The summer of 2021 and our beaches were closed, we decided to take to the hills and hike The 13 Peak Challenge… It turned out to be a challenge that was way bigger than us… we learned, we grew and we conquered. It was a true journey of discovery and right in our own backyard. The 13 Peaks Challenge has taken us to places that we have never been before, and we loved it. Folk have been asking about our adventure… and I have been blogging our journey as we went along. I thought it would be great to put all our 13 Peak posts into one post so that folk can find all our hints and tips, and learn from the mistakes we made the first time round.
This is a challenge designed by “trail runners, for trail runners” that to be honest, since we are complete novices, we shouldn’t be able to do, but we did it anyway. Several litres of water later, several energy bars, several flasks of hot chocolate and muffins for breakfast on a mountain top. Not to mention, several 4 am wake up calls, and several declarations of that’s impossible. I don’t know how many times I said I would rather swim Robben Island Thirteen times than complete the challenge… yet not one of us was willing to give up.
Also, several missing toe nails and more than a few totally trashed trail shoes. But not a single blister, thanks to our best Balega Socks. The trick to injury free feet is to take care of your feet beforehand… all those missing toenails were in the first two/three hikes and after that we got really good at foot care… trim those nails, make sure you stop and remove sand and stones, don’t wait till you reach a good spot… just sort your feet out, look after them… they have to carry you a long way. Suprisingly, our most frequently occurring “injury,”after several years of parenting, we encountered bee stings for the first time. Kind of unavoidable, but they are out there and luckily no allergic reactions.
The 13 Peak Challenge
The 13 Peak Challenge is a challenge to cover a circular route of Peaks through and around the Table Mountain National Park. The idea is to cover the route either in one day, two days or like us over several days… we took the several days option and then realised that all the tips we found online were from trail runners, but not so many hints from or for hikers. To be honest, after being on the route for a number of weeks, I can safely say that while a few intrepid and adventurous folk are running the route, most folk are hiking and at most jogging it. So tips for hikers will be a massive help. You can learn loads about the challenge on the 13 Peak Challenge Website, and follow them on instagram @13_Peaks and follow the tag #13peakschallenge as well.
It All Begins With a Map
The official route map is a guide really… and we headed to Strava to get our map details as well as to plot and plan our routes. There are some parts of the route where you won’t have data signal and you won’t be able to follow your route “live.” You do need a back up plan, and for every route, in case of a safety fail or any kind of data fail, we used the AllTrails App, which allows you to download your map before you get going. If you don’t have someone with you who has done the route before then you definitely need to have looked at the route carefully before hand and have it with you, while you are on the move.
The Route We Took
Technically, the challenge is to get up each peak and down again… AND travel the distance between each peak as well. There can be no gaps in your route. Somehow the excitement carries you up each peak, but be warned the journey between the peaks can be long and knowing your route can help you plot treats and spots to get encouragement along the way. If you are hiking then you need to make sure that you start your next hike where you left off the previous hike, so that all your segments link up.
- 13 Peaks and Segment 1: Signal Hill to Lion’s Head…
- 13 Peaks and Segment 2: Muizenberg Peak…
- 13 Peaks and Segment 3: From the Vida Truck to Kloof Corner…
- 13 Peaks and Segment 4: Kloof Corner to Suikerbossie…
- 13 Peaks and Segment 5: Kasteelspoort to Suikerbossie…
- 13 Peaks and Segment 6: Little Lion’s Head.
- 13 Peaks and Segment 7: Chapman’s Peak Drive.
- 13 Peaks and Segment 8: Suther Peak.
- 13 Peaks and Segment 9: Chapman’s Peak and Noordhoek Peak Together.
- 13 Peaks and Segment 10: The Silvermine River Walk. Not part of the route per se, but a good place for family and friends to join you if you are taking it slow.
- 13 Peaks and Segment 11: Constantiaberg…
- 13 Peaks and Segment 12: Klaasenkop and So Close…
- 13 Peaks and Segment 13: Devil’s Peak to the Finish…
The Peaks in Order
If you are here for a quick reference and want to see what each peak looks like as you go then here are links to the hikes we did for each peak. You will be able to get a flavour for each peak, there are photos and our experience of each peak.
