Wild conditions give teeth to Kromrivier Beast

A runner threads his way on the knife edge near the summit of Sugarloaf - the first of tghe six summits at this morning's Kromrivier Beast 45km. Photo: Stephen Granger
A runner threads his way on the knife edge near the summit of Sugarloaf – the first of tghe six summits at this morning’s Kromrivier Beast 45km. Photo: Stephen Granger

Nelius Swart took advantage of wild conditions at the Kromrivier “Beast”, at the inaugural, 45-km trail running event, held in the heart of South Africa’s Cederberg Wilderness on Saturday (May 15). Swart, 39, came home in 5 hours, 46 minutes.

Mags Wright made it a great day for 39’ers, winning the women’s race in impressive style with a 6th place overall, just three months short of her 40th birthday.

German-born, school sprint champion Guido Tagge, closed a twenty-minute gap on the top of Winterbach the final summit at 1536m, to finish just six minutes adrift at the finish, running out of kilometres in his attempt to gain the top spot on the podium.

A rare beam of sunlight catches Kromrivier beast 45km men’s winner Nelius Swart (left) with runner-up Guido Tagge. Story by Stephen Granger

The race, which measured exactly 42,67 km according to the GPS calculator on the watches of the first two finishers, took place over a circuit of peaks forming an awe-inspiring amphitheatre around the upper catchment of the well-known Krom River, with half the race run along a newly-constructed trail, custom-built for this adventure.

A cold front which arrived in the hours before the pre-dawn start of the race ensured ‘The Beast’ lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest trail races in the country, turning an already-challenging mountain adventure into a day out in the wilderness none of the fifty starters will forget.

While the frontrunners kept their body temperatures warm with their relatively fast pace, many of the backmarkers found the cold, wet and windy conditions more than they could cope with and several were marked as “DNF”, having chosen to quit before the final testing peaks, where visibility was reduced to 5 metres at times.

Mags Wright, women’s winner of the Kromrivier Beast 45 km, descending the Sugarloaf, the first of the six summits in the race. Photo: Stephen Granger.

The conditions did not appear to worry the overall winner, however.

“I feel awesome,” exclaimed Swart, who divides his free time between trail running and other, Spartan competition, mostly on obstacle courses. “I think it’s a really good route – six big climbs, very technical in some sections, but lots of fun.

“The weather played a big part – it was really slippery in places from the rain. I’d rate Donkerkloof (the third peak and highest summit at 1746m), peak as my favourite, and the last peak, Winterbach, also looked amazing, although I could not really see it very well.

Race leader Nelius Swart makes his way back down the slippery slope of Sugerloaf after tagging the first of six summits on the Kromrivier Beast 45km on Saturday (May 15, 2021). Photo: Stephen Granger

“The descent down Tierkloof was quite technical but I enjoyed that as I train hard on the rough terrain on Table Mountain. Somehow I managed to complete the race without falling!”

Wright was equally enthusiastic about the mountain challenge, although she struggled to maintain sufficient body-heat. “I was really cold on top of those peaks,” she said, teeth chattering. “I did have some warmer clothes in my pack, but I couldn’t think of stopping to change! In the end it worked out.

“I’ve been running quite a bit in the Greyton Mountains recently and did four peaks there two weeks ago, which prepared me for this race. For me, it is more about the joy of just running in the mountains, so I don’t often race competitive events. But this was different and I’m pleased to have run the first one.”

A section of the Kromrivier Beast 45km trail race, run on Saturday (May 15, 2021). Photo: Stephen Granger

Swart took the lead from the start, although not according to his pre-race plan. “I thought the guys like Derrick Baard would start fast and I planned to just play a waiting game. But in the end, no-one really took the pace on, so I thought it was best to run my own race.”

Swart reached the base of Sugarloaf – the first peak at 1445m – with a 30-second gap over Baard and Tagge and increased his lead on the unmarked ascent and descent of the peak. From there he used the conditions to good effect to open a gap on his closest rivals which grew bigger until Tagge’s impressive final 10km burst.

Grandmaster and still racing in his sixties, Noel Ernzsten, ascending Sugarloaf – the first of the six summits on the Kromrivier Beast 45 km. Photo: Stephen Granger

Tagge left Baard and Ben van Vuuren (who finished fourth) behind on the descent from the second peak, The Pup (1723m) and ran solo thereafter, never catching sight of the run-away Swart and adding to his growing list of ‘close runner-up’ positions. “I always seem to be second,” Tagge joked. “For me the hardest part was finding the way up the first peak, Sugarloaf, as it was completely unmarked. But the trail was mostly great after that.”

Baard, 50, claimed third in 6 hrs 21 min, with another exceptional run from 61 year-old grand-master Noel Ernzsten, finishing in 7:03, four minutes ahead of first ‘local’ Jakob Volmoer from Ceres.

Former 13 Peaks record-holder and four times Puffer winner, Karoline Hanks, doyen of women’s trail running, celebrated her 50th birthday three weeks ago with a solid second position in 7:26, 30 minutes ahead of third-placed Willemien van Zyl.

Nine hours into the race 37 out of the 56 starters had finished, with seven having withdrawn.



1 Nelius Swart 5 hrs 46 min

2 Guido Tagge 5:52

3 Derrick Baard 6:21

4 Ben van Vuuren 6:22

5 Gavin Member 6:32

6 Noel Ernzsten 7:03

7 Jakob Volmoer 7:07

8 Adrian von Maltitz 7:14

9 Dennis Thiel 7:17

10 Julian Vermeer 7:19         


1 Mags Wright 6:43

2 Karoline Hanks 7:26

3 Willemien Van Zyl 7 :57

4 Victoria Miller 8:15

5 Elrita Blignaut and Hanri van Wyk 8:19