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SOLO WALKERS & RUNNERS ROUTE - DAY ONE: 41.9 KMS
LAST YEAR WE WELCOMED BACK FULL 500KM EVENT WALKERS AND A RUNNER.
This year, our 25th anniversary, we have had more runners register already for this phenomenal challenge. A marathon a day for 12 days puts the Blue Cross back into that physical event category that will be undertaken by long distance walkers and runners in a league of their own.
Participants choosing the self-regulated competitive option for either the Light or Heavy Infantry disciplines must ensure that they have suitable software (Strava or equivalent) on their navigation devices which will allow for the capture of their daily and aggregate times.
It is a long drive to the lowest point in Zimbabwe at the confluence of the Save and Runde Rivers where the event starts. Walkers and runners start their 2020 Blue Cross from the Save River riverbed, opposite the phenomenally wild Gonarezhou National Park and close to the Chilo Gorge Lodge. For those who would like some luxury, accommodation is available at Chilo Gorge Lodge. BOOK EARLY.
Soloists begin their epic endeavour by taking the Chilo access road northwest from the Save riverbed towards the Rupangwana Business Centre on the main tar road. Elephant and Buffalo may be encountered along this section and participants should exercise caution.
24.8kms from the start, participants turn right at the Muhlambi Business Centre and follow the route through an area of black cotton soils, heading east and then north. Cyclones Eline (2000) and Idai (2019) have caused considerable damage to various sections of the road and some 4x4 work is required of the back up vehicles negotiating the numerous gullies and washaways.
At the end of the day, a possible campsite on the dry Machitove stream can be accessed either by following the cyan (turquoise blue) track from the south or by crossing the gully at Obstacle and then back-tracking from the north along another section of the cyan track.
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY TWO: 41.8 KMS
Day two starts approximately 500m south of Obstacle, a particularly tricky gully where 4x4 and low range are indicated. The road winds through the communal area adjacent to the Mozambique border with the sense of well-being heightened by the cheery waves of the local people going about their daily lives, much of which now seems to revolve around Sesame production rather than cotton.
The route passes through black cotton soil with more gullies, stony sections and washaways to be negotiated by the backup vehicles. Around the day's halfway mark, the road comes within 300m of the border with Mozambique and participants may need to show their introduction letter to an army outpost to be found on one of the cross border trails.
Along this section, there is a dearth of potential campsites and participants will almost certainly have to request an area to camp from one of the local villagers. Two possible sites are located close to the international border at points 2A and 2B, neither of which is particularly appealing.
DAY 2: Distance 41.8 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY THREE: 41.9 KMS
From the overnight camp close to the Mozambique border, the route continues to progress along some rough and stony sections which make for slow going on the part of the back-up vehicles.
4.67kms from the start, the route takes a sharp but indistinct right turn, following a stony descent past WP6 and through Zamchiya Village which boasts its own mobile phone mast! Once through the village, the scenery improves but there are still some relatively steep and stony patches to negotiate before reaching the village of Mwangazi just beyond the day’s halfway mark.
Thereafter the route moves into more mountainous terrain, passing Musikavanhu Primary School at which the relay teams and cyclists camp overnight. Beyond the school, there is a long and stony climb which taxes both participants and vehicles until Tuzuka School, at 33kms from the start, signals the start of more benign terrain along the ridge with some spectacular views both east and west.
38kms from the start and at the top of a steep rise, an area of stunning miombo woodland offers some very good campsites on the west of the road; Ni3A being the best site, albeit close to the road while Ni3B has limited space but is more secluded (follow the short cyan track to access Ni3B site). Although still 3.9kms from the day’s end on a rough and rocky road, it is worth using one of these camps rather than Ni3C which is located less than 2 kms from the day’s end.
DAY 3: Distance 41.9 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY FOUR: 41.8 KMS
The day begins with some sharp descents and ascents along the ridge, again with some great views to the west, before dropping down into the Chipangara area.
