Monday, 13 May 2013
Snow at Mnweni Marathon! Trail Run Extreme.
The weather was not forecast to be good for the Saturday of the race and on cue the rain started around midnight on Friday night and runners set off at 6 am splashing through puddles and with rain falling constantly. This rain would be snow on the high berg that for now was hidden in thick cloud.
The trails winding through the Mnweni valley were slick and treacherous and the mist and low cloud made the mountains take on an appearance very different to their usual soft sunshine embalmed May brilliance. On rounding the Dassie in the little berg, the cloud lifted slightly and runners could see for the first time the snow clad main berg peaks reaching up into the heavy cloud and swirling mists above and knew they were headed there, where snow and cloud meet.
Good rains this summer ensured the long grass in the upper Mnweni valley had grown even longer than usual and as runners raised arms to part the growth the grass shed its water load upon the intruders. A concerned race organiser, wet and cold himself peered up from the base of the Mnweni pass to the summit of the great escarpment, ensconced in cloud and snow 1000 m above and contemplated in all ernesty to turn the bulk of the field around. 86 dared come through for the run to register and all but 5 started the next morning, with 64 making the complete journey so in hindsight this would have been the wrong decision and was fortunately not taken. The strength and resilience of the Mnweni runners was phenomenal in possibly the most testing trail conditions ever encountered in a trail run in South Africa.
Half way up the pass the rain turned to sleet and then a few hundred metres on to snow that settled on the rocks, ever deepening as the summit neared. Over the summit plateau it lay a foot deep and was still falling, with the brainchild of this berserk race breaking trail for a group of runners who had started to veer off a bit too far north initially and leaving a trail for the rest of the field to follow across the summit section.
Rockeries pass, always a long treacherous descent was worse with snow slowly giving way to mud and slick rock but with each stride dropping chilled souls into relative warmth of lower altitudes and the prospect of the finish as the panorama of the snowy Cathedral range and Rockeries opened up around the runners to lift spirits. Runners opening up on gentler trails for the last ten km to the finish.
The race was won by Steven and Andrew Erasmus in 5:51, who bolted away from the first top group to cross, pulling in leaders, Craig Norris and Keith Clover who finished joint third with Craig as first master.
The ladies race was won by Megan Mackenzie in a very respectable 6:10 considering the trying conditions. Gina Treleavern was second and Laura O'Donoghue third to round out the ladies field.
Finishing Mnweni this year was a big accomplishment and those who did so were true trail warriors. A big mention must also be made to summit marshal, Clinton Hardenberg and sweeper Ray Cranston who both assisted runners who would have been in serious trouble without their assistance and who had underestimated the malevolence with which the high Berg can punish the ill equipped. Overall people were prepared and without the gestapo doing gear check but in the conditions on Saturday I do not know of anyone who was not wet to the core and then still summited the berg to run through deep snow, kudos!