- Peak 1: Signal Hill
- Peak 2: Lion’s Head
- Peak 3: Maclear’s Beacon
- Peak 4: Grootkop
- Peak 5: Judas Peak
- Peak 6: Little Lion’s Head
- Peak 7: Suther Peak
- Peak 8: Chapman’s Peak
- Peak 9: Noordhoek Peak
- Peak 10: Muizenberg Peak
- Peak 11: Constantiaberg
- Peak 12: Klaasenkop
- Peak 13: Devil’s Peak
What We Carried in our Packs
Our first hike we got it all wrong, the second hike we were better and by the third hike we had it down to an art. This is not the time for a couple of “gu’s and an energy bar” and you will not be able to rely on collecting water along the way at all, we found no drinkable water along our entire route. Little tweaks were made to our packs along the way, but mostly this is what we took:
I had four water bottles in my bag. That is not excessive, rather too much than too little, and after our first disastrous and thirsty hike, vowed to never run out of water again. One bottle was plain water (me and my dog!), one had hot chocolate (chilly peak rewards), and the other two had a diluted energy drink, which is my go to fuel for most adventures (including my Robben Island Crossing).
We took fruity raisin muffins for every hike and on longer hikes we took a pork sausage or two each as well. A salty snack as a breakfast treat, turns out to be lovely, especially if you still have a full day of hiking ahead of you. Always a small chocolate, dried sausage and an energy bar for the journey and maybe a couple of jelly sweets as well.
I always took a Core Merino sweater in my bag, in can be extremely cold on a mountain top, whatever the weather when you start. Cape Town is known for four seasons on a day… we experienced incredible heat, freezing cold, torrenting rain, and loads of wild and misty adventures. You need to have clothing for every eventuality… which is why we choose Core Merino, it is light, it is warm, it dries in a flash and it goes the distance. Little trick, as soon as you start to feel cold do something about it, don’t waste energy on being cold, put a sweater on quickly and stay warm. Otherwise, we could not have tracked our distance at all without taking a battery pack. Our devices never lasted an entire hike and you really do want to be able to track your run/route on your watch or your phone.
What to Wear…
In a nutshell, something for every season. We just wore our regular running gear and obviously Balega socks. For myself I started out with a regular gym top, a running vest and a light core merino sweater, as soon as we warmed up the sweater went into my pack.
Otherwise, if the weather had been cooler I would have worn leggings, but it was shorts all the way. Under my shorts I wore legging shorts from OTG Active, they are basically my anti-chafe tool… when you are hiking all day, this is a concern.
Otherwise, for socks these Silver Protects from Balega are my favourites for when I know I am going to be on the trails for hours and hours. Silver Protects have a gentle compression feel to them, which means they feel snug, but they also have loads of cushioning, which is exactly what I need when I am going to be on my feet all day. Not to mention they are threaded with antimicrobial silver, which keeps your feet feeling fresh all day… and that is a win for me. That being said, we all have our favourite Balega socks.
Quite a few folk have asked me what trainers I used. My trusty HokaOneOne, these are Speedgoats and I love them, and I might have completely worn them out on the 13 Peaks Challenge, but I still love them. I have a thing for buying trainers on special… “special trainers,” that being said after years of looking for comfortable shoes, I saw these on special and grabbed them and I never looked back. I have struggled with Planter Fasciitis my entire fitness journey and had literally given up on finding comfortable trainers… inserts helped somewhat but a year of foot strength and calf training during lockdown, at the beginning and end of each run helped immensely and shoes that were a comfortable fit from the moment I put them on were actually life changing.
13 Peaks As a Family, with our Kids
The kids that joined us on this hike were Hood 4 (age 17), Hood 5 (age 16), Hood 7 (13) and Hood 8 (11). Our kids have grown up hiking and running, so this was just more of what they were used to. We just started, with our regular hike a week and no special training whatsoever, our hike a week just became a hike from the 13 Peak route.
That being said, some of the segments were long, some of the segments were longer and some of them were endless. Enticing snacks and pre-appointed stops helped: Breakfast at the top, last feast half an hour before the finish and so on. Also having friends along on part of a hike, or spotting folk we knew along the route was immensely encouraging. And of course chatting, we got to chat with our kids and talk about things like never before, it was a great opportunity to spend masses of time together.