A turn to the north just before the 8km mark starts the climb up and over the iconic section through the miombo woodland, dubbed Sally’s, towards the junction with the equally iconic Barbara’s, a link road which climbs from the Middle Save valley below and which harks back to the early days of the Blue Cross. There the old narrow tar road is reached and followed for approximately 3.5kms until, just short of the day’s halfway mark, the route turns north along an undulating farm track.
The track is little used and there are some tricky patches for the back-up vehicles to negotiate. At the 33.7km mark the track intersects with the Mt Selinda road which it crosses (please remember to close the gate) and then follows another little-used track through 2 kms of fallow land to reach the Makandi access road.
The Makandi boom gate is reached at the day’s 38km mark and participants and their back up vehicles will need to sign in and collect a gate pass. Navigation through the Makandi orchards to Fiddlers on the Green can be tricky and demands almost continuous reference to the navigation device.
DAY 4: Distance 41.8 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY FIVE: 38.9 KMS
From the clubhouse, the route hooks around to the boom on the northern exit gate where the previous day’s gate passes may be asked for. 2.1kms from the start, a small track running north from the tarmac road signals the start of an unsupported section which traverses the farming area. This section is off-limits to vehicles, which must, instead, follow the 10.6km cyan track through Chipinge Village and onto the Junction Gate road heading east.
Walkers/Runners rendezvous with the back-up vehicles at the 7.2km mark and then head east along the unpleasantly rough and broken Junction Gate road for a distance of 9.4kms whereupon the route turns north just beyond a low-level bridge. This turning at the day’s 16.5km mark is often missed and it is well worth paying attention to the GPS/mobile phone.
The next 9kms along another section of broken tar is an almost unrelenting climb through some nondescript farmland which eventually gives way to Clearwater Estate’s well-tended Macadamia orchards and manicured tea fields.
The Eastern Border Road is crossed at the day’s 25.8km mark where the route begins an almost unbroken descent for 7 kms through some degraded eucalyptus plantations before reaching the broad gravel of the Rusitu access road.
4kms along the Rusitu road, and a few hundred metres beyond a concrete bridge, the route takes the left fork and climbs for 2kms up, alongside, the Rusitu River to the suggested overnight campsite located just beyond the recently repaired bridge damaged during Cyclone Idai in 2019.
A small track on the left bank of the river (follow the short cyan track 'Ni5 Access') leads to a relatively confined but level area where the hydro pipeline crosses the river. Participants may choose to camp there or backtrack the 2kms to the fork and then head east for approximately 1.7kms to the hydro station, which also offers a secure and pleasant area in which to camp.
DAY 5: Distance 38.9 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY SIX: 42.2 KMS
Day 6 is the only day which is of standard marathon distance at 42.2kms.
Over the first 11kms from the Rusitu bridge, the road climbs nearly 350 vertical metres before passing by the tea fields of the Roscommon Tea Estate and down through the communal area towards the Nyahode River which is reached just short of the day’s halfway mark.
The broad and chaotically rocky bed of the river is a stark reminder of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Idai in 2019.
At the 28km mark, a sprawling business centre is reached at the junction with the good quality tarmac of the Chisengu Sawmill access road. A steady climb for the next 8.6 kms takes participants to the Skyline/Chimanimani road at Charter Sawmill.
A further 4.3kms along the main tar road towards Chimanimani Village, participants are uplifted by vehicle to their chosen lodgings in Chimanimani.
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY SEVEN: 42.9 KMS
DAY 6: Distance 42.2 kms
After a comfortable night in Chimanimani, participants set off along the Cashel Scenic road from a point opposite the Chimanimani Hotel. For the first 20 kms the road descends through the eucalyptus and pine plantations of Martin Forest Reserve and then on through the communal area to the lowest point of the day.
Throughout this first half of the day, there are some wonderful views of the Chimanimani range and the Masapa’s Gap although there are several blind corners to beware of and a fair amount of communal area traffic.
From the 20 to 32km mark there is an unrelenting climb towards Tank Nek but participants are fully compensated by the spectacular views looking back towards the border mountains.
