‘Navigate Lesotho’ by Ryan Sandes & Ryno Griesel

By staff writer: Jess Meniere

Day 16, the final day & finish line at Telle Bridge Border Post. Photograph by: Craig Kolesky.

Around lunchtime, 13:06 on March 27th, 2022, Ryan Sandes & Ryno Griesel returned to Telle Bridge Border Post; where, exactly 16-days, 6-hours and 56-minutes earlier, the pair had set-off on foot to circumnavigate Lesotho – Southern Africa’s iconic ‘Mountain Kingdom.’ Having run 1,100km and climbed 33,000m elevation, Sandes and Griesel’s “brutal, but beautiful,” journey had come to a successful close. 

While Sandes and Griesel are no strangers to extreme adventure, as both are renowned ultra-runners with many titles, course records and fastest-known times, they agreed that their ‘Navigate Lesotho’ expedition was the “toughest yet.” 

The idea to circumnavigate Lesotho was born 2-years ago, when supporter, director and logistics assistant, Adrian Saffy devised and proposed this unthinkable route. While the original plan was to complete the route in a multi-sport adventure style, Sandes said that after Saffy easily twisted his “rubber arm,” the decision to run and do the entire loop on-foot was final. 

After 2-years of planning, gear-checking, map-making and multiple route recces (Sandes completed 4 recces before the start date and Griesl 6), ‘Navigate Lesotho’ materialised into an adventure like no other. 

Sandes pre-challenge preparation. Photograph by: Craig Kolesky.

Day one’s start at Telle Bridge Border Post was filled with great excitement and much anticipation, as “nothing like this had been done before.” Sandes shared that this startline feeling was palpable, a “high for beginning a new adventure,” which carried them through the first day and remains a memorable trip highlight. 

Sandes and Griesel’s epic traverse through the remote and isolated highlands of Lesotho’s mountain range meant that this trail-blazing duo carried most of their belongings. Summiting neck-craning pecks, weaving through technical trails, running rugged rigid lines and down and through verdant valleys, with gear, made for a slower-moving pace. Nonetheless, pinching tent and setting-up camp in the withdrawnness and isolation of nature, after an epic day out, made up for the added challenge. While Sandes and Griesel predominately trailed through this challenge carrying their own equipment, they were supported at certain points in the higher mountains by horses and on lower levels and farmlands by motorbikes and a team of vehicles. 

Sandes said that the interactions between herdsmen, locals and his incredible team pushed both himself and Griesel through some of their most physically gruelling and mentally challenging days. As veteran extremists, Sandes and Griesel knew that despite their extensive planning, “not everything would go according to plan.” The wild weather turned peaks into white, snow-coated fangs, rapids burst riverbanks, mist blanketed the horizon and the earth swelled from the heavy rainfall. The unexpectedly extreme weather conditions eroded and flooded Sandes and Griesel’s pre-mapped trails, which forced them to make challenging decisions between “braving the course ahead, or backtracking and rerouting.” Sandes shared that his most challenging day was Day 6 when both trail runners had to come off the mountain and wait out the severe weather. Their unforecasted decision to seek shelter from the storm left Sandes sceptical about whether “backtracking would be the end to their mission.” Sandes shared that while this decision delayed their mission, and proved to be an additional mental obstacle to overcome; they remained motivated, knowing they had “put so much energy and effort into the expedition.”

After a night-off of the trails – a brief escape from their tented nights spent shivering on these snow-coated and hyperthermic temperature mountains – Sandes and Griesel were able to revive the mission. Through snow, sleet, howling winds, fog and pouring rain, Sandes and Griesel broke the remaining journey up “day-by-day,” peak-by-by and river-crossing-by-river-crossing. 

Sandes shared that it was truly a “surreal experience to be moving through Lesotho’s mountains,” and both he and Griesel are “stoked to have pulled off this epic adventure.” Returning to Telle Bridge Border Post, knowing where they had come from and been, was truly an iconic moment. 

Finally, en route to Cape Town, Sandes is taking home with him a couple of blisters, a swollen ankle, but more importantly memories and lessons from an adventure which has “filled his memory bank.” 

“‘Navigate Lesotho,’ was truly an expedition like no other”