Linda Doke en route to her 13 Peaks Challenge success. Photo: Stephen Granger

Hout Bay ultra-trail athlete, Linda Doke, became the first person to achieve the 13 Peak Challenge in under 24 hours and running solo, when she arrived back at the start at Signal Hill three minutes before 7pm on Saturday, clocking 22 hours 57 minutes for the grueling 110 km route.

The challenge has become the ultimate in trail running adventure in the Cape, following trail star Ryan Sandes’ throwing down the gauntlet earlier this year, and takes in thirteen of the toughest, most iconic peaks in the Peninsula.

Sandes was aware of adventurous mountain trail challenges in other parts of the planet, such as the Bob Graham Round in the Lake District in England and felt inspired to introduce a similar challenge in his favourite training grounds in Cape Town.  He pioneered the challenge with running friend Kane Reilly earlier the year.

Under-estimating the length of the route, the pair were forced to abort their attempt after summiting the twelfth peak, as the light failed them, but the challenge had been set to tag 13 peaks in the circuit - Signal Hill then Lions Head, followed by MacLears Beacon, Grootkop, Judas Peak, Klein Leeukop, Suther Peak, Chapman’s Peak, Noordhoek Peak, Muizenberg Peak, Constantiaberg, Klassenkop, Devils Peak and back to Signal Hill.

Sandes is encouraging runners and hikers to do the 13 peak circuit to make full use of daylight hours, and tackle the circuit over two or several days, maximising the impact of the stunning views from the peaks.

But there are always some who rise to the ultimate challenge.  There have been several attempts to complete the circuit in less than one full day, the fastest to date being an impressive 19 hrs 46 min by running partners Ian Metcalfe and Martin Crous.

But Doke has bagged herself a place in trail history with her impressive solo run. “I’m exhausted, but very pleased to have got in under 23 hours,” said Doke. “I realised after summiting Devil’s Peak that it was on so I really went hard over the final kilometres on the road up to Signal Hill.”

A difficult night descent of Judas Peak, in low mist, proved a significant challenge for Doke in the first half of the circuit while summiting the final peaks on depleted legs were the hardest part of the second half. “Constantiaberg just went on for ever,” admitted Doke. “So many ‘false summits’ before getting to the top. And Devil’s Peak is similarly frustrating and also difficult to climb due to erosion.”

A morning sunrise after ascending Noordhoek Peak and the panoramic early morning view from Muizenberg Peak were two of the high points for Doke. “But the biggest high point was undoubtedly reaching the finish line in under 23 hours!”

Sandes is pleased to have received a number of enquiries from international athletes wanting to take up the challenge, including one of the world’s best ultra-athletes. “So it appears that it has really caught on.  And people are doing it for a number of causes or for life reasons. One woman diagnosed with breast cancer is wanting to take up the challenge over several days.

“I would like to have another go myself after returning from running the 140km TDS at UTMB in three weeks,” said Sandes. “And then perhaps to give it a full-on go early next year to see what time I can achieve.  I’ve introduced a special “impossible badge” for any runner achieving the “impossible” of running the circuit in less than 14 hours – essentially that would be equivalent to 13 peaks in 13 hours!”

IOL Sport