Mr. Grand Traverse is the King of the Berg
15 January 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. In 2015 we caught up with two people who currently sit with records for the Drakensberg Grand Traverse, Ryan Sandes is one of them and Linda Doke is another. There’s one common denominator in both of those records and it’s Ryno Griesel. He joins us once again here on the podcast, Ryno, welcome back and thanks for joining us today.
Ryno Griesel: Good afternoon, thanks so much for the opportunity.
BB: Ryno, those Drakensberg Grand Traverse records that you’ve set with Ryan Sandes and with Linda Doke, tell us a little bit about your fascination with the Drakensberg. You obviously come from a mountaineering and adventure racing background, is it just because it’s such a magnificent range and it’s the biggest ones we have here in South Africa that your fascination is driven by?
What is it about the Drakensberg?
RG: Brad, interestingly, initially, it was just the closest, biggest mountains that we have to Gauteng. We don’t have much to work with in terms of mountaineering and trail running in Gauteng. We have the Magaliesberg, which is not quite on the same scale.
So initially it just started out as a practical solution, it’s the quickest to drive to the Drakensberg, but to be honest, it’s such a spectacular mountain range. The more time I spend there over the years, the deeper relationship I build up with the mountain. I’ve always just had this immense respect for the mountain and this eagerness to explore it more and more.
As I spend time there, I heard about the Drakensberg Traverse and it was never really, initially, the idea to chase it as a record. But if you’re going to go to the Berg, at least you have a guideline what you’re going to do. The more time I spent there and scouted it, I mean I have a competitive streak in me as well from sport. The idea comes up in the back of your head, how fast can this be done and can I maybe challenge the record.
You need to treat the Berg with respect
BB: Let’s talk about the record that you and Ryan set and obviously lots of work goes in beforehand, making sure that everything is in place and you guys check out the terrain beforehand. You and Ryan had a pretty hairy experience in one of those weekends where you were out in the Berg, checking out what you needed to do. I know, I’ve chatted to Ryan about this, but it was quite scary up on that mountain that day wasn’t it?
RG: For sure Brad. To be honest, that’s the biggest thing about mountains, things change so quickly. Unfortunately, the only way to learn how to adapt and handle those conditions is by paying school fees. By being in those conditions, learning how to handle it.
From a mountaineering background, I’ve been fortunate and unfortunate to be exposed to certain dangerous conditions. I think the biggest thing with the Drakensberg is because it’s so close to home, you forget that there’s actually a big mountain and things can turn very quickly. Often people don’t take the right equipment and gear. Fortunately, when Ryan and I were there, we had the proper tents, the proper equipment to handle it, but even with that, it was quite a scary experience.
BB: Ryno, as far as the amount of prep and organisation that goes into one of these things, how long in advance do you start planning a Traverse and particularly a record attempt Traverse?
A Grand Traverse attempt is not taken lightly
RG: I would say typically about two years, depending on what exactly you want to achieve with the Traverse. It’s obviously depending on the type of mountain etc. In South Africa it’s a little bit easier in terms of permits etc.
We are, for instance, looking at some African mountains, amongst others, the Rwenzori Mountains in future. That changes the whole ball game because you first have to get permission, not just to access the area, but also to maybe film in the area etc. A lot of permissions and the biggest thing for me has always been to keep with mountain ethos.
To remain in respect with the mountain, to really keep that initial idea of why we access mountains and not go in there with a big show. To do that typically takes more time because you need to chat to the right people etc. I would say typically about two years, putting a project together, on average.
BB: That’s incredible, it’s hard to think that so much goes in behind the scenes and then from a weather perspective and a window, it’s very difficult to time it. But you try and time it as best as you can because the last thing you want to do is be attempting one of these things in a storm and when a front is coming through.
The mountain will always be there tomorrow
RG: Definitely! From experience, you learn which times of the year are the best for certain mountains. But the reality is that that’s merely a guideline, the weather changes so quickly up there. Firstly, if you just do an attempt, it’s one thing. If you plan to have any form of filming involved, it obviously becomes a completely different ball game.
