The race starts at first light on a short flat runnable jeep track section parallel to the River. The field will be able to immediately spread itself out here. The route turns due north and takes runners along the boundary fence, and although sloping slightly uphill away from the River, faster runners… Although sloping slightly uphill away from the River, faster runners will really be able to open up and all will find the sumptuously stocked Water Table (and first Checkpoint) at the aptly named Rhino Gate a welcome sight. The fast running then continues for a few kilometers until the route hits The Gully, where technical skills, climbing and rock-hopping become more important. After about a kilometer of tough climbing, Lite runners will take advantage of a convenient escape route out of the Gully, scrambling down and back to the fast-running flatland, heading due East across the Desert in one of the most invigorating runnable sections a trailrunner will find anywhere in the world, until they hit the atmospheric Old Haunted Farmhouse and 2nd Checkpoint and Water Table. The Challenge route continues up The Gully after the split for another couple of kilometers of spectacularly grueling scrambling until they hit the phenomenal Drainage Channel that takes them out of The Gully and allows the runners to (mostly) open up again. This is nature at her best, and it is easy to imagine dinosaurs roaming the river bed or ancient San hunters on the ridges scouring for prey. Runners should keep a look out for the gloriously regal and unique Kalahari Gemsbok that like to hang around this area.
At its furthermost point the route turns South for a short stretch and then East back along another spectacular Drainage Channel for about 4km before finding its way out of the mountains for a runnable section South before joining back up with the Lite route about 1km before the Old Haunted Farmhouse and welcome refreshments. From the Farmhouse is a stretch of some of the most runnable trackless wilderness possible, where even after some tough trails runners will be tempted to push for some kind of pace PB’s as they fly through the desert slightly downhill for a few km back to and along the River. They will then exit the Park and can race the final short stretch of Jeep track back to the welcome sight of the Day One Finish Line.
Day Two starts at first light at the conveniently located Race Village at the campsite in the awesome Augrabies Falls National Park Rest Camp. Runners will head out of the camp and immediately into the desert, with the first section heading out onto the famous Klipspringer Hiking Trail along the top of the Canyon. While fairly flat overall, the terrain is technical, rocky and demanding. Good concentration skills and tough ankles will be a big advantage. A number of dry river beds and gullies add to the interest and provide a good opportunity to get those climbing muscles working properly.
As the trail approaches the Visarend overnight hut after about 10km runners will climb up the side of a sheer rock face and pop out 50m away from the most spectacular Checkpoint and Water Table in any trail running event anywhere on the panet – this is Ararat. Replenish drinks and enjoy some of the delicious nutritious food on offer while enjoying the unforgettable view as the surprisingly tough last few km is forgotten and spirits are lifted by the sight of the mighty Orange River snaking its way towards the sea, 800ft below the sheer golden granite cliffs.
Shortly after the Ararat Water Table the Lite runners turn away from the main trail and the canyon, while Challenge runners can look forward to a steep, boulder-hopping climb down to the river gets the next section under way, certain to be grateful for the sound and then the sight of the water. The Challenge trail then runs along the river with runners able to choose their own line through the canyon. Depending on the level of the water, runners can expect about 7km of world-class boulder hopping, muscle-sapping sandy sections, and some rewarding or heartbreaking path selections. For those not racing for a position or a time, this section offers lots of opportunity for an invigorating swim in the fresh cold waters of South Africa’s greatest river as it cuts through the desert.
The next section of the trail takes runners away from the river and up a dry and sandy river bed for a good few km towards the Berghut overnight hut and 2nd checkpoint and water table. A lot of the trail here is on soft sand and is a gradual uphill climb away from the river. Heat is always a factor here and those who took the time to swim will be remembering the cold water longingly. The sight of the hut and the waterpoint flags will be most welcome.
After the Berghut Water Table the trail flattens out and heads back into the desert proper, with some solid footing and a smattering of jeep track allowing runners a chance to open up, stretch the leg muscles and make up some good time. The route then takes runners up and over the exquisite and aptly named Swart Rante, where the highest point on the trail provides some fantastic photo ops for the scenery and selfie junkies. After this chance for a well-deserved pause, the main Challenge route is rejoined by the Lite trail for the exhilarating and scenic home stretch. Notwithstanding the odd surprise of climbing into and out of a few rocky gullies and being slowed down by some more soft desert sand, this section provides for some fast running and another chance to enjoy great views and take in the spectacular environment as the trail takes runners up and over the very aptly named Moon Rock, with the last Checkpoint and Water Table conveniently positioned at the base before the climb. However hard you’ve worked to here, this strange other-worldly rock formation is such fun to run up and over that it will be impossible not to love it. Coupled with the fact that from the top of Moon Rock you will be able to get a real sense of Home, it is figuratively (if not exactly literally) downhill from here, over some fantastic giant river-smoothed boulders and through refreshingly green riverine vegetation before popping out onto the Jeep track for the last kilometer or so before re-entering the Rest Camp and the downhill sprint towards the Finish!