Living fit is about more than just that 45-minute gym session each day. It’s about a lifestyle filled with activity, a zest for life and a spirit for adventure.
Both have completed multiple Dusi Canoe marathons and Absa Cape Epic mountain bike stage races, among many other extreme endurance challenges. They are also accomplished mountaineers and trail runners.
Searching for adventure
When the global COVID-19 pandemic forced event organisers to cancel or postpone endurance events, the Dreyers looked for a new challenge.
“We decided it is was the ideal time to combine our two greatest passions – family and adventure,” explains Martin.
In between their feats of extreme endurance, Martin and Jeannie love to head outdoors with son Callum (10) and daughter Ruby (8). But their idea of family fun is very different from what most people consider ‘normal’.
Having recently paddled around Mauritius, unsupported, and camping on beaches, the family decided it was time to tick off another bucket-list item – the 9 Peaks Challenge.
This home-grown adventure entails summiting the highest peak in each province. The peaks include (listed in the order that the Dreyers completed them):
- De Berg Peak, Mpumalanga (2,331m)
- Iron Crown, Limpopo (2,126m)
- Nooitgedacht-Wes, North West (1,816m)
- Toringkop, Gauteng (1,913m)
- Namahadi, Free State (3,291m)
- Seweweekspoort Peak, Western Cape (2,325m)
- Murch Point, Northern Cape (2,156m)
- Kwaduma, Eastern Cape (3,019m)
- Mafadi Peak, KZN (3,451m)
“It’s the perfect challenge because it plays to our skills set in terms of endurance and mountaineering while filling our cup by having the kids along,” explains Martin.
According to Martin, the adventure posed a significant physical challenge for him and Jeannie as they carried the bulk of their camping equipment on each ascent.
“We were heavily laden on the longer overnight climbs because we decided to take treats and a few creature comforts to make it an enjoyable experience. We also carried all the water. That meant we moved along at the same speed as the kids. In fact, we worked hard to keep up, which ensured we felt as accomplished in our achievements as the kids did.”
The kids still carried their own packs with some snacks and clothing to ensure they felt part of the adventure.
The Dreyer family adventure snack pack included:
More than physical
“Traversing across the country to reach each peak also gave us the opportunity to see parts of the country we have never experienced.”
Visiting different provinces, each with diverse landscapes and cultures, ensured that the adventure captivated the mind as much as it challenged the body.
“Even though Jeannie and I have been on many adventures, we still commented on how wonderfully diverse our country is. And it was amazing to share this experience with our kids.”
Martin adds that the experience also opened up the kids’ eyes to the simplicity of rural existence in South Africa.
“They saw how happy people can be without much. Many people we encountered, including other children, had no TV or running water, yet they still had fun and were happy. It gave all of us a better appreciation for the simpler things in life and reframed what we truly need to be happy.
All that mattered during the trip was food, shelter and water. As long as we had these three things and the family was together, we were happy.”
Getting there half the challenge
The official 9 Peaks Challenge website provided all the information required to tackle the challenge, including contact details for all the landowners.
The Dreyers attempted to complete the challenge within 2 weeks, but poor weather in KZN meant they had to change their plans slightly:
- Day 1: Departed Pietermaritzburg on a 7-hour drive to the vicinity of Dullstroom to summit De Berg Peak – a 9km roundtrip.
- Day 2: Drove 4 hours to climb the Iron Crown in Limpopo – a short 4.5km roundtrip. Spent time exploring the mountain village of Haenertsburg, the family’s overnight stay.
- Day 3: Travelled 9 hours across 3 provinces to summit 2 peaks – Nooitgedacht in the North West and Toringkop in Gauteng. Slept at the Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge in the Free State.
- Day 4: The real mountain adventures begin as the family tackles its first 3,000m+ peak. The day included climbing the chain ladders near Mont-Aux-Sources, visiting the stunning Tugela Falls, and camping overnight on the mountain to break up the 32km roundtrip.
- Day 5: After camping in cold conditions about 600m away from Namahadi Peak, the family woke up to a winter wonderland of white frost and summited Namahadi Peak near the Lesotho border.
- Day 6: Extreme winds on KZN’s Mafadi Peak forced the family to detour, heading instead to the Seweweekspoort Peak in the Western Cape.
- Day 7: A 5-hour drive to the Karoo Skaanskraal Farm. Spent the day recharging and recovering before the Murch Point climb – a gentle 2.4km ascent.
- Day 8: A 6-hour drive to the tiny town of Maclear in the Eastern Cape for an overnight stay.
- Day 9: An early start for the 30km roundtrip to the Kwaduma Peak and back. Camped overnight on the mountain, which was the most remote and untouched, with no distinct trails.
- Day 10-12: The Dreyers waited for the storm system to pass before attempting the 9th peak.
- Day 13-15: Time to tackle South Africa’s highest peak – Mafadi – on a tough 40km roundtrip, which saw the family spend 2 nights on the mountain camping at 2,400m. This was the longest hike with the most elevation gain – a fitting way to end off the adventure.
“Every landowner we encountered was so hospitable. We often stayed a few extra days and ate at the same table as their families. It was an amazing experience,” explains Martin.
On the more rugged and remote climbs – those with summits above 3,000m – the family would spend the day ascending to a base camp, using a SPOT Tracker to guide their progress and provide an exact position in case of an emergency, and camp overnight.
“We would then go fast and light from base camps to summit the peak. But throughout the adventure, we never felt any urgency. We took time out to explore, look at the views and discover natural wonders along the route.”
A major highlight for everyone was the kids’ first encounter with snow while ascending the most technically challenging route up Seweweekspoort.
“It had been a particularly challenging climb, but when the kids saw the snow, their energy levels skyrocketed. We stayed there for 30 minutes before carrying on. The whole experience opened our eyes to how capable and resilient kids are.”
And this, says Martin, was the highlight of their adventure. “Engaging as a family unit 24/7 and experiencing these moments together ultimately defined the adventure for us.”
Armed with two two-man tents, mom and dad would swop places each night so that everyone took turns sleeping with different family members.
“We endured through challenging terrain and some inclement weather together. More importantly, we connected as a family without any intrusion from electronic devices. The kids gave the entire experience colour – it definitely wouldn’t have been half as rewarding without them.”
After completing the adventure, Martin says he is left a few abiding insights. “We learnt that less can be more. You don’t need to go to Europe and stay in a ski resort to make memories. It is incredible how much of a holiday we had over the two days for the relative cost.
“Above all else, an experience like this makes you realise that all kids really want is your time and attention.”
The next adventure
As Martin and Jeannie shift their focus away from competitive endurance races and onto their Change a Life Academy and more family adventures, he says plans are already underway to hike the Wild Coast and tackle the Fish River Canyon experience.
“We also hope to include other families on these adventures because we love sharing these sorts of experiences. It will be wonderful to give other people similar feel-good memories.”