THIS YEAR WE WELCOME BACK A FULL 500KM EVENT EQUESTRIAN TEAM!!
This year, our 25th anniversary, we are privileged to have an entry from an independent Equestrian Team as distinct from the Peterhouse Equestrian Team which has, for many years, supported the Blue Cross every alternate year. The last independent equestrian team participated in 2014.
Riders must ensure that they have suitable navigation devices and software (Gaia, Strava, Garmaps or equivalent) on their navigation devices which will allow for accurate navigation of the route and location of Water Points, campsites etc.
It is a long drive to the lowest point in Zimbabwe at the confluence of the Save and Runde Rivers where the event starts. Riders start their 2020 Blue Cross from the Save River riverbed, opposite the phenomenally wild Gonarezhou National Park and close to the Chilo Gorge Lodge.
It is recommended that the horses are offloaded at the start point to allow for a photo opportunity before being ridden or walked to the overnight camp in the nearby Jamanda Community Camp.
The Jamanda camp has minimal fencing so it is advisable for the horses to be corralled in case of unwelcome interest from predators (lions or hyenas) from across the Save River. The Event organisers have negotiated for all participants to enjoy one free night at Jamanda but any additional nights attract a charge of US$10 pppn. For those who would like some luxury, accommodation is available at Chilo Gorge Lodge. BOOK EARLY.
equestrian ROUTE - DAY ONE: 41.9 KMS
Riders begin their epic endeavour by taking the Chilo access road northwest from the Save riverbed/Jamanda Community Camp towards the Rupangwana Business Centre on the main tar road. Elephant and Buffalo may be encountered along this section and riders should exercise caution.
24.8kms from the start, riders 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. It is recommended that, at the Muhlambi turnoff, the Heavy Vehicles take the cyan track "Hy Veh Detour D1 88.9k" via Chisumbanje to Beacon and then back track to the Night 1 campsite to meet up with the riders and horses.
A few metres beyond the day's end, the route has been cut by a deep gully now impassable to vehicles. 150m short of the Obstacle, a detour to the east, following the cyan track 'Obstacle Vehicle Detour' takes vehicles down to the Machitove flood plain and through the Machitove streambed before making its way back to the main route.
Along this detour, a possible campsite (Ni 1) is located adjacent to the Machitove crossing. Alternatively the dry riverbed may be crossed and the rough track followed back to the main route. 600m northeast of that junction, an open field on the right hand side of the route offers a possible camp site (Ni 1A), accessible to any horsebox approaching from the north.
EQUESTRIAN ROUTE - DAY TWO: 41.8 KMS
Day two starts approximately 500m south of Obstacle, from where the road winds through the communal area adjacent to the Mozambique border. The sense of freedom and well-being is heightened by the cheery waves of the local people going about their daily lives, much of which seems to revolve around Sesame and Cotton production.
The route passes through black cotton soil with more gullies, stony sections and washaways to be negotiated by the backup vehicles. Heavy vehicles can negotiate this section of road, albeit with some difficulty, but 4.5kms from the day's end a DEADLY HAZARD is reached which is impassable to heavy vehicles.
It is recommended that, after Ni 1, any heavy vehicles take the detour west via Chisumbanje (Hy Veh Detour D2 82.7k) and rejoin the route via the Mwangazi access road from where they may backtrack to join the riders at Ni 2C.
There is a dearth of potential campsites towards the end of the day, and it is recommended that riders carry on for 2kms beyond the end point to be able to water the horses at WP5 and then make use of a secluded but difficult to access camp (Ni 2C).
WP5 is close to one of the cross border trails right on the Mozambican border and riders may need to show their introduction letter to a nearby army outpost.
DAY 2: Distance 41.8 kms
EQUESTRIAN 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.
Although the road beyond Mwangazi is passable to heavy vehicles, it is hard going and, if they are not needed for the overnight stop, it is worth them taking the cyan tracks “Hy Veh Detour D3 40.8k and D4 22.1k” to RV with the riders at Fiddlers. Alternatively, the heavy vehicles could backtrack the 20kms from the top of Old Barbara's back to Ni 3A/3B but that section of road is still very bad in places.
