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      Guides — Travel

      Why Would You Scuba In Winter?

      Why Would You Scuba In Winter?

      I have been under the impression that Scuba diving is a summer sport. It made sense to swim in warmer water. My curiosity and confusion however led me to a marvellous discovery. Turns out it is a year round sport with some amazing winter benefits - especially in our local waters.

      Scuba diving is about the same as eating ice-cream in winter, it is advertised as a summer activity but we all know only the brave benefit from trying something new.

      So now you might have some questions as to why you would consider plunging into cold water on an equally chilly day? To put it plainly, the visibility during winter months is better and thus gives you better sightings. Not to mention some beautiful creatures that love to come out during these colder months. Some have even said that scuba diving in Cape Town is better during winter than summer – possibly because they don’t mind being wet and cold on account of the winter rain.                      


      And for those who aren’t keen to scuba dive locally because of the cold water, check out False Bay - the water is warmer than the Atlantic. Speaking of great visibility during winter, False Bay is surrounded by mountains and thus protected from the wind.

      So .. diving in the winter. It might require a bit more gear and prep, but the results are phenomenal. A good mind set and preparation is also key – when you expect the cold you can prepare for that initial rush and drop in temperature. It is also important to dress appropriately (perhaps trade in your 3mm wetsuit for a 7mm and add a chicken vest). Once you are in the water and surrounded by great sights, the cold does not feature.


      1. Aliwal Shoal (such as Raggie Cave / Shark Alley)
      2. False Bay
      3. Mabibi and surroundings
      4. Mossel Bay (such as the Storms River Mouth)
      5. Protea Banks (such as the Sardine Run in June and July)
      6. Sodwana Bay (such as Uniforms and Hotspot)

      Taking On The Drakensberg Grand Traverse

      Taking On The Drakensberg Grand Traverse

      #DGT2016 - 4am and the bloody alarm is telling us that it’s time to get up; we have been awake all night anyway…

      It was at least two years ago that I had this idea that doing a Grand Traverse of the entire Drakensberg (here forth known as the DGT) would be fun. After some research, I had planned on doing it in ten days.

      It was just before Ryno Griesel and Ryan Sandes did their FKT (Fastest Known Time) of the DGT. Ryno said that he would be attempting a sub 45hr traverse and they proceeded to do it in just under 42hrs! Then, after chatting to Cobus Van Zyl (their maps and planning guy), I thought maybe 10 days was too long and doing it in 4 or 5 was a better idea.

      So began my decent into madness…

      In the end 5 of us signed up, and I had my team. It consisted of: Martin, Douglas, Marc, Kevin and myself. Together we sat and planned the distances and camp sites, Martin and Kevin are engineers and they had worked it all out on a spreadsheet, I was/am quite impressed. On paper, we were ready…
      I figured that in order to do something like this I would need to be fit, so I upped my running (mostly on trails in and around Johannesburg), bought new road running shoes, and got some PB’s on Strava at the time trials. I was ready for this!

      Except… I wasn’t.

      We left on Thursday morning and drove down to the Sentinal car park and due to a series of unfortunate events, only started hiking at 15h20. We made really good time and summited Mont-Aux-Sources, our first peak, quite quickly. We were about half way up when I started getting a dull head ache. I thought that it was the cold and didn’t take much notice of it really. We wanted to push as far as we could on that first night as we were strong and fresh, so we got to about the 14km mark and set up camp.

      I had this [innovative] idea to combine couscous, cuppa snack, and a sachet of tuna to make a quick easy meal; here in lay one of many lessons that I was about to learn: try EVERYTHING before you leave! On the mountain it became like a soggy, salty cake and as my head ache had invited its friend nausea to the party, there was little I could do to force the food into me.

      We heard two packs of dogs barking the whole night and in the still quiet of the Berg it sounded like they were right next to us. Every time we heard any sound we were convinced that we were going to have our faces eaten off. Finally, 4:30 came around and we started breakfast and packing up. By 5:30 we were mile munching; we needed to do about 40km and it was tough going. Valley after valley came up and we would try contour around them where possible, but we were following Ryno and Ryan’s tracks and somehow in my mind I imagined that they would have taken the easiest, fastest and shortest path. I have since changed my mind about the easiest part.

