The Otter Trail

Darrels Otter Trail

The Otter trail, Africa’s most revered hiking trail which traces the shoreline of the Tsitsikamma from one end of the national park to the other. This five day hiking trail, normally preserved for hikers who set off daily in groups of 12 is off limits to trail running outside of this event leading it to be known as the “forbidden run”. For 4 days a year SANParks open up the trail for the runners lucky enough to secure an entry into one of the two events: the challenge for the more average trail runner with a cut off time of 11 hours or the run for the serious athletes with a cut of time of 8 hours. The event changes direction each year either starting at Storms River, ending in Natures Valley (The Otter) or like this year starting in Natures Valley and ending in Storms River (The Retto)

This year was the tenth instalment of the Otter trail run, one of the most challenging marathon distance trail runs around, and definitely a bucket list race for anyone serious about trail running.

My mates who had done the race the previous year had a good idea on what to expect but doing it for the first time, I was in for a big surprise.

Dubbed the “Grail of Trail” The Otter Trail Run has become regarded as the marathon distance trail running yardstick. 42 Km of pristine coastline traversed by the iconic trail whose craggy twists and pebbled beaches has etched itself into the hearts of thousands of people who have hiked and run it. For your body it will be test of dexterity and endurance, for your mind a challenge of concentration and fortitude.

The allure of the Otter Trail run however lies in it being considered a true test of trail running ability, your passage will be fringed with breaking waves on one side and steeply sloped forests on your other.

The Otter is a factor 2 trail run meaning that it will take you approximately twice as long to cover as it would for the equivalent distance on the road. The majority of runners, even seasoned trail runners, do find the event harder than anticipated. As it is, this route is on the upper end of the scale in terms of technical difficulty. In terms of altitude gained per meter traversed you need to find the strength to climb over 2 km towards the sky and back down again, cross countless rivers including a swim through the iconic Bloukrans River mouth.

The track is obstructed by almost every trail running obstacle imaginable from jagged rocks, tangled roots, overhead branches, near vertical rock shelves and never ending steps. Bottom line – you need to prepare for the Otter and although my friends had warned me about this I was not prepared for what I encountered on race day.

The only official water point along the way is at the half way mark with mountain water available at each of the four hiking huts on the route, thus all nutrition and safety equipment needs to be carried with you. There is no bail out points on this route so unless you require an emergency evacuation by helicopter your only option is to complete the race.

My race can best be summed up with the following three photos:

If you are not yet convinced to add this to your race calendar in the next few years go check out some of the awesome videos on YouTube for this event, I will definitely be lining up again next year better prepared and ready to tackle the “Grail of Trail” once again

Back to blog