100m beyond Mwangazi Village the perennial Mwangazi River is crossed, affording good water for the horses. 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 horses 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 the road conditions deteriorate to such an extent that only robust 4x4 vehicles will be able to manage the boulder-strewn gradients. There, 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. 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. All three camps are dry and water will need to be carried for the horses.
DAY 3: Distance 41.9 kms
EQUESTRIAN 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. 5.3kms from the start, the perennial Nyagadza River is crossed affording good watering for the horses.
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, and at the 10.3 km mark WP11 offers water for the horses but containers will be needed as the pump area is fenced off.
This picturesque section of the route winds towards the junction with the equally iconic Barbara’s, a link road well-remembered by Blue Cross stalwarts of yesteryear, which climbs from the Middle Save valley below. 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. It is recommended that heavy vehicles follow the cyan track “Hy Veh Detour D4 22.1k” to Fiddlers.
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 riders and their back up vehicles will need to sign in. Navigation through the Makandi orchards to Fiddlers on the Green can be tricky and demands almost continuous reference to the navigation device.
All participants must book their stay at Fiddlers (check the Overnight Stays page) and be prepared to observe Covid-19 protocols
Stunning views looking west......
DAY 4: Distance 41.8 kms
equestrian ROUTE - DAY FIVE: 38.9 KMS
From the clubhouse, the route hooks around to the boom on the northern exit gate .
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.
(It is recommended that, on leaving Fiddlers, the Heavy Vehicles follow the cyan track “Hy Veh Detour D5 28k” to RV with the riders at a point 32.8kms from the start where the D5 route turns right into the Rusitu access road.)
Riders 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.
After the turn off at the 16.5km mark, 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. Here riders can opt to RV with the heavy vehicles (see para 3 above)
4kms along the Rusitu road, and a few hundred metres beyond a 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 leads to a relatively confined but level area where the hydro pipeline crosses the river. Riders may choose to camp there or, if prior arrangements are made with ARDA, carry on for a further 2.8kms to the derelict workshops of the Rusitu Valley Coffee Estate. The workshops area offers a level and more spacious area to camp.
DAY 5: Distance 38.9 kms
EQUESTRIAN 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 descending through 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 riders to the Skyline/Chimanimani road at Charter Sawmill. 4.3kms along the main tar road towards Chimanimani Village, riders and their mounts are uplifted by vehicle to their chosen lodgings in Chimanimani. Please liaise with Ms Jane High +263775920440, and e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org , for advice on overnight camps for the horses and riders.
The Rusitu bridge was repaired after Cyclone Idai in 2019, opening the way between Chipinge & Chimanimani
SOLO WALKING / RUNNING ROUTE - DAY SEVEN: 42.9 KMS
DAY 6: Distance 42.2 kms
EQUESTRIAN ROUTE - DAY SEVEN: 42.9 KMS
After a comfortable night in Chimanimani, riders 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 riders 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 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. This is a dry camp, however, and water will need to be carried for the horses.
The start of the Cashel Scenic Road
DAY 7: Distance 42.9 kms
EQUESTRIAN 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 going 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 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. This is also a dry camp and water will need to be carried for the horses. WPs 15 and 16 just beyond Mutambara Mission offer replenishment opportunities.
On the road towards Cashel
DAY 8: Distance 43.8 kms
EQUESTRIAN ROUTE - DAY NINE: 41.8 KMS
The hitherto perennial Mashayamvura stream is now dry and the first water of the day will be found at WP16A, a distance of 5.8kms from the start. This offers good watering for the horses.
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 and good watering for the horses) 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 an easy downhill to the day’s end point. WP20 is functional and two secluded campsites are located amongst the outcrops on the north side of the road. Follow the tracks named “Ni 9 Access” and "Ni 9B Access".
