill boom.”
Still, hoping to make it, running full speed down Tafelberg Road, not stopping until he reached the beacon, the boom was closed, his phone was dying, and with very little left in the tank, he pushed on. Finally reaching Signal Hill with just 4 percent battery life left to tag and document the final and last peak. Looking at his time – he reflected that he’d missed the 24-hour cut-off by 25 minutes. Alone and in the dark – not exactly the way he’d envisioned the finish – he was still proud of himself for not giving up.
Julian reflects that after receiving the badge, Ryan planted the seed of going for all the badges in one month. It didn’t take too long to decide, and before long he was plotting his multi-day badge – planning to complete it in 5 days (then 4 days because of bad weather conditions). Julian rallied the troops, a group of faithful, almost family-like running buddies (Ashraf and Rolda Orrie) and aptly named his ‘team’ – the Strong 2 run Crew. With a couple of firsts thrown into the mix for extra luck – Julian would be the first person to get all the badges in 30 days, including his much-coveted one-day badge. The crew would be the largest group to attempt the challenge, and they’d be celebrating Pappy G (the oldest member of the ‘ team’ on the final day of the challenge). The multi-day badge was Julian’s favourite badge, yet he adds, there were moments of course – wrong turns, early mornings, sore legs, and late evening, but what an experience with new and old friends together.
It was onto his reattempt at the One Day Badge – making a few food and water drops along the segment. Starting the route alone, two of his friends would second him from Tafelberg Road until Hout Bay – from there, he was alone until he reached Silvermine. He was joined at Silvermine by Alewyn Burger, a fellow One Day Badge-r, which added some reprieve and relief at knowing he would have company to keep him going in the dark and through the night – “the fresh croissant and cold Powerade were a bonus.” Matt Kane, who had done the first leg with him, re-joined him for the last 20kms, which really boosted his morale and gave him a much-needed second wind. It was at this point Matt told Julian not to look at his watch anymore, he had the One Day Badge in the bag, but now he needed to push for time. And he did, finishing in a “super-stoked time of 22H16.”
With a huge sense of achievement, Julian admits he was relieved to get back to his normal life. He finishes off his 13 Peaks recanting a ‘Robert H. Schulder’ quote, “knowing hard times never last forever, but tough people do” – epitomises the triumphs and laments of his adventures on the mountain.
Julian’s one-day-badge takeaways:
- Silvermine is a food drop-off must
- Knowing the schedule and sticking strictly to the timing is essential for making your goal
- Having a partner to crack the whip and keep you focused helps make a good pace
- Favourite peak – had to be Chappies with the 360 views – seeing how far you’d come and how far you still had to go
- Race fuel, Julian kept hydrated and fed on Red Bull, GU gels and Roctane electrolyte capsules, Powerade, potatoes, Bar Ones, croissants, nuts, dates, biltong and Coke
7. An impromptu birthday bash
Josh Chigome, a Black Diamond-sponsored trail running athlete and coached by the ultimate Linda Doke, shared his two-time 13 Peaks with us. The first was unintentional, while the second and more recent attempt was planned and trained for. Chigome’s first 13 Peaks, started as an offer to second athlete and close friend Robert Rorich and Rorich’s Australian friend for only ⅓ (35kms) of the segment. However, Robert and his friend sadly had to pull out of the race, but by then, Chigome had found his rhythm and was ready to take on the mountain, continuing alone to finish the challenge in 22 hours and 30 mins. Casually, Chigome adds, “It was my birthday, and I ended up spending my entire 28th on the mountain.”
Chigome admits 2020 was a very challenging year where he struggled emotionally and was hit hard by the lockdown, confessing that he “practically stopped running after the President’s lockdown speech.” But at the beginning of 2021, he decided that he wanted to give the 13 Peaks another go in the hope that it would reignite his love for running in the mountains for hours on end – and that it certainly did.
His ultimate peak was tagging Noordhoek peak as Chigome recounts that he must have been “moving for roughly 7 ½-hours before the sun slowly started to rise over the False Bay horizon.” His challenges included “being so cold, and desperately wanting nothing more than to change his clothes and grab the coffee that was waiting for him at the Silvermine Gate 2 Parking lot.” Other challenges included, “running for hours on end in the dark, and let’s not forget the final humbling climb up Devil’s Peak, which is a real pain in the ass.”