      The guys were looking really strong and were covering a lot of ground really fast, and at this point I was feeling drained and lacking energy. I put it down to the fact that we were 3000+ meters above sea level and that I had a giant pack on my back and we were walking over ground that seemed determined to break our ankles. I obviously wasn’t all there as at one point I looked down at my arm and noticed that my beloved Suunto Ambit was gone!!! I panicked, and Douglas and I went back to see if we could find it. The mountain is a big place and there was very little chance of us actually working out where it was, it was gone… that really hit me and took the little wind that was left in my sails, out.

      The nausea was back, this time it had made buddies with another guy named, fatigue. So now I was carrying three monsters and they were quite unpleasant.

      Eventually we reached a “levelish” site by a river and we set up camp, I was broken. I climbed into my sleeping bag and started to shiver uncontrollably. The guys told me to eat. This time I had a backcountry dehydrated meal and although it was sweet and sour lamb, I just couldn’t get it in.

      The wind was clocking in at 50-80km per hour and the tent was taking some strain, it was super loud and sleep was again a distant thought.

      4am and the bloody alarm is telling us that it is time to get up, we have been awake all night anyway. This morning I wasn’t feeling like myself. I had thought that I could sleep it off and would be ok in the morning, but it was morning and I was feeling worse.

      I called a team meeting and told the guys that I wasn’t going to make it. “This is exactly what I signed up for, but it’s not what I trained for” I told the guys. I could think of two options, either I go down alone or if someone would join me, then we could try make it to Giants Castle.

      Kevin offered to join me in a shot for Giants and we all swapped food, equipment, and tents. At 4:30am, I gave the SPOT GEN3 tracker to Marc and showed him how to use it. With gale-force winds and no sleep, I doubt he remembered much because he didn’t start the tracking, which caused a bit of concern with our support crew.

      The others set off to complete the adventure, and immediately I regretted my choice, but there was no way I was going to catch them now. Once the sun rose, Kevin and I set off and slowly made our way to Cleft Peak. I was exhausted and couldn’t keep any food or drink down. I had the GPS and used that to distract me.

      We climbed the elephant and sat at the foot of Cleft and I looked up and knew that I was done. If I wasn’t going to be able to summit the peaks then what was the point? I couldn’t keep any food or drink in and I felt like a car running on empty.

      This was the lowest point for me in a long time. I had set out with some mates to have an adventure and now I was bailing out and we were only quarter of the way. I have a habit of taking on challenges and then not being able to finish them and I hate that about myself. Someone once said that, “at least you try”, but I don’t think that’s good enough, I really want to complete what I start. All this running through my mind should have stirred me to get up and keep going but I had nothing left. I saw that we were close to Tseketseke pass and I knew that there was a hut at the bottom and then a hotel. I asked Kevin if we could bail and he agreed.

      We headed down and arrived at the hut. I went to sleep and 12 hours later I woke up, attempted breakfast, and it stayed in! We had coffee, packed, and headed to the hotel. I popped a pain killer that I bought when I was in Egypt and about 30min later I mentioned to Kevin that I didn’t feel normal, I was high as a kite! At least I wasn’t in pain though. In hind sight, I should have handed navigation over to Kevin because 2km later and we hadn’t found the path out of the valley of boulders. Turning around, we saw it, and had to hike back up to get onto it.

      Eventually we got to the hotel and I told Kevin to try look “normal”. As soon as we stepped through the doors a little boy saw me and asked, “Are you ok?” I said, “yeah, fine, nothing wrong here”, and shortly afterwards I realised how bad I must have looked when one of the hotel guests came and offered us an assortment of fruit and biscuits!

      Marc’s family was amazing! They took us to their beautiful guest house in Underburg and treated us like family. I climbed into a warm soft bed with an electric blanket and slept.

      The next morning, I heard from the other team: they had just summited Giants and Marc wasn’t doing well, he was struggling to breathe and had twisted both ankles… they were coming down.