13 Peaks with our Dog, Kip.
Firstly, you need a dog that can easily walk/run 20+ km at a stretch, and our dog is quite used to that type of running, so he was fine. There were days when it was extremely hot and resting in the shade for a few minutes was not an option… and part of the reason we left before dawn, so that we could get most of the hikes done in the cool of the day. You will need to take water for your dog, we carried about two litres of water on ever hike for him and a collapsable bowl helped.
Mostly he ran free, and for the first few hikes we had him on a collar and leash in demarcated areas. The first time we went down Llundadno Ravine, which has some fairly tricky descents for a pup, we realised that it would be so much easier if we had a harness for him and we got a harness from Trail Hounds SA. It arrived overnight, was the perfect fit, the pup loved it and we were very very glad to have it before we went on to tackle Little Lion’s Head and Suther Peak, both of those peaks require a certain amount of rock climbing and for lifting and lowering, this harness was exactly what we needed.
I added this in, because I was asked, “How much does it cost?” Excellent question, it is free, except if you enter into Silvermine, when the gates are open. In which case, you will need to pay an entrance fee. But we have a Wild Card that I carry in my pocket at all times, and a Sanparks Wild Card gives you entrance to the park. Also, if you are planning to take a pup, then you need an Sanparks dog walking activity card. We actually never saw a ranger at all, the entire trip, and our cards stayed tucked away in our pack. But we were glad to have them with us, just in case we were asked for them.
Evidence of What We Actually Did…
On the 4th of January 2021, we began our journey at Signal Hill: Peak #1 on the map. We began with enthusiasm and excitement…
On the hottest day of summer, we made our way to Peak #2 on the map: Lion’s Head. Lessons were learned, Cape Town’s summer is not a joke, carry more water and start before dawn. One day of hiking and I had already lost my nerve…
So we looked for the easiest peak on the route to regain my confidence. And a week later we tackled Muizenberg Peak, Peak #10 on the map. On this hike we learned to start really early and take breakfast with us for the peak… breakfast has become a thing on the mountain top for us. I regained my confidence and went from “this challenge is impossible,” to thinking… maybe it could be done.
The following week and my un-natural fear of hiking up Platteklip Gorge meant we did the teeny tiny walk from the base of Lion’s Head to Kloof corner. The idea was that I would be able to get a closer, more realistic look at it… but mist and clouds prevented that. The following day, we started before dawn and ended long after dark, it was the Hike to end all Hikes… We started at Kloof Corner and got up Platteklip, on to Maclear’s Beacon in the pouring rain. I was thrilled to get there and happy to march on in the pouring rain, when we got to the top of Kasteelspoort in the mid-afternoon we should have called it a day (Massive tip to all hikers right there).
But, we decided how far could it be to Suikerbossie and kept on going. The lesson that we learned was that kilometers along the top of the Twelve Apostles, is very different to kilometers on the road. We soldiered on and tagged Grootkop, and made our next mistake… for some reason, Judas Peak wasn’t on our route and we marched right past it into the sunset, and down Llandudno Ravine in the dark… getting home way after curfew and feeling not a little betrayed.
The next week we returned, and where we should have ended the week before at Kasteelspoort, we began our journey again. We all loved this hike, the week before when we missed a peak we had felt somewhat defeated… this got us back on track. I do have to say that while, Judas Peak is a gentle walk off the main path, the scramble to get the last few meters to the actual peak had me thinking all sorts of my old “this is impossible” thoughts. Luckily we are a team and my lads helped me up. Judas Peak was in the bag. Followed by descending down Llandudno Ravine in the daylight, which was incredible and well worth getting a do-over.