“The support and encouragement on the day was phenomenal,” shares Chigome. With his go-to snacks of veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts and baby potatoes, Michael Jackson’s – ‘Beat It’ song of the day – and the best seconders a man could ask for; “I was fully prepared to take on the challenge.” Although, he’s quick to add “anyone who’s completed the challenge in under 24 hours, will agree that it is nearly impossible to do so, without some form of assistance along the way”. With that sentiment in mind, he gives shout-outs to all those who helped him over and along the peaks. In particular, a special shout out goes to old friend Kyle Bucklow, who ran the first 40 km (seven odd hours) alongside him, Robbie Gorelick (his guardian angel), to everyone at the five different meet up points (Judas Peak, Bottom of Chapmans, Silvermine Gate 2, Constantia Nek and on the top of Table Mountain), and of course Luke ‘the legend’ Powers who guided him through the final section of the race.
While Chigome set himself a finishing goal of under 17-hours, he pragmatically responds that “life tends to teach us all the time – generally, things do not go according to plan”. Regardless, he accomplished the incredible feat in 18-hours, a little over his goal of 17, completing the 13 Peaks with the much converted One Day Badge.
How did he feel, we asked? “Immense gratitude and joy that my body, mind and spirit were in unison and consequently allowed me to push through until the very end,” is how Chigome sums it all up.
8. The charity challenger
Sam Kingwill, having never heard of the 13-peaks before, yet alone run more than 15kms, happily agreed to join his close friend, Michael Wittenberg, on his challenge, when he extended the invite. He’d tagged along with Michael for a handful of training trails, and their adventures had always left Sam thinking that the mountains were such an incredible way to experience the city – far removed from the bustle and from a completely different perspective.
While Sam had committed to Michael, he later backtracked on his offer after a little more investigation. Instead he let inspiration take the lead, and Sam, motivated by his friend’s dedication, set out to run his own 13 Peaks – taking on the challenge for a cause, he identified the charity, MAD Make A Difference Leadership Foundation, and decided to run to raise proceeds.
With the target set for R20,000, Sam got to training, readying himself to break his 24-hour goal. Exceeding his target with a total of R22,500 raised, Sam, more motivated than ever, took to the start-lining at 4am. Starting strong, he tagged Lion’s Head – a first-time climb for him – continuing on at his set pace to Maclear’s Beacon, Grootkop, Judas Peak and on to Klein Leeukop. While he shares that “every peak is hard and equally special in its own way, you experience moments at the top,” that words cannot quite describe. The mountains are so beautiful and the “scope that these peaks offer of Cape Town and its smaller cities below is quite something.”
Sam completed the first segment of the challenge with ease; enthralled by the sea’ expanse which extends from the city’s shores and lost in the magnificence of the mountains, running along and across our table top’s plateaus was just incredible. But, about 30km into the route, reaching Suther Peak, more appropriately named “Suffer Peak,” Sam shares this was where things became both physically and mentally challenging. Summiting and standing at the top of this peak, Sam thought, “I am not even halfway, I’m nowhere,” but looking out and breathing in the salted-sea air, he started back down the trails and fell back into his rhythm. After tagging Chapman’s peak, he began his ascent to Noordhoek, another grueling and long climb; but again, the downhill, running the jeep track towards Muizenberg brought stamina back into his stride, and he was once again able to lose himself in the scenery’s beauty.
Muizenberg peak was a highlight for Sam, sharing that as he reached its summit, just before sunset, he was overcome with excitement, realising that he was “going home.” Sam said, “you spend the entire route running away from town and in one direction until Muizenberg, and after this turning point, it’s the home-stretch back.” Supported by friends and pacers throughout the journey, Sam powered-on as daylight traded in its colours for nightfall. Finding peace in the stillness of darkness, “a disillusioning calmness,” Sam says doing the challenge felt rather surreal; but continuing to put one foot in front of the next he reached Constantia Nek and then Klaasenkop, right on track to make his One-Day Badge goal.
