King of the Berg - What is faster? To run, fly, or cycle?

Words: Alistair Stuart│Photos: Linda Willemse & Pierre Carter

The ultimate sports challenge is set to happen in the mighty Drakensberg from 16 to 22 March 2014. This event will see trail runners, paragliders, mountain bikers, and speed wings pitted against one another to see who is King of the Berg.

The event offers a six-day X-Berg X-Treme Challenge of 186 km (as the crow flies), and a shorter four-day X-Berg X-Treme Mini Challenge of 92,2 km (as the crow flies) for those pressed for time. One may enter as a team (maximum of four) or as an individual. Teams may be mixed (men/ladies).

The challenge is to fly, run or cycle along a preset race route across the Drakensberg. The route will be in a straight line from the start, past all the turn points to the finish and will cover approximately 190 km. The aim of the race is to finish as quickly as possible travelling either in a paraglider, speed wing, on foot or bicycle - either you are carrying ‘it’ or ‘it’ is carrying you!

After starting, teams will travel past pre-determined en route ‘turn points’. These turn points have been defined by the race committee to make it equally difficult for each discipline to complete the route. Each athlete is free to plot the fastest way using their own specific advantages to reach each successive turn point and ultimately the finish! The athlete who completes the route and reaches the finish first shall be declared the winner of the race and King of the Berg.

This event was first held in March 2013 and saw about 30 entrants. The winning team was Zamperinis consisting of James Pitman, Piers Pirow and Ross Douglas. In total, they did about 360 km of cycling to complete the 180 km challenge. To complete the straight line course, cyclists had to use roads and tracks that made their overall distance much longer than the point-to-point distance. In second place was team X-Berg made up of Guy Pitman and Alistair Stuart. Both Zamperinis and X-berg were on bicycles, suggesting that a more challenging route for cyclists was needed for the 2014 event to balance out the disciplines.

If weather conditions are ideal (lots of sun and no thunderstorms or strong winds), a paraglider theoretically stands the best chance of covering the most straight line distance in the least time. However, weather conditions are rarely ideal and paragliders and speed wing participants must still hike up a suitable mountain to take off and fly. Trail runners and mountain bikers, on the other hand, can work out a set route and an average goal per day, making more achievable progress. That is, of course, until one gets lost or you find yourself with a flat tyre.
The 2014 edition of the X-Berg Challenge has a more demanding route that will balance the disciplines better, while pushing athletes to the extreme. All participants are issued with a live tracker unit for support crew, organisers, and supporters to track their progress via the internet as they race 24/7. Athletes may organise their own assistant for the duration of the event or consider using the ‘re-supply box’ service option available through the organisers. Accommodation during the event is organised by the participants as they see fit, thus leaving complete flexibility in choice of route.

For the 2014 edition of this unique event, athletes will start at Olivier’s Hoek Pass in the Northern Berg. From there they will follow the dramatic and majestic main mountain range touching The Sentinel and Cathedral Peak. From there, athletes are challenged to get to the Central Berg (Monks Cowl area) before entering the Southern Berg to try reach Giants Castle and Sani Pass. The race finally ends in the beautiful, quaint town of Underberg and is followed by a festive prize-giving function.

XC Africa, the event organiser, has been working closely with the Parks Board to offer this amazing adventure to you. So enter early to avoid disappoint.