Whitewaters has a unique
"Wilderness" feel to it
DAY 9: Distance 41.8 kms
EQUESTRIAN ROUTE - DAY TEN 'a':33.2 KMS
Day 10 is split into two parts; Day 10A taking riders 33.2kms to an uplift for both horses and riders on the main Mutare-Birchenough road opposite Zimunya Township and then Day 10B completing the day’s distance by unloading the horses and then winding a further 2.3kms through the spectacularly scenic Hillside Golf Course.
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, riders 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.
More Granite Kopjes......
DAY 10A: Distance 33.2 kms
EQUESTRIAN 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.
Follow the cyan track “Eq20 D10 Tfr 22.8k” all the way to the Hillside Golf Club. There, the horses can be offloaded so that riders can finish the days distance following the magenta track “Eq20 D10B 2.3k” for 2.3kms through the picturesque golf course. PLEASE avoid walking the horses on any greens or tee boxes.
Hillside Golf Club offers free overnight camping for Blue Cross participants and a wholesome, takeaway, meal from the Club kitchen. (please liaise with Kevin Woodward on +263772262065 or on e-mail at email@example.com )
DAY 10B: Distance 2.3kms
EQUESTRIAN ROUTE - DAY ELEVEN: 42.6 kms
From Hillside Club, a 22.2km transfer along the cyan track is required to position the horses and riders 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 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. The river offers a useful watering opportunity for the horses. A fairly arduous, 3 km, climb out of the Odzi valley takes riders 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 day’s end point in some nondescript scrub. Alternatively, riders have the option of carrying on across the Nyadiri River for a further 2.4kms where open areas on either side of the road offer useful but exposed campsites.
Osborne vista - Only on the Blue Cross....!
DAY 11: Distance 42.6 kms
EQUESTRIAN ROUTE - DAY TWELVE 'A': 21.4 kms
Day 12 is split into two segments; Day 12A of 21.4kms which takes riders 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.
(As there are some difficult and stony sections on this road, it is recommended that the heavy vehicles return to the Watsomba link from Camp Ni11 or 11A. From Watsomba the vehicles will turn left onto the Bonda Mission road to meet the riders at the uplift point)
Apart from some brief descents, Day 12A is an almost continuous climb towards the Bonda access road. The countryside is not as scenic as that on Day 11 but, with the end in sight, riders and mounts will surely have that little bit of extra motivation to tackle the gradients.
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 start of Day 12B where the horses are unloaded.
Rural Zimbabwe at its very best
DAY 12A: Distance 21.4 kms
The Bonda Bump
EQUESTRIAN ROUTE - DAY TWELVE 'B': 20.6 kms
A series of short ascents and descents characterise the first 7kms of this segment of the day as the route progresses northwards through degraded pine and wattle plantations to meet with a National Parks road heading east from the Rhodes Hotel turn off. 1.2kms along that road it intersects with the Circular Drive.
Riders 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 quaintly stunted brachystegia trees and the chance of seeing wildlife along the way.
At the Finishing Line of the Car Park, riders and their mounts are guaranteed a hero’s welcome from the Event’s organisers, and the Mutare SPCA team will be on hand with the world’s tastiest egg and bacon or boerwors rolls in recognition of a fantastic achievement.
DAY 12B: Distance 20.6 kms
EQUESTRIAN ROUTE - DAY THIRTEEN: 2.9 kms
Summit Day calls for all the riders (without their mounts or their back up crews/families) 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.
A National Parks guide will lead the climb and all participants are to observe proper physical distancing during the ascent and to limit their time at the summit to 10 minutes to avoid crowding.
Once off the mountain, everyone is asked to head straight back to the Susurumba Bhuddist Retreat just beyond the Pine Tree Inn 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.
Covid-19 protocols at the lunch require proper physical distancing and no intermingling between teams. Remember to bring a cooler box with the refreshments that you may want at the lunch.
The SPCA catering team will be on hand to provide the exact number of meals which participants have pre-ordered. Any additional numbers will not be catered for. Covid-19 protocols require everyone to picnic in the grounds of the Retreat, so it will be as well to come prepared.
SUMMIT DAY : Distance 2.9 kms