While having rehydrated and fueled correctly – sustaining himself with “lots of oats, high carb energy bars, plenty of dates, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches and oh so many potatoes, buttery and salted,” – exhaustion had started to sink in. With the finish line in sight and one last massive peak to tackle, Sam, in his scramble down Nursery Ravine blew his knee. While Sam’s knee gave in, and the dream of sub-24-hour slipped out of reach, he shared he “had not made it this half to just give up.” More motivated than ever, and with help from close friend and seconder Michael, Sam turned a pair of sticks into make-do crutches, and began his ascent up Newlands Ravine, up the saddle and up up up, to conquer Devil’s Peak. This originally estimated 3-hour section, took 8-hours, and after hobbling down from this summit onto Tafelberg Road, Sam continued along the road to the finish. His brother had managed to find an old pair of actual crutches for Sam, and with only a few kilometers left to go until reaching Signal Hill, friends, family members, and supporters joined him in encouragement.
28-hours later, watching the sunrise, surrounded by so much support, Sam had finished. Not only had he completed the challenge, but he had met his charity goal-target – filled with so many emotions, Sam concludes his story, sharing that ”the whole 13 Peaks experience was so memorable. Not only did it teach me that if you set a goal and work hard you can succeed, but the segment exposed me to the immense beauty we have access to; it’s truly a privilege to have access to these peaks.”
9. “Could an Average Jo like me hike it? – JJ de Villiers
The great thing about the 13 Peaks Multi-Day Badge, more specifically, shares De Villiers, is what Ryan and Kane have set out to do: making it more accessible to everyone from all walks of life – any age group and any weight group. Not only the most extreme ultra trail runners, but even the occasional hiker has the chance to fit this challenge to suit their needs. 46-year-old JJ de Villiers had never hiked more than 10km the first time he took on the challenge, completing all 126kms (the long route) in 6 segments. The second time he hiked it was with his wife, working around her serious work schedule, they devised a 13 Peaks in 13 weeks plan.
Given that De Villiers has completed the segment twice, he has a whole lot of highs and lows to share. From the early morning 4:30/5:30 starts, struggling to eat on the route (lots of salty snacks, hard-boiled eggs and biltong, and lots of water), a big fall on Klassenkop which was followed by a long, hard and painful day, extreme heat and weighing 150kg when he started was really hard he admits, on both his mind and body. The myriad of emotions that he felt on both expeditions are a mix of anger, awe, frustration, amazement, agony, excitement and “every other possible emotion you can think of.” The finish of his first 13 Peaks was “one of the most emotional times of his life,” he adds, met by his wife and youngest daughter at the finish was overwhelming and filled him with a massive sense of accomplishment. Completing it the second time with his wife was extra special with all the time they spent together on the mountain.
His favourite peak was Grootkop, although he “felt almost dead by the time he reached the summit” – a scolding 36 degrees and the furthest distance he’d ever covered before, the views he adds “were worth it all.”
52 kgs lighter, a whole lot fitter, JJ de Villiers concludes his 13-Peaks stories, “If you haven’t done it yet, do it, it’s life-changing!”
10. Dad & daughter do ‘Multi-day’ challenge
https://youtu.be/2oRGNxMc-3I dad and daughter documented their story on Youtube.
Dad and daughter duo, Gareth and his 8-year old Kenzie completed the segment in a total of 6 days or 35hours 3 minutes (accumulatively). Having completed the challenge twice previously, Gareth shared his Two Day Badge and experience with his daughter who innocently asked: “Do you think I can do this?” Gareth definitely didn’t expect her to complete it but thought about at least giving it a shot. Gareth, who documented their incredible journey, shares that he was surprised to see how much his daughter enjoyed it, especially as she had never hiked before.