The real thrill of the day lies in the rugged beauty of the scenery along the Cashel Scenic Road as it contours along against the backdrop of the imposing krantzes to the east. Take a moment to peer over the edge of the road and down into the precipitous ravines below.
At the day’s end, a relatively small but very convenient campsite can be found on the western side of the road.
DAY 7: Distance 42.9 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY EIGHT: 43.8 KMS
Although one of the longer days, Day 8 is almost all downhill; the only exception being some relatively benign undulations after the 31km mark.
From the overnight camp the road descends through more pine and eucalyptus plantations eventually leaving the forest estate around the 14km mark. Take a minute to peep back through the roadside vegetation at the beautiful Tandai Falls.
The village of Cashel is reached at the day’s 19km mark and there follows 11 kms of broad tarmac road which makes for easy running or walking to the turn off just beyond Mutambara Mission.
From there, the road through the communal area is in reasonable condition and the going relatively easy. A sharp left turn at the 34.8km mark can be easily missed and careful navigation is called for. A stony but short and picturesque descent through a kloof takes the route out into the scenic and agriculturally productive Muwengezi valley.
After the Muwengezi low level bridge is crossed at the 37.5km mark, the route undulates through attractive communal area before entering the unpopulated and exceptionally scenic Whitewaters section.
The Whitewaters camping area at the day’s end is nestled in amongst the granite kopjies and miombo woodland on the south side of the road. (Follow the cyan track to the campsite)
DAY 8: Distance 43.8 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY NINE: 41.8 KMS
The first half of the day is characterised by several ascents and descents although the effort is more than compensated for by the scenic beauty of the Whitewaters road.
Out in the communal area the granite hills are no less impressive, and the going is relatively easy. At the day’s 15.5km mark, the main Mutare-Birchenough road is reached and followed southwards for a little more than 1km to the Mpudzi Business Centre.
There the route turns west through the communal area crossing the Mapudzi River (lowest point of the day) at the halfway mark. The second half of the day requires some sharp climbs early on and, thereafter, several kms of very pleasant going through the picturesque communal area.
The Bazeley Bridge tarmac road is reached at the 38.3km mark and from there the going is, predominantly, an easy downhill to the day’s end point. WP20 is functional and a small but secluded campsite is located amongst the outcrops 200m on the north side of the road. Follow the track named Ni 9 Access.
DAY 9: Distance 41.8 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY TEN 'a':33.2 KMS
Day 10 is split into two parts; Day 10A taking participants 33.2kms to an uplift on the main Mutare-Birchenough road opposite Zimunya Township and then Day 10B completing the day’s distance by winding a further 2.3kms through the suburban backstreets of Mutare to the overnight stop at the Hillside Golf Club.
10A begins with an easy 5km stage downhill to just short of the Bazeley Bridge where the route turns north onto a dirt track. The road continues northwards through the granite kopjies until, at the 16.9km mark, runners/walkers begin a short, 3.6km unsupported leg while the back up vehicles take the 1.9km cyan track northwards to rendezvous with them at the track junction.
The route climbs steadily to the 24km mark where it begins to climb steeply up what is dubbed “The Ladder” – a series of concrete drainage inverts which make for the most taxing part of the day. The highest point is reached at the 25.8km mark after which the going becomes a little easier for the remaining 8kms to the uplift point on the main road.
DAY 10A: Distance 33.2 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY TEN 'B': 2.3 KMS
From the uplift point, the vehicles drive into Mutare exiting the first traffic circle at 3 o’clock. Be sure to follow the cyan track on your navigation device. The route passes the Flo Petroleum depot where both petrol and diesel can be purchased in US$. Queues are minimal if any. Continue following the cyan track but take care amidst the congestion of large trucks around the turn off to Forbes border post.
The walkers/runners will be dropped off 40m past the intersection with Rekai Tangwena Drive for a 2.3km unsupported leg through the suburbs to the overnight stop at Hillside Golf Club. Back up vehicles may proceed straight to the Club following the cyan track.
