Starting 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. The first kilometer or so will be on the Park’s only tar road, providing a great opportunity for runners to warm up and for the field to spread out and open up before turning East off the road and into the wilderness. The next stretch gives a good taste of what’s to come, with some fast but technical desert running broken up by some boulder-hopping and river beds that may or may not require careful crossing, depending on such variables such as recent rainfall and upstream agricultural usage. This section lies about 2km upstream of the famous Augrabies Falls, and it is well worth slowing down here to take in the timeless power of the mighty Orange River, with building-sized boulders and granite channels worn smooth over eons by the irresistible flow of the river. Runners will do well to be humbled by the thought that where they are running is completely under water in the rare but awe-inspiring flood years. After roughly 3km runners will get to the main stream of the River and things get interesting.
Runners will be ferried across the River in Rubber Duck crafts. The crafts are able to carry 6-8 people at a time and will leave when full. This means that some runners will arrive at the crossing point and will need to wait. Race times will be adjusted accordingly. The crossing point has been specifically chosen for a number of reasons, including the ability to embark and disembark onto rocks and keeping runners dry. However the river level does fluctuate significantly and it cannot be guaranteed that runners do not get wet at all. As such it is strongly recommended that all runners carry Zip-Lock bags / Dry-Sacks etc in which to store phones and other items that you do not want to get wet.
After crossing the Orange runners hit the remote Northern Section of the Park and experience some of the unique joys of running in the Kalahari – fast and free under huge blue skies and views as far as the eye can see. 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 desert trails runners will be tempted to push for some kind of pace PB’s slightly downhill for a few km back to and along the River, followed by some much appreciated recovery time in the Rubber Duck as it ferries everybody back across the river. The final couple of km hold a bit of a sting with the route following the most direct path back to the Rest Camp and taking runners into and out of a couple of dramatic mini-gorges where absolute concentration is a necessity. The last few hundred meters will be on tar and downhill, allowing for the perfect ultrarunner sprint finish.
Starting once again at the Camp Site but in the opposite direction to Day One, the route heads straight out onto the original Klipspringer Trail. The first section of Day Two will take runners through the desert 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!