Gareth goes on to recount their epic 6-day ‘hike’ – day two was a BIG day on the map, the conquering of Table Mountain lay ahead, a long hard 8 hours of climbing and ascending – Maclear’s Beacon, Grootkop and Judas Peak. It was at the end of this day that the challenge became a reality and the resilience of his daughter became evident. The first two days they did solo, and were seconded by a close friend over the scrambling sections of Hout Bay. The remaining days were completed by just the two of them. Gareth shares that the “dad-daughter,” time was the best part of the challenge – spending time together in nature and the outdoors is a truly bonding experience.
Kenzie’s favourite peak was Lions head – the icebreaker and start of the challenge that set the tempo for what lay ahead – the chains and ladders definitely added to the excitement of day one. For Gareth it was Judas Peak, arriving late on Saturday after a long 8 hours of hiking on day two. Sharing a snack with Kenzie while watching the afternoon roll into the day – kissing Kenzie on the cheek, he remembers saying “I think we are going to do this, my darling,” – that was a very special moment for him.
There were strong winds and the conditions were misty, wet, and cold. The lack of visibility added to the challenge and tested their grit. Gareth’s lowest moment was when he lost the trail, and climbing onto a rock for a better viewpoint, he jumped down when he found it, only to land on a dead branch, which ended up impaling his calf. It was a hard 4 hours to get through and he didn’t want to cause Kenzie any stress or concern, so on he went; the piece of wood made a surprising exit two weeks later.
Their goal was to complete the multi-day challenge in 8 days, and they finished in an outstanding 6 days. Gareth enthused about their incredible 13 Peaks journey, the challenge and memorable time he spent with his daughter. “It was an escape from the craziness and everyday stresses of our world, by simply finding the successes in each day of hiking was enough. Witnessing his daughter (the youngest girl to finish the challenge) grow in confidence and beaming with a sense of accomplishment as they crossed the finish line together was everything.”
Would they do it again? “Certainly!” Gareth shares, “Kenzie is keen and says ‘she is coming for the One Day challenge, and hopefully will be good enough to take on the Impossible Badge in the future!’
11. A mother & daughter bonding experience
Mom Raymund and daughter Rose have long been avid-road runners, sharing that training and running races have always been their special time together; but following Rose’ knee surgery, her surgeon urged her to trade the tar for softer ground, and thus, a mother-daughter passion for hiking was born. Following both Ryan Sandes and 13 Peaks on Instagram, the multi-day challenge seemed the perfect “recovery route” for Rose; and bringing it up one Friday night in January, saw the pair up early at the start-line the very next morning.
After several tumbles, blistered feet, the odd bloodied knee, plenty of laughs, memories, moments and “oh-so-many-views,” this mother-daughter pair completed the challenge. Fueled on energy-bars, bananas, naartijies, hummus stuffed pitas, hot-cross buns, lightly salted Lays chips, and stoked-up on rehydrates and electrolytes, Rose and Raymund had trailed a total of 134km. They summited all 13 peaks in over 4 weekends. Rose’s favourite peak was Suther Peak and mom, Raymund’s Noordhoek, and their highlights included learning about all the floral, exploring the entire mountain range, and sharing tips, tricks and stories on social media with other challengers.
Claiming their finisher’ badges, Rose and Raymund share that “finishing felt amazing,” – they show their badges to just about the whole of Cape Town, and name drop 13 Peaks in every sentence. Rose shares it was not only incredible to see how far she could push her body and mind (especially after surgery), but she was in “awe of her mom; being able to complete such a gruelling challenge in her 60s is remarkable. Her ability to bounce back after every low point and every fall, returning stronger than ever, with so much intent and passion is just insurmountable.”
While the two have always shared a special relationship, this challenge “strengthened Rose and Raymund’s bond,” and the duo, stronger than ever, are doing it all over in “hope to knock off a few hours of their original time.”
12. The three mountaineers
Sue Uylett, after hearing Ryan Sandes’ and Kane Reilly’s story, was ready to take-on the challenge. After planting the idea in two of her trail-running friends’ minds, Jeremy Kropman and Maxine Reilly (Kane’s mom); this group of three mountaineers met at Velocity Gym to plot their route.
Splitting the 13 Peaks into several smaller segments meant the trio were able run the entire way; and opting for the scenic routes with the least tar, over running for the fastest time, their goal was “just to finish.”