DAY 10B: Distance 3.2 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY ELEVEN: 42.6 kms
From Hillside Club, a 22.2km transfer along the cyan track is required to position runners/walkers at the day’s start point 5kms west of the turn off at Lamour Store located on the main Mutare-Nyanga road. Although the terrain on Day 11 is quite challenging, the grandeur of the scenery makes it a signature day for the Solo Blue Cross.
A mere 500m from the start the route turns north through old commercial farmlands, taking a few more turns before reaching the foot of a very steep incline just beyond the 12km mark. The climb is taxing although relatively short, but the view from the crest looking down towards the picturesque Osborne Dam is nothing short of breath-taking.
For the next 12kms, the route skirts around the eastern shores of Osborne Dam with its spectacular backdrop of magnificent granite domes.
At the 28km mark, the route turns away from the dam and begins a series of taxing climbs before dropping down to cross the Odzi River high-level bridge at the 38km mark. A fairly arduous, 3 km, climb out of the Odzi valley takes participants to the highest point of the day, 1 km short of the night stop.
There are few suitable camping sites in the area, but one possible site is located 60m SW of the end point in some nondescript scrub. Alternatively, participants have the option of backtracking to the cyan ‘Watsomba Link’ and then either heading up to Juliasdale or back to Mutare for their overnight stay.
DAY 11: Distance 42.6 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY TWELVE 'A': 21.4 kms
Day 12 is split into two segments; Day 12A of 21.4kms which takes participants to an uplift point on the Bonda Mission access road, and Day 12B of 20.6kms which represents the final leg to the Nyangani Car Park. There is a 30.2km vehicular transfer between the two segments which follows another cyan track through Juliasdale.
Apart from some brief descents, Day 12A is an almost continuous climb towards the Bonda access road. The countryside is not quite as scenic as that on Day 11 but, with the end in sight, participants will surely have that little bit of extra motivation to tackle the gradients, chief amongst them being the legendary 'Bonda Bump'.
The uplift point is at the T junction with the tar of the Bonda Mission Road. Back up vehicles then proceed to Bonda Mission and turn right onto the Chamakohwa road. Be sure to use your navigation aids as the turning is often missed.
The road winds northwards up through several smallholdings, finally arriving at the main Rusape-Juliasdale road after 16.7kms. The back-up route passes through Juliasdale and takes a right turn onto the Placefell Road at the 22.3km mark before heading generally eastwards to the participant drop off point at the start of Day 12B.
DAY 12A: Distance 21.4 kms
The Bonda Bump
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY TWELVE 'B': 20.6 kms
A series of short ascents and descents characterise the first 7kms of the day as the route progresses northwards through degraded pine and wattle plantations to intersect with a National Parks road heading east from the Rhodes Hotel turn off. 1.2kms along that road it intersects with the Circular Drive.
Participants take the left fork at the turn off to Mare Dam and then follow the northern loop of the Circular Drive, generally climbing all the way to the Car Park. Again, there is ample compensation for the effort in the form of picturesque views; the imposing western slopes of Mt Nyangani drawing ever closer, the quaintly stunted brachystegia trees and the chance of seeing wildlife along the way.
Soloists are guaranteed a hero’s welcome from the enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Car Park, and the Mutare SPCA team will be on hand with the world’s tastiest egg and bacon or boerwors rolls in recognition of their epic achievement.
DAY 12B: Distance 20.6 kms
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY THIRTEEN: 2.9 kms
Summit Day is subject to Covid-19 protocols. Assuming that the Covid risks associated with the climb and the Spirit Lunch can be managed, the day calls for all the participants to be back at the Car Park by no later than 0800 hours, ready to climb Mt Nyangani.
It is strongly recommended that participants take along their navigation devices, a water bottle and some warm clothing in a small rucsac in case the weather clamps in.
Once off the mountain, everyone is asked to head straight back to the Rhodes Hall, near Rhodes Hotel without taking time to shower and change. That will ensure that the Spirit of the Blue Cross Lunch can kick off early enough to enable people to get away for other destinations in the afternoon.
Please remember to bring a cooler box with any special tipple that you may want at the lunch.
SUMMIT DAY : Distance 2.9 kms