The trail month

Heritage Southern Peaks Trail (HSPT) / Ultra Trail Raidlight Beachcomber (UTRB) / The Dodo Trail: 3 weekends in a row. With the national championship coming up this Saturday, trail runners are as fit as they’ll ever be. In the three above named events, one could witness the trail family of Mauritius in full swing with organizers, volunteers and competitors showing the “trail spirit” in all its facets. I’d love to go deeper into each event, but these are just a few words from the observer’s experience, and the sights to be seen on our beautiful island. Follow the links to the respective websites and reports.

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Heritage Southern Peaks Trail

The HSPT is an event organized by Simon Desvaux, one of the- if not the- strongest trail runner in Mauritius currently. My focus was on the 42km flagship race, which is steep right from the start into some beautiful hunting reserves. To get ahead I jumped in a 4×4 with volunteers an hour before the start and headed to the highest point of the course where  they would setup a refueling station / water point. The summit called Mont-sur-Mont offered a stunning view at sunrise, especially along an open ridge where the runners passed. I shot the leaders Cedric Fleureton (France), Thabang Madiba (South Africa), Nicolas Riviere (Reunion), Claire Nedelec (Reunion) and a few more on that spot, then followed the trail downhill, diving into the forest before opening up to the refuel station. Just these images had already made my day.

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From there onwards, I tried to catch up by using a mountain bike, but the muddy and slippery tracks of the hunting reserve were definitely better suited for walking or running! Taking a shortcut to another location allowed me to catch a few more people, I rode to Chamarel, clicked some more shots, went in another hunting reserve but seeing that I would eventually be stuck in a trail with the cumbersome bike and gear, the downhill ride back to the coast imposed itself. Needless to say for those who know Simon, this course was tough… not sure what else to add! It was a great turn out on the 21km, 10km and 5km runs as well and what better end to finish on white sand at the C Beach Club!? Full results here.

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Ultra Trail Raidlight Beachcomber

A week later the UTRB took over the trail runner’s attention, offering a 25km, 47km and the only “ultra” trail of Mauritius, a 120km race with 4,500m positive elevation. The ultra started at 2AM and leaders were expected on Black River Peak (highest summit on Mauritius) around 7:30AM. Taking the muddy path from Plaine Champagne to the peak in the dark, I got there ahead of time, finding the Vertical World Rescue team that preceded, to then be joined by a cameraman from the film crew. It was very windy and cold up there, totally exposed and we couldn’t move too much, focused on watching out for the first runners. Star runner Sangé Sherpa from Nepal arrived first at 8:10AM, followed by Italian Oliviero Ignazio Bosatelli and Frenchman Sebastien Bilocq with a mere 10 to 15 minutes between them.

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Just before reaching the summit, Sebastien (3rd) stopped by me and asked where exactly he was on the course – “I don’t feel the best, didn’t sleep well…”. When I asked if it was his first time, he replied he hadn’t finished in the previous edition. He set off after catching his breath and it was great see him again on the South coast at nightfall, all cheered up with a mere 15km to go before the finish. Personally I loved spending most of the day on the ridge at Black River Peak, which offered stunning views on the West coast, its lagoon, the Benitier Island, Le Morne Mountain, Tamarin Mountain, Black River gorges and Le Rempart and Trois Mamelles in the distance. Most of the runners were a little discouraged by the long descent awaiting them before ascending the Parakeet trail – understandably so – but a few had a surprisingly happy attitude, fully appreciating the opportunity to see so much of the Mauritian landscape in one go, I guess!

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18 of the 23 participants finished, thus qualifying for the Grand Raid of la Reunion. Big respect to all of them and well done to the Beachcomber Events crew for putting this exceptional race together.

The Dodo Trail

This was an event long anticipated by Mauritian trail runners and many were training specifically for it, by running the HSPT two weeks before and others even completing UTRB’s 47km race one week before – also using all these events to push their limits in preparation for the Grand Raid in October. Many people told me the Dodo’s 25km race is tougher than the Royal Raid‘s 35km, and the Xtreme Dodo 50km is a grueling challenge with 3000m positive elevation, starting off very steep as from the 5th km, and a race that caused several “stars” to abandon. You could feel the build-up of excitement at the eve’s briefing, even more so for me spending the night at friends’ who were participating – making sure to eat right, prepare well and sleep early.

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Organizers designated me to be on “La Tourelle” (Tamarin Mountain), my shooting location for the day, and they despatched different photographers to other spots – the photo above is the view from La Tourelle. It was a great hike up in the morning and you couldn’t be happier with the amazing views, plus the technical trail offered some great perspectives, grass/dirt/rock textures, and facial expressions from the participants. This mountain being their last uphill on the course, for both the 25km and 50km, the obvious emotion was relief, if not for some occasional disbelief: “that’s it!? Is this the top??” I shot the 50km leaders Ludovic Pommeret (French – 2016 UTMB winner) and Simon Desvaux (Mauritian – 2nd at the UTRB 47km one week before) and others at the summit, hiked down a little, back up, down the other direction, and back up again, I must have caught 95% of the participants.

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For a better immersion into the race I’ll let you read Thabang Madiba’s report, but in closing I’ll just say that spending a day on a mountain, in a way making people happy by taking photos of- and encouraging- them, always leaves me emotionally energized! Congrats all, thanks for the inspiration and good luck at the National Championships this Saturday!

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Big thanks also to organizers RSVP events (HSPT / Dodo Trail), Heritage Resorts / Simon Desvaux (HSPT), Arianne / Desiré / Beachcomber Events (UTRB), Yannick / Yan (Dodo Trail) for the great collaboration!

Xavier

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