Planning a trail-running holiday? Here are Ryan Sandes’ top-10 bucket-list routes worth travelling to. – By Ryan Sandes
01. Otter Trail, Garden Route, Western Cape (42km)
Incredible sea views and technical terrain. People usually hike it over five days, but participants in the annual Otter African Trail Run do it in a day.
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02. Drakensberg Grand Traverse, KwaZulu-Natal (210-240km)
Completing this trail was one of the most epic and crazy experiences in my life – tough, but rewarding. Ryno Griesel and I traversed some of the highest peaks in the Drakensberg, on super-technical terrain. On top of the escarpment it’s otherworldly – and within a matter of minutes, the weather can switch from sunshine to a manic lightning storm.
03. Fish River Canyon, Namibia (85km)
This incredibly beautiful trail usually takes hikers four to five days. I set the fastest known time (FKT) record through the Canyon a few years ago. Being inside it is a unique experience: towering walls of rock surround you, and the Fish River flows gently through its centre. The cool thing about the trail is that you can run it at your own pace – which is why I’d love to go back there with my mates.
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04. Lion’s Head, Cape Town (5km return)
Locals from all walks of life run or hike this trail daily. It’s accessible, because it’s in the heart of Cape Town – you can literally finish work at 5pm, and be at the top of Lion’s Head to watch the sun go down by just after 6pm. The 360-degree views of Cape Town from the top are breathtaking.
05. Lake Tahoe Rim Trail, Sierra Nevada, US (266km)
I have run and mountain-biked only some parts of this 165-mile (266km) trail. As the name suggests, it loops around the outskirts of Lake Tahoe, whose turquoise waters are some of the most striking I’ve ever seen. I’d love to run the full trail one day.
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06. The Tour of Mont Blanc, Mont Blanc massif, spanning Switzerland, Italy and France (160km)
The route loops around the Mont Blanc mountain range, and through France, Italy and Switzerland. I ran it over three days, in preparation for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), which is a 100-mile (160km) race along the same trail.
What was really cool was that I could recce the trail carrying the bare minimum, because every evening I would stay at a ‘refuge’, which I had pre-booked. (‘Refuges’ are mountain cabins, offering bed and breakfast. Some of them even have restaurants, where you can order dinner.)
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There are many points along the route where you can either start or finish your run – the trail is so accessible that buses can be driven on parts of it. So if the weather turns bad, you can skip that section by hopping on a bus, then reconnect with the trail at a later point where the weather’s better.
07. The GR20 Trail, Corsica (180km)
One of my Salomon teammates, Francois D’Haene (left), holds the FKT record for this well-known European hiking trail. It’s a super-technical, hard-going trail, and the weather conditions are extreme – one minute you’ll be warm, but a little higher up it can be freezing cold. Adventurers regard it as the ultimate trail-running experience.
08. The Grand Canyon Trail, Arizona, US (38.5km)
I haven’t been lucky enough to run or hike this trail yet, but it’s on my bucket list, for sure. I once flew over the Canyon in a helicopter, and we landed inside it, which was epic! It reminded me of the Fish River Canyon, which holds awesome memories for me. As with the Fish, the Grand Canyon is unforgiving, harsh and vast. At times, the temperatures are blisteringly hot.
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09. Vertical KM route, Chamonix, France (3.8km)
Participants in either the UTMB or the Mont Blanc Marathon often attempt the Vertical Kilometre, which is so called because it has a vertical gain of 1 000m. It’s tough going; a real lung-buster. But once you’re at the top, the view of the valley below is spectacular.
10. Great Himalayan Trail, Nepal (±1 700km)
A single trail leads from the west to the east end of Nepal. Established in 2011, it’s roughly 1 700km long, and is regarded as the holy grail of trekking. It passes some of the world’s most majestic mountain tops: all of Nepal’s 8 000-metre peaks, including Mount Everest. Remote cultures can be experienced on the route.
Currently, more people have walked on the moon than have walked the entire length of this trail, because it takes around five months to complete it. Note: it’s closed during winter.
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