Reflecting on the 9 peaks tour for Qhubeka

Colin Cooper and his daughter Bianca Cooper recently completed their 9 Peaks Tour, which raised funds and awareness for Qhubeka. Here, Colin shares some memories from the trip:

The 9 Peaks challenge has become a bucket list target for hikers and climbers. It entails summiting the highest mountain in each of South Africa’s nine provinces. In every 9 Peaks success to date, it has been completed by driving between each peak. The 9 Peak challenge we took on was to be a South African first: to climb the nine highest peaks and cycle between each hike and to do this non-stop over a six-week period. IMG_0320

My daughter, Bianca, and I sat down one night with a glass of Guinness in hand and worked on ways to make our forthcoming tour into a real adventure:

a) We would ride to raise funds for Qhubeka

b) On the trip we would ride only Qhubeka Buffalo Bicycles. Solid steel, single-speed, no suspension and only a pedal-back rear brake; 28kg in weight.

c) We would go “back to basics” in terms of nutrition and hydration. This meant that during the riding and hiking we would not use any modern attributes like over-processed and plastic packaged food and drink. There would be no Coke, bottled water, energy drinks, gels or bars. No sweets, chocolates or muesli bars. No stopping for coffee and a muffin. No supplements, vitamin pills etc.

d) No lycra riding kit. We would do all our exertions in an African shirt (self-designed and home-sewn) along with board shorts from Mr Price. Rain protection would be yellow rain jackets from Johnson Workwear.

e) I would add to that, cycling in tekkies (sneakers) with old fashioned toe clips.

f) Camping would be the preference, although guesthouses would be used in times of bad weather.

g) No GPS, Only maps, odo’s and compass.

h) No tour guides / porters


The Route

We aimed to start in Limpopo and climb Iron Crown in August 2014 and finish in September 2014 by climbing Seweweekspoort in Western Cape, 3000 km later.

Limpopo                Iron Crown                    2126 m

Mpumalanga        Die Berg                         2331 m

North West           Nooitgedacht                1852 m

Gauteng                 Toringkop                      1913 m

Free State              Namahadi                      3275 m

KwaZulu-Natal      Mafadi                            3451 m

Eastern Cape         Kwa Duma                     3019 m

Northern Cape      Murchison Point          2156 m

Western Cape       Seweweekspoort         2325 m


A Small Setback

A week before we are due to leave my wife, Maggie, and I were victims of a horrendous Farm attack which left me in a coma and ICU for a month with massive head and face injuries along with a smashed hand/wrist and ankle/feet injuries. Superb work by the doctors and nursing staff at Millpark Hospital meant I survived.

A week after leaving hospital, I was back on a stationary bike for 5minutes, but had to tie my wrist to the handlebar to stop falling off. A long, tough recovery meant I was back on my Qhubeka bike after another month, being babysat and monitored by Bianca while I trailed in her Qhubeka wake.

Three months after the attack, I finished 100km on the Qhubeka and by January 2015 I reached my short-term target of three 100km rides in three successive days. The 9 Peaks challenge was back on!

Our new date to depart is was 14 March 2015.


The Start

We reach our starting point in Haenertsburg, Limpopo around midday and head for the only campsite that we had booked ahead on the whole trip. It was closed and no-one in sight. Our amazing route plan had fallen apart on day one.

After a couple of hours delay we find another campsite and still have time to climb Iron Crown before the sun goes down.  We hike from the “wrong” side at Ebenezeer Dam which means it is a four hour walk up and down. Number one done.

Sunday we get on our trusty steeds and charge down Georges Valley road towards Tzaneen, a super downhill 40km where we are supposed to meet with our back-up crew (Maggie) for the first time. Second day and second problem; we can’t find her. A 5km detour and we discover each other. This first day is a long one, we have fresh legs and I want to get to the base of Abel Erasmus Pass before the traffic gets busy tomorrow.

127 km on day one of the biking. Legs were tired at the start after yesterday’s hike, but now very tired so we both have a lie down before dinner and bed.


We Move Forwards

We have planned the trip to try and avoid the summer rains and the chance of winter snow in the ‘Berg’. It buckets down the next day and for several days afterwards. By some fluke we miss the worst of it during the biking, but it does mean wet tents all the time.

We arrive at the gate to Die Berg on Wednesday 18 March and hike the road to the top. This mountain deludes us into thinking that the rest of the trip will be easy. From the mountaintop we descend a few kilometres to our stop for the night at Lomas Creek. They advertise a campsite, but apparently there isn’t one. We suffer the night in a fabulous old farmhouse with wonderful hospitality.

Our route now takes us to stops at Loskop Dam and Bronkhorstspruit Dam.

Now we have to ride through Pretoria on Saturday lunchtime, excellent planning! After swapping paint between bikes and buses, we drag ourselves along a highway and come out at Hartebeespoort Dam. On Sunday we have a short ride to Ingwe Game Reserve, the base of Nooitgedacht. We have lots of time and break our rules by nipping in to Van Gaalens Cheese Farm for a cheese platter and to stock our mobile larder with their extra mature Gouda.

From Ingwe we hike up a road to the top of Nooitgedacht. Peak number three and no sweat so far. In fact, it is cold, misty and very damp.

We now have two days of dodging traffic from Hekpoort to Vereeniging. Gauteng traffic is mad and we nearly get wiped out several times.

We have been trying, by email and cellphone, to get permission to ride in and out of Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. It has been closed for a water supply problem.

We go with plan B. Next to Suikerbos is the second highest Peak in Gauteng, Platberg. We climb this instead and it is in fact a much longer and higher hike, so we are satisfied (although not with Gauteng Tourism or its staff).

It is now Tuesday 24March and we have cleaned up four peaks already. Although not easy, we are pleased with our progress and our routine now means we are relatively comfortable. We have been lulled into a false sense of security.

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