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Mountain Abandon’s First Trail Day

It was through a series of completely unplanned events that a Mountain Abandon trail day came about at all. It started with my glancing over a few comments on a TRAIL magazine Facebook thread. The topic was along the lines of “your biggest obstacle in trail running” and I was surprised to read the general consensus that a lack of downhill and technical skill was most runners’ greatest challenge. My own introduction to running was all on trail, and so naturally my technical ability developed simultaneously to my running speed and fitness. Technical descending soon became my favourite aspect of racing, as often happens with something at which we excel, but I felt it was something others could achieve as well. The fun had in confident technical descending is so euphoric that everyone should have the opportunity to learn and experience good downhill running. So upon reading a particular comment by Izak du Plessis, I half-jokingly suggested that he join me for a casual trot along the game trails of Golden Gate and surrounds and that we could find some technical sections to practice a few skills.

Izak really took my offer to heart and before I knew it I’d been added as admin to a large WhatsApp group of Harrismith and Bethlehem runners that were all interested in joining my Golden Gate trot! I suddenly realized what a need there is for skills training days in the growing trail running community. Izak took initiative to get the ball rolling for an official skills day in his area and so the date was set for December 13. Mountain Abandon would host a trail day with the focus on ascending and descending over technical terrain.

Two dogs running with people on trails in the mountains.
Dozer taking the time to pose for a photo while the rest of us tried to catch up.

Nicolette and I were a bit apprehensive about the viability of this trail day we were offering, not fully understanding why people would go out of their way to join us for a run. But knowing we at least had beautiful mountain trails at hand and years of experience behind us, we were also excited to share what we love with others. We set about planning a suitably technical route for the group run and making a few notes on the advice we’d give to uphill and downhill trail athletes.

The week leading up to the scheduled Trail Day showered Golden Gate with the first heavy and consistent rains of the season. It poured non-stop for several nights in succession, with the daylight hours easing up only a little. With great excitement we watched waterfalls spouting from random slopes, mountain streams coming to life, growing into rivers, filling dams, and eventually the dams over-flowing. When the rain showed no signs of abating towards the weekend, we finally began to worry about our trail skills day. Our intended route had two stream crossings, one being the Little Caledon. We scouted it three days out and managed to wade through successfully, but by the weekend the it was not a "little" Caledon anymore - it had burst its banks and the now 10 meter wide river would certainly have been a swim.

After almost postponing the run entirely, the morning of the 13th dawned a most perfect day. The mountains were alive with running water and the sandstone glistened under a shining sun. We quickly improvised a new route without much difficulty, having the advantage of hosting the run in our mountainous backyard and knowing the myriad of trails available. We linked a hiking trail, sections of game paths and threw in some good old “veld” running to ensure we covered all the essential skills that comprise a good mountain runner’s arsenal.

Once the core elements had been covered the remaining run was for pure enjoyment. We contoured beautiful trails, navigated across open grasslands, inspected waterfalls, rocks and flowers, and eventually crested the final ridge before dropping back down into the valley. For both me and Nicolette the highlight of the day was certainly the two beautiful canines, Chesca and Dozer, who joined their respective humans, Collin and Jan, on the trails. They showed us how off-trail running should really be executed! Watching animals run is always fascinating as they move so naturally and freely, intuitively selecting the best lines to run. The dogs were proof that we can learn from anyone and anything if we just take the time and patience to observe, and always be open to new experiences.

German wire haired pointer running in the mountains.
Chesca leading the way!

To conclude, I felt that our first trail day was a hugely positive and rewarding experience. To be a part of any form of educational journey is really a privilege and I absolutely relish in the opportunity to share, to teach and to learn. We were honoured by the feedback we received from each individual that joined us on the mountain trails and couldn’t have been happier to hear that a great time was had by all. Needless to say, we are already busy planning our next Mountain Abandon Trail Day…

So Abandon the city and come join us in the Mountains!

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