      We picked them up and took them back to Marc’s parents’ house for a beer and braai. Sitting around the braai we laughed and chatted about our experiences. Turns out, this is the part I love about hiking.

      We learnt a lot: fitness is good but you need strength too if you want to do this hike; The only way to train for this hike is to hike in the Berg; Find and test food that works for you; Altitude is nasty and will hurt you if you aren’t careful.

      However, we also got a lot right! We planned everything really well; we had an amazing support team they were constantly checking in on us and sending messages; and the SPOT GEN3 tracker made a huge difference from a safety and peace of mind point of view.

      I couldn’t have asked for a better team to join me. They are an amazing bunch of guys and I look forward to trying this with them again soon (but not too soon)!


      Gearing Up For Winter

      Gearing Up For Winter

      My morning workouts now almost always start before the sun is out. Summer is officially gone and we’re deep into autumn with that winter chill not far behind. The training never stops, but the right kit will keep you going no matter what the weather gods may bring.

      “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” – Sir Ranulph Fiennes

      South Africans hardly ever face extreme winter conditions – unless you live in remote areas. Yes, most of us face snow and rain, but that lasts for a week and then it’s back to normal. Durbanites have summer all year round – I’ve been there in July and went out for a beach day lol

      But winter still brings a new element to trail running and hiking. There’s that little extra bit of drama that gets added to the scene when clouds move in. I learnt a few lessons from last year’s winter training and have slowly been adding and making upgrades to my kit. This year I’ve got some longer treks planned and my hope is to increase the fun factor when out in the mountains.

      My winter essentials list now includes:

      • Headlamp: You can’t go outside if you can’t see . I keep one in my running pack all the time now. That afternoon run can quickly become an evening run
      • Appropriate shoes: If you are only running on the road this isn’t really an issue. For trails, make sure that your shoes shed water and have proper grip to handle mud and wet rocks. Trust me; it’s not fun sliding off to the right instead of making that left turn on a muddy track. At first maybe, but after the 10th time…not so much
      • Base layers: Whether it is a long sleeve top or pants – or (my preference) the compression equivalent – these can keep you warm enough on most training days
      • Running Windbreaker or Waterproof jacket: A waterproof jacket may be overkill for some with a light windbreaker (even sweatshirt) combined with a base layer doing the trick – even in the rain. However, a waterproof jacket will keep you so much more comfortable during really bad weather. There are light enough waterproofs out on the market that are perfect for running and fold into a small chest pocket. Invest in these and you won’t need a windbreaker
      • Optional: Gloves, running tights, gas stoves for long hikes, 3-season tents, sleeping bags that can handle low temperatures etc. I pull these out as I need them depending on the adventure in store

      If you are approaching your first winter of training, I would suggest testing out what layering combinations work best for you. I generally go with a base layer and t-shirt and only add a windbreaker or waterproof running jacket if it really gets miserable. It might be cold out when you start, but once you’re moving things can quickly heat up if you are saddled with too many layers.

      Running in the rain is awesome because it makes you feel like a badass, even more so when it’s dark out – your family will think you’re nuts, but what the heck do they know, right?!?

      Add mud and wind, and that warm shower after a training session will be the best thing since sliced bread.

      Your photos will kick ass too 

      On A Windy Mountain

      On A Windy Mountain

      Hiking in the Drakensberg is always a journey in which there are elements of the unknown, ones that test you physically and mentally and make you ask yourself “What on earth was I thinking?” I stupidly did not think that was the case as 14 friends started a 45km hike through the majestic Mnweni Cultural land on a winters long weekend. Day 1 started off with an unexpected hot day that quickly forced us to change our pants to shorts. The hike was an easy, reasonably flat hike on a contour path close to the Mnweni River, which was scattered with mud huts that formed the Mnweni Village. We were excitedly greeted by the village children running through the grass towards us asking for sweets, and walking alongside us were the villages goats and cows. We set up camp next to the river and had a pleasantly warm starry-skied night. Everything was just perfect that day; hot day, warm night and fairly easy hike. We couldn’t have asked for anything better… until we were woken up at 2am by the wind howling outside and out tents pressed down onto our faces.

