The Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge is an essential Drakensberg trail run for those with an adventurous spirit and a commitment to conservation.
In South Africa, outdoor enthusiasts are blessed with an unbelievable variety of well-managed trail running, road running, mountain biking and other endurance events. Everything from stage races to endurance swims is available in this fitness-frenzied country. It’s hard to single out any for special mention, but thanks to the conservation efforts of the Old Mutual Wild Series, it is possible to label the Wild Series events as unique among equals.
This year the Three Cranes Challenge and the iMfolozi Challenge have already raised much needed funds for conservation efforts in KwaZulu-Natal for cranes, the African wild dog and rhino respectively. Next on the Wild Series calendar is the long-running Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge (known as “Monties”), the intimidating 50km trail run in the heart of the Drakensberg.
Last year, the top South African female athlete, Kerry-Ann Marshall (now Marais) was pipped to the post by British runner Holly Page. Despite finishing second, Marais says it was a great experience.
“It was a cold, wet and windy day out, but that made it more fun and tough,” she says. “I loved the variety of single track, jeep track, the technical sections and climbing up the chain ladders. I will never forget the magnificent views from the top either.”
While Monties is undoubtedly one of the most scenic runs in the country, it also takes a fair bit of grit to conquer the terrain. “It definitely ranks up there on the “challenge” scale,” says Marais. “The race requires a combination of skills with a proper climb in the first half and it’s all about being fast and nimble on the technical single track sections and on the way down. The high altitude adds another dimension and makes it that little bit more challenging especially if you have travelled up from sea level.”
The “challenge”, of course, is what makes it special. So too does the conservation aspect of the event. By entering the Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge, a portion of the entry fee goes towards conservation efforts in place to help conserve and nurture South Africa’s small population of bearded vultures. The run takes place in the Royal Natal section of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, part of the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site and home to the endangered birds.
“The Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge is one of the highlights on the South African trail running calendar, “ says Old Mutual’s Chief Marketing Officer, Vuyo Lee. “Not only does the event take runners to new extremes, but it also allows them to play a part in the conservation of the endangered bearded vulture. Old Mutual is proud to play a role in raising awareness of the birds’ plight.”
“Apart from providing an opportunity for runners to explore the incredible landscape of Royal Natal National Park, the entry fees are used to strengthen conservation efforts in the reserve and neighbouring areas,” says Mark Gerrard, Wildlands’ Conservation Manager.
“Funds are spent on a variety of interventions, all which aim to supplement baseline conservation activities of this iconic park, improving conservation effectiveness in the long term. With the region being a key site for endangered bearded and Cape vultures, the funds provide management with the ability to monitor the vulture movements, provide environmental education to the adjacent schools and improve overall ecosystem management of the reserve.”
Marais, though at Monties to race, was also taken by this aspect of the event. “During registration, we had the opportunity to learn about the endangered bearded vultures that live in the Maloti-Drakensberg Park,” she says. “It is wonderful to know that this race is part of a fundraising project to save these endangered species, and protect the environment that us trail runners are so fortunate to experience. Later in the year I had the privilege of visiting the bearded vulture sanctuary and saw these birds in action. I would highly recommend that runners try spend a day or two extra and visit the raptor sanctuary.”