Double crossing the Dragon

The Drakensberg Grand Traverse is a well-established route in which the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg Escarpment is traversed from one side to another. This route is usually done in 10-14 days, is usually 200-250km long, depending on route variations taken, and has the vertical equivalent of climbing Kilimanjaro two to three times.

The concept of a speed traverse was first established in February 1999, when a team lead by Gavin Raubenheimer completed the route in 105 hours and 39 minutes and established a set of rules for what would become the Drakensberg Grand Traverse Record Race. The current record holders are Ryno Griesel and Ryan Sandes in a time of 41 hours and 49 minutes, set in March 2014. While many have attempted to complete a speed traverse, very few succeed in completing the challenging route.

Jonathan Newman, an avid climber, said while taking a leisurely stroll around the Mnweni Cutback in March 2016, he mentioned to 15 year old Mike that he was thinking about having a go at something that had never been done before – doing two consecutive Drakensberg Grand Traverses.
“ I told him to take a week or so to consider whether he would like to join me. It took him about 8 seconds to make a decision,” said Newman.

Over the next 269 days, they did 800km of hard Drakensberg training together – aside from hundreds of kilometres of training in other locations.
“We did night hikes, difficult passes, and long days over big ridges. Neither of us had ever trained so hard, and we were both nervous, but eventually the big day arrived.
The start was rocky – arriving at Bushman’s Nek the night before the start, Mike had forgotten his headlamp and food. The delay of having to drive back to Underberg the next morning wasn’t too costly and we set off only 5 minutes after our planned departure time of 9 am,”said Newman.
Admitting that the final day was not on the fastest route, the duo completed the final 50km in just over 12 kms.

“Our time of 126 hours and 55 minutes won’t count as a speed time as we did not meet the requirement of being fully-unsupported, but our time of 15 days 7 hours and 50 minutes for two Drakensberg Grand Traverses is still a first. Our total distance was 463km and our total altitude gain was 18 701m,”said Newman.

With this, Mike joins a rather small group of individuals who have completed more than 1000km of Drakensberg hiking in a calendar year, and one of very few individuals who have actually completed three full Drakensberg Grand Traverses, including having completed the traverse in both directions.
One of the checkpoints along the way was Giants Castle, which makes Mike the seventh person to complete the “Khulu Challenge”, which is summitting every 3300m peak in SA, plus Lesotho’s highest summit.

Technically Mike picked up many “youngest records” along the way, but so few people have actually done what he is the youngest to do that the youngest records themself seem rather redundant.
But, for the record, with this trip, he is the youngest to:
Complete 2 full Drakensberg Grand Traverses
Complete 3 full Drakensberg Grand Traverses
Complete Drakensberg Grand Traverses in both directions
Complete an unsupported Drakensberg Grand Traverse
Complete a speed Drakensberg Grand Traverse
Fastest time for a speed Drakensberg Grand Traverse for someone younger than 18
Complete the Khulu Challenge

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