An epic tale of mountain adventures by James Montgomery an Adventurer, trail runner and outdoor enthusiast who believes that the outdoors is where you can truly find freedom. If you would like to see some hair raising images from James’s explorations follow him @J.Monty_15 on Instagram.
In April this year I put my name down for the Glen Coe Skyline race in the Scottish Highlands. The race is 53km long, has 4,600m of climbing and will take competitors over exposed traverses and soaring ridgelines above the small town of Kinlochleven. The race is described as a fusion of alpinism and mountain running. I can’t say that I am particularly cultural, but they had me at fusion. The entry process included being vetted by the race organisers by providing all your relevant racing and scrambling experience.
A couple of weeks after submitting my entry I received the unfortunate news, that despite having a Scottish surname I had not met the race entry criteria. The disappointment was exacerbated by the fact that two of my running friends had got in and at this stage it looked unlikely that I would be joining them. I was then thrown a lifeline by the organisers who said that I could write them a motivation letter making my case for why I should get an entry (apparently they were not one of my 103 followers on Instagram :).
With some persuasion and a few choice Insta pics I managed to convince the organisers that they should give me an entry. Yes I was in. Let the planning begin.
Now is probably the time to introduce my two running buddies. One will be known to most trail enthusiasts, Meg ‘jet shoes’ Levinson (nee Mackenzie) and the other, while not as well-known is definitely as fiercely competitive, Mark ‘#longlivestrava’ MacSymon. We sat down towards the end of April and put together a brief outline of what long runs we wanted to include as part of our training schedule. The idea was to try mimic the route profile of the race as closely as possible while still having as much fun and adventure as should be mandatory in any training program.
First on our list was the skyline around the Cape Town city bowl. We decided to start at the Signal Hill parking lot and finish in Dean Street in Newlands. The route follows an aesthetically pleasing line that includes traversing along the spine of Lions Head and down the South East Arête before scrambling up a classic ridgeline called Kloof Corner to the summit of Table Mountain. From there we made our way to Maclears Beacon and towards Devils Peak via the infamous Ledges route. From the saddle it’s a quick scramble up to the top of Devils Peak before descending the mountain via Knife Edge and Mowbray Ridge.
Our second run was less aesthetically pleasing and would entail a lap of El Diablo (Devils Peak) and Table Mountain. Obviously a triathlete in a previous life, #longlivestrava shot off the front setting a blistering pace, clearly eyeing a strava segment, closely followed by another super talented local mountain goat, Dunya ‘twinkle toes’ Ansems and Meg. Despite the wind and rain, we decided to ascend Devils Peak via Mowbray Ridge and Knife Edge. From the top we descended back into Newlands forest before scrambling up the lesser known and utilized Hiddingh-Ascension route. It’s a brilliant route but the driving rain and wind left little time for hashtags and high fives and once on top we quickly descended to the warmth of our cars.
It was at this stage where both #longlivestrava and I got a bout of the flu. Probably down to chasing Jet shoes on the previous weekends run. While we dealt with the serious and often contagious man flu varietal, Jet shoes jetted off to the Mont Blanc marathon where she placed 6th in a stacked field (trail running lingo for highly competitive).
The most exciting of the training ‘runs’ planned was to complete the Jonkershoek traverse. Now it’s quite challenging to describe to people exactly what this entails. The actual traverse is approximately 30km (mostly off trail) with around 3,500m of climbing. The fun part is that the traverse starts at about 950m above sea level and ends at about 1,200m above sea level i.e. all in all its actually about 42km with closer to 4,500m of climbing when you include getting to the start and getting back down after it.
We were really lucky to be guided around the mountain by Mike and Robyn Owen from For The Love of Adventure. These two are true mountain goats with in-built GPS’ and an unmatched passion for nature and their beloved Jonkershoek mountains. Apparently neither has ever done crossfit but I would back both to overhead squat and snatch with the best of them. Without them we would still be stuck on the mountain although the others may have knocked me out by now for talking too much. We made it around the traverse in around 12 hours and spent close to 15 hours on epic ridgelines, rock hopping and groveling in the thickest fynbos I have ever had the pleasure of bear crawling through. While we didn’t get anywhere close to breaking the FKT (fastest known time) I apparently broke the record for the longest stretch of unbroken talking in Jonkershoek history. Despite only crawling off the mountain at 10pm on a Sunday evening, eating sloppy pizza while driving home and feeling like I had been dragged behind a bakkie in the Klein Karoo it was undoubtedly one of the most memorable days of my life.
The Cederberg was penciled in for the penultimate training run. Luckily finding accommodation is not my full time career as I managed to pick a spot that was not only four hours’ drive away but also included a road so knarly that even #longlivestrava had to drive slowly. A couple of bumps, a broken we still don’t know what on ‘jet shoes’ car as well as a slashed tyre on the only 4×4 we had (oops that was me) threw the logistics out for the Saturday run. Nonetheless, Mark, Meg and Dunya managed to get up Sneeuberg to play in the snow and give me one serious case of FOMO. Great Dave (Jet shoes hubby) came to the rescue twice, firstly helping me change the tyre and secondly rigging up a rope for some epic sport rock climbs not too far from where we were staying.
For the final training run we decided to traverse Table Mountain aiming to do around 7 hours and around 3,000m + of climbing. In essence we wanted to summit Table Mountain four times via some of the more interesting scrambling routes between our starting point at Cecelia forest and where we left our cars on Tafelberg road. We were stoked to have Dunya and Mike ‘Gunshow’ Watson join in for the adventure. Gunshow as he is affectionately known is the strength and conditioning coach of some of South Africa’s best trail runners, cyclists and surfers. While there were a few early mumbles regarding the exposure on some sections of the route, it was Gunshow’s eloquent description of the run when he finally got home that I thought best summed up the day ‘Holy fuck shit’.
Back to the route. The first climb was Nursery Buttress which is a little known route in between Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge. The route has some fun scrambling and has stunning views over the Southern Suburbs. From the summit we made our way back down the mountain to the start of Myburgh Ravine which can be a little tricky after heavy rain but is a real gem of a climb which ends not too far from the top of Llandudno Ravine. Traversing along the 12 Apostles is a real treat even when Jet shoes and #longlivestrava race each other for a strava segment set by one of the resident mountain tahr’s. We dropped down Woody Ravine (above Bantry Bay) and scrambled up Spring Buttress where I made a small navigational error which resulted in 30 minutes of fynbos grovel and some choice words from the ladies. From the top of Spring Buttress, #longlivestrava saw an opportunity to grab the Kasteelspoort descent record while leaving the rest of us in his dust. The final climb of the day was meant to be the most epic traverse on Table Mountain, the Grotto Fountain Cairn traverse. Unfortunately, Mr navigation (me) missed a turn and we ended up climbing up Blinkwater ravine (ok we did some more groveling in the fynbos). From the top of the mountain we made the descent down India Venster and back to our cars. What an epic day and my second sit-down shower in the space of a few weeks.
Looking back over the past few months I am filled with gratitude. Gratitude for the beautiful mountains we have on our doorstep, for the lasting friendships made along the way and to those loved ones whose understanding and patience allows us the freedom to do the things we love. So often we get caught up comparing times and stressing over the final result instead of really just appreciating the journey that got us to that point. On the eve of leaving for Braveheart country I am left with little doubt that whatever happens come race day this has been a successful adventure. I am excited at the prospect of exploring mountains on the other side of the world and endeavor to embrace the highs and lows of that journey. Catch you on the other side.