The 3 Peaks Challenge – Not just a walk in the park

Our very own Nick Taylor decided to take on the UCT GSB 3 Peaks challenge, and I’m still in awe of him having done it. Here’s his story.

from left: Nick Taylor, and three other amazing crazies

On Sunday 28th October I took part in the annual UCT (University of Cape Town) Graduate School of Business’ 3 Peaks challenge.. Now, you may be asking, “What is that?”… “And why?”

Firstly, the “why” part..

The Challenge is an annual event organised by the UCT MBA Group, to build camaraderie and to use as a networking event for past alumni. The UCT School of Business have an annual reunion weekend, which is well attended by past students from all over the world. A friend of mine, Andrew Slot, is currently doing the MBA programme, and he asked if Nox Rentals would be interested in sponsoring a prize, to which I gladly said yes. We offered a 2 night stay at one of our properties, and Andrew very kindly said that if I’d like to join the group for a “gentle trail run” I’d be very welcome to participate. I thought this sounded like a brilliant outdoor activity as we near our Summer season so I signed up, without thinking too much of it.

Now begins the “what” part…

I received an email on the Wednesday before the race, with the following map:


Yes, that map shows a path which traverses from UCT up Devil’s Peak, up on to the top of Table Mountain, across the Table, down Platteklip Gorge, along Tafelberg road and up Lion’s head.

  • 3 of Table Mountain’s highest Peaks.
  • 6:30am start.
  • 100 runners.
  • Approximately 17km, depending on how lost you get up there.
  • 2km total ascent.

And a MUST WATCH promo video which the challenge organisers created in the week of the build up!

Right, now that you’re familiar with what’s involved, here’s a brief outline of my experience of the

6:30am: Start at “Kopano” residence, Lower Campus, UCT. The pace was strong at this stage, with a number of runners quick out the blocks and eager to let the challenge begin.

6:55am: The start of the climb on the mountain, past Rhodes Memorial (named after an English-born South African politician who owned large parts of Table Mountain, which he gave to the nation upon his death). The route was heading up Devil’s Peak towards the King’s Blockhouse.

07:05am: The King’s Blockhouse on the Eastern slopes of Devil’s Peak is a national monument, and was used as a signalling station for communication between Table Bay and False Bay. The station used to warn the Castle (we did a little tunnel tour there!) of approaching ships entering False Bay.

07:37am: As you start the main ascent to Devil’s Peak, the Vistas both east and west start to take shape and we were blessed with an absolutely beautiful morning.

08:27am: Checkpoint 1: The top of Devil’s Peak.

Devil’s Peak was originally known as Wind-berg or Charles Mountain. The English term Devil’s Peak is a 19th century translation from the Dutch Duiwels Kop, and supposedly comes from the folk-tale about a Dutch man called Jan van Hunks, a prodigious pipe smoker who lived at the foot of the mountain circa 1700. He was forced by his wife to leave the house whenever he smoked his pipe. One day, while smoking on the slopes of the peak, he met a mysterious stranger who also smoked. They each bragged of how much they smoked and so they fell into a pipe-smoking contest. The stranger turned out to be the Devil and Van Hunks eventually won the contest, but not before the smoke that they had made had covered the mountain, forming the table cloth cloud. The story was captured by the 19th century poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his poem Jan van Hunks (alternatively called The Dutchman’s Wager).

It has also been claimed that the name is a corruption of Duifespiek (“Dove’s Peak”) to Duiwelspiek (“Devil’s Peak”), since the Dutch the words for devil and dove are relatively close in sound. The Dutch word “Duiwelspiek” has been the common Afrikaans language name for the mountain and the suburb on the east side of the city bowl. The name is also thought to have been derived from the mountain’s ‘three pronged’ spear shape, which is reminiscent of the spear held by the Devil in many images.

09:44am: “The Ledges,” a notoriously difficult stretch that involves a significant amount of rock scrambling and climbing.

A Table Mountain safety officer who is always on hand to assist with climbing up the rock face!

10:04am: Check Point 2: Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain at 1,085m. Sir Thomas Maclear was an Irish born astronomer who became Her Majesty’s astronomer at The Cape of Good Hope in 1833. By this stage, I was starting to question my sanity as the day warmed up and the energy levels started dropping. Fortunately, we were well advised to take snacks, drinks and enough fluids to get us through the first 3 hours until the top.

10:05am: A group of us at Check Point 2.

You may notice that there isn’t a lot of photographic material from the past 2 hours. It got hot, and I quickly found out that my legs and knees are not made out for running down steep hills. The main stretch on this leg was the descent down Platteklip Gorge to Tafelberg road, which is the most popular hiking route up and down the mountain. Not to be underestimated at a distance of 3km and a descent of 700 metres, there are 1,800 steps from the top down to Tafelberg Road. My suggestion: Climb up Platteklip, meander along to the Cableway restaurant, refresh and get the Cable Car down.

11:54am: The start of the 3rd Peak, and the ascent up Lion’s Head (669m).. Aptly named when viewed from the Eastern side of the city, in conjunction with Signal Hill the mountain resembles a crouching lion or sphinx. Well known for it’s spectacular views over the city, this is a relatively easy 1 hour hike which gives some wonderful panoramas towards the Twelve Apostles mountains as well as across the city towards Stellenbosch.

12:51pm: Check Point 3: Lion’s Head Summit and the completion of an amazing experience! After a good rest, a group of us descended back to the parking lot at the base of Lion’s Head for a well deserved beverage and a lie down..

15:30pm: Home!

Now, I regard myself as being relatively fit, but the Winner came in with a time of 3 hours 30 minutes, about 3 hours less than I did! Of the 100 starters, approximately 70 finished and now there’s talk of doing the official 3 Peaks Challenge. This is a 50km trail run beginning and ending in Greenmarket Square which goes up Devil’s Peak, down to Greenmarket Square; up Platteklip and back down and then up Lion’s Head and back down to Greenmarket. This takes place on the first Sunday in November, so is due to run this coming weekend.. hmm, maybe next year!