      The wind had died down as we all appeared out of our tent ready to conquer the ultimate Mnweni pass, which is a 1.5km climb with an altitude gain of 900m. As we started hiking the wind quickly turned to gale force winds that pushed us off the path. We saw the wind blow the grass on the mountain ahead of us before it reached us; it looked as though armies of men were running down the mountain. As we started ascending the steep Mnweni pass the wind was unbearable, we were blown to the ground every minute. If we were able to move we would crawl on our hands and knees, but most of the time we would grab ahold of a rock or grass so that we wouldn’t get swept off the side of the mountain, which disappeared into the valley below us. We would have about 10 seconds between every gust of wind and in that gap I would run along the path just to gain some distance. The wind was also so unpredictable; it would come from every direction and with every gust of wind that came it brought a sand storm with it, stinging our skin and blinding us with an eye full of sand. Eventually the wind got so cold we all put our jackets on and covered our faces with our buffs. This was probably the most terrifying hike of my life knowing that one wrong step could be deadly as we used all of our strength to say on the path. A gust of wind picked me up, it didn’t push me down; it picked me up like a toothpick. I lay on the ground for a few minutes because I was just too exhausted to get back up just to be pushed back to the ground again. It was a quiet hike that day except for the occasional scream and a voice from a distance asked if we were ok as we got back up from the ground. After a grueling 4 hour climb, we summited (It felt a lot longer than 4 hours but that’s what I was told.) I got to the top and it was almost impossible to walk against the wind, my friends had to come fetch me and pull me towards the direction everyone was sitting.

      Once we got to the top we had lunch at about 4pm because it was the only chance we had. We then hiked along the escarpment crossing the source of the Orange River, which was partly frozen. The wind was still so strong that we all crab walked in the direction the wind was blowing because it was almost impossible to fight it. We hiked for several hours searching for Ledges cave to sleep in but we were quickly running out of daylight. Despite all our effort, the mountain was clearly not on our side and safety was becoming a concern as we were walking for hours with our headlamps and a feeling of hypothermia was hitting me. We then had no choice but to pitch our tents where we were (on uneven ground and rocks) as the roaring winds threatened to snap the fragile tent poles. We headed to bed without eating and lay awake listening to the wind and Practically holding our tents up.

      The next morning we emerged from our tent with a breathtakingly beautiful orange backdrop behind the silhouette of the Drakensberg and not a breath of wind could be felt. After taking in the amazing view that we worked so hard to see, we then scrambled down the technical Rockeries pass for about 15km. We slid as the pebbles under our feed moved, which lead to a couple of bum bashings followed by a quick jump up so no one would see, or we just sat there and looked at the view like we planned it.

      I once heard that adventure is defined as when you are doing it you pray to God to get out alive and once it is over you pray to God to do it again. I definitely prayed to God to get out alive as I was holding on for dear life off the side of the mountain as I waited for the wind to stop. But after all, if it weren’t for experiences like that, you wouldn’t have anything to tell your friends and family when you got back. Danger seems to drive the adrenaline that keeps us going.

      Content originally written by Diane Shearer for her blog I Wear Red Socks 

      Images by Terence Vrugtman|

      Open Roads And Misty Mornings

      Open Roads And Misty Mornings

      Any journey has to start with a single step, or in this case with a simple turn of the pedals. This is my first vlog about our epic cycling journey where we as a group of ten riders set off to cycle from Pretoria to Port Elizabeth. This journey covered just over 1100km of beautiful South African scenery and took us 9 days to complete. We embarked on this epic cycling journey to help raise funds and awareness for children living in children’s homes around the Pretoria area. We set out on our first day from Pretoria to Heidelberg traveling along the backroads covering a total distance of 108km. With some extraordinary cosmos flower fields on either side of us and great sunshine weather we set out with high hopes and even higher spirits. The vlog takes you through this first day and all the fun we had on the bicycles. One specific incident where we cycled through fog so thick that you could just about see the rider in front of you delivered some exhilarating experiences for all riders.

       Please subscribe to the Action Gear newsletter for future vlog posts coming up regarding the tour and my continuous cycling journey.