The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 Oct 2022
45 intrepid trail runners braved 200 km of the arid Richtersveld over five days from 13-17 June 2016 during the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun®, traversing this vast mountain desert wilderness area and crossing the Orange River to complete the first cross-border trail race between South Africa and Namibia through the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, with local communities supporting the event and celebrating the tourism opportunities created by the annual cross-border event.
The race started in the Richtersveld National Park section of the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, with the first three days covering ancient iconic landscapes such as the crystal fields near Sendelingsdrif, the massive Vanderster mountain range, the Springbok ‘Vlakte’ or flats, the giant boulder strewn Tatasberg and Helskloof Pass. Local and international trail runners pitted their technical skills against loose shale, deep sand, boulders and gnarly trails as they climbed in and out of the valleys crossing mountain ranges and river beds along the way.
Day four saw the runners crossing the Orange River by boat into the Namibian section of the transfrontier park and took the runners up the lower reaches of the Fish River Canyon, into a wilderness area, normally off-limits to the public. Mountain zebra, kudu and wild horses greeted the participants and fresh spoor of wild otter and leopard and other animals indicated an abundance of wildlife in the area.
The last day of the race was a relaxed day with a late start, climbing out of the Fish River Canyon up a slot ravine onto well-worn game trails, and climbing to the peak above the /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Resort to a magnificent view over the mountain wilderness surrounds. A technical descent into the /Ai/Ais Hot Springs resort brought the runners to the finish and a welcome dip in the hot springs.
The daily distances over the five days ranged from 26 km to 49 km, and with the challenge of navigating remote areas with compulsory GPS devices, over unmarked territory, the race challenged even the most experienced runners.
Top runners participating in the 2016 race, included local and international athletes, with exceptionally strong female runner Jo Williams from New Zealand emerging as the overall winner with a blistering time of 22:23:01 for the five days. Second place went to one of the UK’s leading adventure journalists and athletes, Tobias Mews in 22:42:00, followed by a local resident Dawid Kaswarie in 23:07:34. Swiss runner Daniel Meyes took the men’s third position in 25:18:24. One of the older runners John Cuff, who is 65 years old, came fourth in the men’s race in a time of 26:41:19. The second lady home was Linda Doke (RSA) in 25:43:52, followed by UK runner Elisabet Barnes (Current ladies record holder for Marathon des Sables), who came in in 27:01:56.
Wildrun® race director, Owen Middleton said the race had a significant impact on the local communities: “The race was a great mix of cultures with runners enjoying a taste of Nama culture through dancing, storytelling and singing by community members and Richtersveld Tours created extensive employment opportunities for locals in setting up the complex logistics required to move camp every day and cater for over 70 people in the desert.”
The 45 participants were well supported by the Wildrunner crew throughout, with daily check-points, aid stations, an event sweeper and satellite radio communications. Runners stayed in individual tented accommodation during the race. The full campsite was moved each night as the race progressed through the park. The logistics involved in setting up an event in such a remote location are immense and include transporting 34 tons of water; moving 25 tons of luggage and water equipment throughout the event; setting up, taking down and transporting 400 tents, stretchers, mattresses and bedding; moving and preparing 1 ton of food and carrying 100 kg of firewood.
“The support of the local community and related conservation organisations is essential for an event like this to succeed – It’s a small seed of growth in a big area, but it involves the community in the future of conservation, and encourages everyone to work together to preserve an amazing heritage.”
“We are particularly grateful to Boundless Southern Africa, South African National Parks (SANParks), Namibian Parks & Wildlife, Namibia Wildlife Resorts and Richtersveld Tours for helping us to make this cross-border event in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park a reality.”
Roland Vorwerk of Boundless Southern Africa said that the inaugural Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun® helps to put the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park on the global map as a spectacular adventure tourism destination, with elements of nature, culture and community built into the unforgettable experience.
Nadia Lemmetuis, Communications Manager, Arid Region, SANParks, explained the impact the race had on the region: “The Ai/Ais–Richtersveld Transfrontier Park – the largest mountain desert park in southern Africa – is the perfect location to stage the Wildrun®. For its breathtaking mountain views, perfect weather conditions this time of the year, and countless indigenous succulents that are truly remarkable and so unique to this area. It is a huge honour to be associated with the Wildrunner brand. Their races are meticulously planned and perfectly executed. This particular race was no exception and the runners were so enthusiastic and in awe of the surroundings, which they obviously are not used to and will never see by just driving through the park.”
Issued on behalf of Wildrunner by Catalyst Communications