Planning their runs in between other personal commitments and races, the original plan was to complete the challenge in 6 days over 4 weeks. While this pack was on track, 5-days in and feeling strong, South Africa’s national lockdown set them a few months back. When the regulations eased and mountains re-opened, their decreased fitness levels meant that their final stretch was divided into two days. But, a 3-month mission, over 7 days, tagging all 13 peaks in an accumulated 25-hour stretch was a huge “sense of achievement.”
13. “Altitude” has nothing on Katrien Grobler’s auto-immune disorder
Katrien Grobler suffers from Lupus and before tackling the 13 Peaks she could barely walk more than 20 minutes without feeling exhausted. With only 2 months of training prior to taking on the challenge, her goal was simple, to finish it. It started with a challenge from her Joburger friend and fitness fanatic, Yolande, who challenged Katrien to complete the 13 Peaks, however, this multi day hike quickly transpired into something she never imagined, a trail-running finish. Katrien and her flatmate Maggie started the challenge with the intention of hiking the peaks, but soon after meeting Sabine Muller (a member of the Hout Bay Harriers trail community), Katrien and Maggie found themselves wanting to run it.
They started the segment dangerously ill-prepared, “like true novices on the mountain,” Katrien shares, with not much food or water, no emergency kit and little protection from the rain or wind. It was here at Judas peak, the lowest moment of the challenge, lost, wet, scared and cold, Katrien thought “that this was definitely the worst decision of my life” – miraculously out of the mist appeared people – a saviour in the shape of Sabine Muller who gave Katrien her jacket and swapping numbers, Katrien promised to return the jacket to her ‘rescuer’. The day ended with the completion of both Judas Peak and Grootkop now behind them, they enjoyed a celebratory tea and scones at Suikerbossie.
On returning the jacket, Sabine offered to second Katrien and Maggie on Suther Peak, an offer which they gladly accepted – however, it quickly became apparent on the 3rd segment, that in order for Katrien and Maggie to finish the challenge with Sabine and her community of trail runners, not walkers (Houtbay Harriers), she would have to start training.
In preparation for their weekend adventures, Katrien trained hard during the week, running an accumulative 40km each week, she set a trail-running goal for herself. After completing Lion’s head, Maclear’s, Grootkoop and Judas by themselves – they joined Sabine officially the following week. “Joining the group was hard,” admits Katrien, but she was motivated, adding that her inability to read a map, without a fancy watch to direct her and the fact that she did not know the mountains prior to this adventure, were contributing factors to stay. Using her weekdays to train, she was ready to run the mountain on Saturdays.
The achievement of finishing instilled a belief in her that if you are consistent in your change and in your mission, you will accomplish it. Katrien has taken away many more than fatigued muscles, bruises and exhaustion – The 13 Peaks was her metamorphosis. While it challenged her more than ever before, it turned her from someone really suffering from Lupus to someone that now runs between 14km – 30kms per week, with a changed diet, and a shifted positive outlook and mindset on life. It taught her it’s not about being the leader of the pack and running ahead but staying and working together as a group to overcome the challenges that the mountain throws at you. At one stage of the segment, she had a Lupus flare-up, exhausted but buoyed on by the trail community that waited for her. She met incredible people along the way, Oonagh (organiser and part of the Hout Bay trail running community) played a huge part in her journey – without this challenge, Katrien shares she would never have met her.
Katrien completed the challenge in 7 sections/days, sharing, “I really want to try and do it in 3 consecutive days or 48 hours.” Continuing to trail run, and training to her theme song, ‘On top of The World,’ by Imagine Dragons, Katrien is waiting for summer to attempt the 13 Peaks again.
13 stories taken from 13 different groups, individuals and people tells the story of the beast, which is the 13 Peaks.
This challenge has called forward a community and levelled the playing field, turning hikers, everyday runners and elite athletes into 13-Peaker competitors. This segment trails along the Cape Peninsula mountain range, and while the distance, routes and peaks stay the same, each adventurer’s story is unique. If you haven’t yet taken on the challenge, we hope these stories have inspired you to get out and up there, to “write your story.”