Finding Peace and Solitude on the Mountain Trails


“Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.” – Jeffrey Rasley, Bringing Progress to Paradise: What I Got from Giving to a Mountain Village in Nepal


On a wet, misty, and rainy day, we woke up before sunrise and made the “Great Trek” to a small village at the entrance to the KZN Midlands to run/walk the Hilton College Trail. The “Great Trek” was only about 60kms long; however, when travelling in the thick mist, rain, and before sunrise, it makes for challenging driving. I had the young man in the car with me as he was running the long-distance race, while I walked the shortest race – in this case, 7kms.


For the readers who are not South African, and have not studied South African history, the Great Trek occurred in 1835 when about 12 000 Boers migrated from the Cape Colony into South Africa’s interior. Their aim was to escape then British colonialists and to acquire cheap farmland. Thus, in colloquial speak, a Great Trek is a long, arduous journey.

What is mountain running?


However, before we continue, let’s define what trail, or mountain running is:


According to the trusty Wikipedia website, Trail running is a sport which consists of running and hiking
trails. It differs from road running and track running in that it generally takes place on hiking trails, often in mountainous terrain, where there can be much larger ascents and descents.”


In other words, you start at the either at the bottom or top of a mountain and you run down and up again. The trails are usually rocky, dusty or muddy, and the gradients can be very steep. Ultra-trail runners sometimes run with hiking poles to help them speed up and down the mountainsides.


Hilton College Trail Run


There have been some severe heat waves this summer. Temperatures have skyrocketed above 40 degrees Celsius with 98% humidity. Needless to say, most of 2017 has been uncomfortably hot. There was a dangerous heat wave the week before the race; however, it broke the day before, bring relief to all in the form of cooler temperatures, rain, and mist. Instead of being incredibly hot, dusty, and dry, the trail was fresh and wet with sticky, slippery mud in many places; a huge relief for all the runners/walkers.


It is important to wear trail running shoes with knobbly grips on the underside of each shoe; thus, providing additional grip to prevent injury while out on the track. As an aside, I’ve walked a trail run in road running shoes, and it was not a pretty sight. I slid down the hills, slipped off rocks, and came very close to falling. Never again!


The other important point to note is that, because these races take place out in the bush, runners always come back full of dust or mud. A large number of racers fall as well, especially when negotiating the steep descents. The terrain is rugged and rough. Needless to say, the long distance races are not for the faint-hearted.


Why Choose trail running?


There are many reasons to venture out onto the rugged trails and tracks. The reason why I partake in this sport, albeit at a basic level, is that it provides a morning out in some of the most wonderful areas of South Africa. I get to breathe the fresh mountain air, experience magnificent scenery, walk through Blue Gum or Pine forests, and recharge my batteries. I sometimes walk with friends; however, most of the time I prefer to walk by myself. It’s a time to stop my brain from overthinking things and to just revel in the peace and tranquillity of the area.


There you have it! Trail running is a marvellous way to keep fit and to quote to the old cliche, commune with nature.

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