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Golden Gate Trail – Vividness that will make your former life pale

Golden Gate Trail – Vividness that will make your former life pale

The Old Mutual Radox Golden Gate Challenge is a three-day track and trail run through some of the most rugged yet scenic mountains of the Free State, situated in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The race traverses through restricted parts of the reserve rarely seen by the public, like Little Serengeti, and many other hidden gems within the park. The race is staged out of a single base camp in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
With a smorgasbord of trail races gracing our calendar, I specifically chose the Golden Gate Challenge, as I am in love with mountains. Great things happen when men and mountains meet. I wanted to run these mountains not for the world to see me, but for me to see the world. Going to the mountains is like going home.
We arrived at Golden Gate Thursday afternoon. Registered, got our race packs, signed the indemnity, yeah, literally signed our lives away. I even asked my hubby if our medical aid offers evacuation via helicopter! Yet, it was all fun and games, not realising what we were about the experience. Ignorance is bliss they say. When the race organiser said at race briefing that this is not a race, it’s a challenge, I knew that this race would make me contemplate my past and my future!


Stage1 – 27km


Our First Climb

Our First Climb

Amanda and I, start of Stage 1

Amanda and I, start of Stage 1

Around 180 trailies headed into the mountains. I was awe struck by the sheer beauty of these mountains. I took only my phone with to capture images. I wish I had my Nikon with me. But yet, not even the best camera will do justice to the beauty we saw. I remember one part where I got all teary-eyed, wishing that everyone I loved could experience the beauty I saw. We were literally surrounded by rolling hills and a very silent trail of runners, each occupied by his own train of thought.


Our first mountain climb was up Generaalkop, with other nicknames such as Kneebrake, Moedbreek, Hartbreek and Inbreek… As I was slogging along, I felt like the luckiest girl alive. I noticed all the tiny flowers along the trail, bursting with colour and giving us their best colourful smiles. Most of the rivers were dry, and I was quite thankful for that, as I don’t quite manage with wet shoes. I felt nauseous, surely due to the altitude. I had a quick stop at the medical tent to get a plaster for a toe that started forming a blister. I bumped my elbow somewhere too and felt the trail of warm blood running down my arm. At race briefing we were told that we would ascend the Buttress before the finish. But the moment we reached those stairs to the Buttress, I was buggered. It was an extremely hot day. I was so utterly exhausted. I could hardly put one foot in front of the other. We took the chain ladder down from the Buttress, and was so utterly relieved to hear the commentator welcoming us back to the finish! I peeped into the medical tent and saw that some runners were on drips for dehydration.

The dreaded Buttress stairs

The dreaded Buttress stairs

What an awesome vibe we experienced at the race village. Vibey music whilst more and more runners came slogging along to the finish. Treated with super lunch and dinner on Day 1.

Stage 2: 29km

Day 2 route profile...

Day 2 route profile…

My feet were buggered, not wanting to get into those shoes on day 2. We headed off on Day 2 in batches. About a kilo tar road and then into the mountains.

We went into a part of the park where hikers and public are not allowed. How fortunate we were! At about six kays we started hating the organiser… I cannot describe the size of this mountain… you couldn’t even see the highest part from the bottom… Everyone was walking, in silence, and a swear word slipped out here and there….

the view...

the view…

hard climb to the top

hard climb to the top

As we approached little Serengeti we ran through the most beautiful part of the mountains for me. Surrounded, no engulfed, by majestic mountains. It was such an awesome feeling. Everyone was quiet, serene, and focused in the moment. I will never forget that moment. I wish now that I had stopped and sat there for a moment. We ran through little Serengeti and could hear the Blouwildebeest calling. After a brief stop at the CP, we tackled another mother of a mountain. We arrived at Highlands Mountain Retreat with such friendly marshals and rangers. My toes were so sore at this point in time. Big toes full of blisters and a couple of other blisters too. After the Retreat, we had a serious long paved downhill. My quads were screaming at me, over and above the sore toes.
We headed into a piece of veld and we could hear the finish. Amanda and I, my running partner, were psyched up as we were supported by a bunch of people we’ve never met. They kept screaming and rooting for us. They followed the route by road and kept shouting from their car into the mountains: Go Go Go. That was so special. Another nice uphill and then the last stretch before we entered the finish shoot. My toes were buggered in every way possible. I couldn’t wait to take those shoes off. Ice, stretch and headed home to a nice afternoon nap. Headed back for some rugby, which was quite a quiet affair as the Bulls didn’t play….  Yet another awesome dinner and off to bed.

Stage 3: 17km

Day 3

Day 3

Woke up at 2:15am, left the house at 3:15 am to start at 4:15am. I taped my toes in every possible way. Could hardly walk properly. I was scared. My feet were so sore I didn’t know how I would manage this stage. Good golly, rain and heavy mist. We started off with about 8 kays tar road back to Highlands Mountain Retreat. I remember how the mist looked in the light of my headlamp and at one stage the tears were rolling down my cheeks. I felt so lucky to be able to run, in such beauty, at such crazy hours of the morning. Weird but true. I could see the outline of the mountains as daylight approached. It was so pretty. It was so awesome to see all the reflective gear in the light of my headlamp. It was pretty neat watching all the little pieces of reflection bobbing up and down. I could feel the side of my face going numb with cold. I could only just see the runners ahead of us, shuffling along, everyone fighting his own demons. I felt so sorry for the rangers and marshals at the Highlands Retreat, dressed to the tee with hi-tech gear, beanies, buffs and gloves. I remember my eyes were teary from the cold, but I’m sure they thought I was crying… maybe I was.  It was going to get worse. We had to fight the wind as we went up that mountain. My hands were frozen. Up, up, up. I knew we had to go down at some stage and I was really worried. My feet were so sore. So the descent came… and I had to bite my lip with every step. Goodness, it was so sore. As we made the descent over the second last mountain, the mist lifted and I saw the most beautiful image. I left my phone in the car as I was so worried about my feet, and with all the mist, I didn’t think there would be photo opportunities. I was wrong. The most beautiful moment to capture, lost forever.
We approached the Buttress and the second time around, I found it easier than on stage 1. As we were holding onto that chain ladder on the descent, my hands burnt with the cold of that chain.
I had to muster up all my courage as we ran the last descent to the finish. I was so glad there wasn’t another stage, as my feet wouldn’t allow me another stage.
The most delicious hot breakfast with champagne awaited us. I felt so proud and spoilt. It is not the mountain you conquer but yourself.
If you love the beauty of mountains, this is DEFINITELY a bucket list race! HUGE thank you to Hilary Bruss and her wonderful team for such a great event. I could not find any fault. I felt at home in these mountains and didn’t want to leave.
Run for 3 hours on the trail and you’ll hurt, but keep going and you’ll see and smell and hear and taste the world with a vividness that will make your former life pale – author unknown

Happy trail runners :)

Happy trail runners :)

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Zelda Coetzee

Media Manager & Blogger at UltraRunner ZA
Really crazy lady with a passion for trail running and photography. She is often referred to as the "Ultra Mommy" because she takes good care of everyone on the team.
Follow Me

About The Author

Really crazy lady with a passion for trail running and photography. She is often referred to as the "Ultra Mommy" because she takes good care of everyone on the team.

1 Comment

  1. Pragtig Zelda. Voorwaar n uitstaande prestasie. Indien iemand nie in God glo nie kan jy hulle daai roete gaan wys


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