I think that’s what makes it so exciting is that we are at the mercy of the mountain. We respect the mountain, we give it our best shot, but we will never be arrogant. If the weather is too bad, the weather changes, we’ve got a saying that the mountain will always be there tomorrow. We’ll never try to be bigger than what the mountain throws at us.
BB: Tell me a bit about your relationship with Ryan, when you’re up on that mountain. You said to me in our previous chat that you obviously each bring different skills to the table, you have a lot of rope skills and mountaineering. Where Ryan, I mean he’s just a freak when it comes to running.
Does that bring its own challenges? Ryan is a great runner, how does it work? Obviously your running ability needs to be on a sort of par, but how do you guys handle it when you’re up on the mountain?
Forming a solid team on the mountains
RG: I think firstly, Ryan, up until today, is my biggest role model. Initially when we started Traverse project, I wouldn’t have run with them. I wouldn’t even in my wildest dreams have thought I would run with him across the Drakensberg mountains. It was more, I offered to assist and give a platform so that he can run it.
To be honest, if he runs anything, he can run it a lot faster than I do. I do think when it comes to adventures and safety and moving over technical terrain of that nature, a team aspect really helps. It also helps that I can focus on one area, for instance, the navigation and he can make sure we keep the right pace.
It was very daunting, even while we’re on the mountain, Ryan is such a good natured, easy-going guy. But still, it was massive to me to think that I don’t want to disappoint them, running across this mountain. But through that whole experience and getting through it together, we’ve really become good mates. I think the biggest thing is to realise that when you’re in a team and you can share responsibilities, you can go much further in difficult conditions.
BB: You talk about doing it in a team and you and Ryan did and that record was phenomenal, but you did the same with Linda Doke and you broke the mixed team record as well. How difficult is it running with different personalities? Obviously Ryan and Linda are very different, how do you deal with that?
RG: Again, Linda, a massive role model to me, so was equally nervous not to disappoint Linda. I’m more the account support runner in any team and I’m very comfortable being that. So, running has just enabled me to interact with these top level athletes and being able to use the skill that I have to grab these opportunities.
Obviously going with Linda, going into the mixed environment changes a whole lot of things, in terms of the risk. There are Basotho’s on the mountain and it changes the dynamics of the type of risk, going with a female over the mountain.
Linda and I were very open about and we had a Plan A, B and C and backups and how we’d approach those things. Also, interestingly enough, in the week building up to my and Linda’s attempt, we saw the weather turning really bad and we knew it’s going to be quite challenging.
We carried a lot more and we carried full tents and we carried full sleeping bags, but we committed that we still want to finish this attempt, even if it takes us twice as long. Just from the weather perspective, my and Linda’s challenge was a lot different. Just from the amount of kit we carried and the approach we had. But we just said we’re going to stick and see how far we can get, but both challenging in very different ways.
Looking for the next adventure now
BB: What happens if AJ Calitz comes to you and says: Ryno, we need to break Ryan’s record, how do you deal with a request like that?
RG: Nothing, AJ, we’re great mates, but there have been various, from a mixed and from a men’s point of view, there has been certain options and proposals. The reality is, we became such good mates through that experience that it would be very difficult to just; I’d rather attempt another mountain than doing exactly the same project because it’s never been about the record.
To be honest, I think both records can be broken, in the very near future and I’m very comfortable with that. If we can convince people to get out there and do something that’s awesome, it’s always just been about that relationship that we build up. As I’ve mentioned before, I had the opportunity and the privilege and I’ll tackle other projects with Ryan and other projects with Linda which I’ll put my focus on.
BB: Ryno, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting to you. If people want to find out more about Ryno Griesel, the website to get to is www.rynogriesel.co.za, all the details are there. Ryno, we look forward to seeing what you’ve got up your sleeve for 2016 and beyond and I’m sure there are going to be some epic adventures. We look forward to following them very closely.
RG: Great, thanks so much Brad, have a good day.