The following week we went on to Little Lion’s Head… this has to be our absolute favourite, not to mention probably the most technical Peak of them all. Gotta say, that the 13 Peaks Challenge is designed for trail runners and not really for hikers… and this one had us all thinking that trail runners might be a more than a little bit mad. A little research made us realise that while most runners go up Little Lion’s Head and then down the same way and run around the base of the Peak through Hout Bay, to start the following Peak. We decided to go up and over… and that was fine, until, when we descended into Hout Bay, where we met up with a security team that sent us back over the ridge and all the way down to Sandy Bay… another mistake we won’t make again. Definitely up and over is the way to go, but don’t try and go straight down into Hout Bay afterwards, head across to Suther Peak via Sandy Bay. Can I say we were very relieved to to make it to the Sandy Bay Parking lot and a very tired walk across Hout Bay before calling it a day. Gotta say, from this Peak out we started feeling stronger and stronger… this Peak was the one that decided it for us, from here on out… even though there were tough times and long trails ahead… from Little Lion’s Head we knew we could do it.
Learning our lesson to take short routes wherever we can… during the following week… we dashed out and ran up and down Chapman’s Peak Drive… I love this run, one of the very best 10km routes that Cape Town has to offer and can I mention here how often we covered our steps to and fro more than a few times… thus making our Challenge way longer than necessary, but we were loving it, so who cares really!!!
A week after our trip up Little Lion’s Head we found ourselves back in the Sandy Bay parking lot… and after the extremely technical trail of Little Lion’s Head I was again really nervous of Suther Peak. Turns out Suther Peak was absolutely fine. Straight up, straight down and a little fun and totally doable climbing along the way. Not to mention plenty of people at the top… and a little step ladder, to help you get to the very top and tag your peak.
The following week we took a break… I had had a little fall on Little Lion’s Head… that I ignored as minor. Only to discover that it had morphed into a neck injury and I needed a week off the trails to recover. But after a week off we were back on the trails and we headed for Chapman’s Peak. It was lovely and a glorious breakfast… followed by the long hot slog up Noordhoek Peak. It was only when two elderly gentlemen ambled past us and not so quietly whispered to each other that “she (meaning me), is so enthusiastic… but she is never going to make it to the top!” Well that was all the encouragement that I needed and I literally surged forward, from a crawl to an amble, mind you, but I made it to the top right behind them… proudest moment!!!
Another week and we could only start our trip up the following Peak, after the Silvermine Gate had opened… by 7:15 we were on the trail and a lovely misty walk, waving as we sailed past Elephant’s Eye, and up to the peak. Here we were astonished to discover kilometers of tarred road… slow and easy jogging down the hill… only to discover, horror of horrors a “little mountain” between us and the finish at Constantia Nek. The up wasn’t so bad, but we did take forever to get down into the Hout Bay valley again… it was harder than it looked, and a typical little twist in the tail of a 13 Peak hike.
We were excited about the next peak, firstly you have to climb a tree to summit it and secondly, some little friends joined us to encourage us on our way… this is really an easy walk up, steep but easy, up the road from Constantia Nek. Near the first dam there is a turning to the left and you walk around the Peak and head for the top, across a rocky top. There is a large fissure between the rocks and the Peak, but a tree has conveniently grown up between the rocks and an easy climb across the top and another peak tagged. From their we headed down Nursery Ravine, along the contour path to the start of Newlands Ravine. Then we popped out at Newlands Forest and we were ready to for a rest before starting our final peak.
The final peak in our journey… up Newlands Ravine and up to the Devil… and what a wild and stormy peak that was. We totally crushed that and when we got to the end of the peak we had planned to come back the next day and finish our journey on fresh legs…
But at the last minute, decided “Why Wait?” So little by little we did the last stretch along Tafelberg Road and back up to the start at Signal Hill…
My Personal Journey…
From it is absolutely impossible for me to do this, to finishing and eager to go and do it all over again… I can honestly say… I am braver for this. No word of a lie, this was hard, one of the hardest things I have ever done… I had to put the nerves in a box and move along… commitment really helped. This challenge pushed me to climb places I never dreamed I could climb, walk distances I never thought I could walk and jump and leap from rock to rock… because I just had to keep on going forwards… there was no turning back. I also discovered, that in a challenge I am totally living my best life… because ever since we finished I have been in a lull… I am a person that needs to be in a challenge, I need the journey and I need to push myself to new limits. 13 Peaks will challenge you whatever level of athlete you are. It is not impossible, even for plus size moms of many. It turns out that it is all in your head. If you decide you are going to do this, then nothing can stop you. Hopefully this is the start of many more challenges like this… because I loved it completley.