RAE’S BLOG: The Highest Point In The Indian Ocean


Runners World |

We are in Reunion exploring the trail and road running that the island has to offer. Our first run took us over the highest point on the island, a volcano called Piton des Neiges.

The summit of Piton des Neiges.
The summit of Piton des Neiges.

For as long as I have been running, I have dreamt of seeing the trails of Reunion Island for myself. The sheer size of the cliffs as they climb up from the ocean has always fascinated me. To have a peak a touch over 3000m above sea level on an island that could fit into the greater area of Cape Town gives a clear indication of the kind of elevation that can be found on the island.

We flew in late Thursday night and after a hair-raising drive up a steep pass that I wouldn’t drive a mini up, let alone two-way traffic, we arrived in Hell-Bourge. The quaint village is situated on the foothills of the Piton des Neiges about 955m above sea level. Knowing we had a big climb the next morning up to the summit, which tops out at 3000m, we settled in for the night.

Tropical paradise in the forests above Hell-Bourg.
Tropical paradise in the forests above Hell-Bourg.

After a quick breakfast, we started the climb through the lush forests above Hell-Bourge. Thick mist was rolling in from just about every direction making the path quite slippery beneath us. We pushed on at a steady pace with the vapour keeping us cool and creating quite an eery atmosphere through the trees.

Vegetation not unlike the fynbos back home.
Vegetation not unlike the fynbos back home.

Once we cleared the tree line, the mist faded away and we were met with some spectacular views out over the clouds below us. The vegetation wasn’t unlike the fynbos we get back home. Thick shrubbery with loose volcanic rock scattered along the trail. The rocks here are quite strange, they are incredibly light and porous making it quite easy to end up on the floor if you lose concentration.

Final push for the summit.
Final push for the summit.

There comes a time on most mountain climbs, tar or trail, where the temptation to stop and turn back down is strong. Where doubt starts to creep in and our legs are burning. It is usually just before the summit, like when what we thought was the summit turns out to only be another hard slog up a steeper section, or we just can’t catch a glimpse of the end, so we give up and turn around. In many ways, it is not unlike life.

Corne, Captain Courageous, Krige putting in the hard yards.
Corne, Captain Courageous, Krige putting in the hard yards.

Don’t judge me, but a Hannah Montana lyric seems quite fitting right about now,

“And I, I gotta be strong.
Just keep pushing on.”

Traversing past the mast on the Piton des Neiges, heading to the summit.
Traversing past the mast on the Piton des Neiges, heading to the summit.

 

I have experienced a few personal mountains lately, we all do at some point. Funny how they always seem too steep, too tough, or too high. We question if we have what it takes to get to the top, whether we have the grit, whether we have the courage. In the end, though, we always do. Deep down. Where the mind takes over. It doesn’t matter if you are running your first 5k or your first 100k. The principle is the same, and if we can just stick out a few more minutes, a few more steps, we find ourselves at the summit with a chicken mayo sandwich and an endorphin-fuelled sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

 

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Forest running at it’s best.

We all have our own mountains to climb. Next time you feel like throwing in the towel remember, chances are, you are almost there. Once we got to the top and enjoyed the views from the highest point in the Indian Ocean we started the long and technical descent down to Cilaos. Imagine running downhill non-stop for over two hours, with switchback after switchback and the most incredible views of the valleys and mountains below us. We breathed a sigh of relief when we finally rolled into the small town of Cilaos with tired legs and beaming smiles from a great day out on the mountain.

Running statistics.
Running statistics.

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