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Fish River Canyon Challenge – 2003

The Fish River Canyon

The Fish River Canyon

After last years heavy rains which put an end to Russell Paschke and Charlie Du Toit’s record breaking plans, they decided to return with a vengeance in 2003.

Russell Pachke and Charlie Du Toit

On the 16 August 2003, four Namibians, Russell Paschke, Charlie du Toit, Coenraad Pool and Tommy van Wyk set out in an attempt to break the record for completing the above 84km trail. The existing record was 11hrs 42min and was set up on 13 July 1990 by two South Africans, Bruce Matthews and Ronnie Muhl. Bruce had at that stage completed 16 Comrades Marathons finishing in the top 20 positions 6 times. He had also finished the London to Brighton Marathon in 7th place in 1989 and received a gold medal in the Two Oceans Marathon in 1984. Ronnie was a veteran of 7 Comrades Marathons and 9 Two Oceans Marathons.

The Fish River CanyonThe Canyon is stark, rugged, magnificently desolate and harshly unforgiving. Added to this is the lack of water currently in the canyon. This has meant that all hiking activities have been suspended and special permission was required to allow this attempt to take place. The lack of water meant that each athlete had to carry a backpack with approximately 5 litres of water. This together with the energy supplements and emergency gear meant that each athlete had to carry an additional 7kg in weight.

At 5:45 on the morning of the 16th, all four set off from the start of the hiking trail and descended into the darkness of the canyon with torches to assist them until first light. Having reached the bottom in 30 minutes, they set off for the first check point at Sulphur Springs at approximately 16km. This first stretch was extremely demanding due to large boulders and thick sand and was reached in 2hrs 30min. Here the support crew who had climbed down into the canyon via the emergency escape route at that point to re-supply the water met them. The next section was a stretch of 43km to the only section of the entire canyon where vehicles can get access to the river. Here they were given a re-supply of water having all run out approximately 8km before this point. At this point, Tommy was forced to stop due to an injury that he was battling with over the previous 6km. It is impossible to explain to someone that has never experienced it, the disappointment of having to have to withdraw from something like this due to injury when the mind is still willing to go on.

The remaining three set off on the final 18km stretch to Ai-Ais with new determination knowing that the record attempt was still on. By now they were truly sick and tired of the continuous stretches of thick sand and river boulders. Exhaustion had crept in long ago and it was only their mental strength as well as the targeted record time that kept them moving forward as fast as possible. It was with great relief that they rounded the final bend in the river to see the pump station some 400m from Ai-Ais. At this point the realisation dawned on them that they were not only going to break the existing record, but that they could come in under 11hrs. With sudden renewed energy they made a final dash for the finish line in front of the offices at Ai-Ais finishing in a new official record time of 10hrs 54min overall.

Charlie du Toit, a veteran of 4 Comrades Marathons and who has a sub 7hr 30min silver medal finish to his credit, summed up this achievement by announcing that in his opinion it was harder than anything he had done before. “This canyon is not for the faint hearted and an attempt to run it should not be taken light heartedly”.

This article by Time-to-Run contributor Russell Paschke


  1. […] Fish River Canyon Challenge – 2003 is a post from: Time-to-Run Namibia […]

  2. […] In 2003, Russell Paschke and Charlie Du Toit attempted to break the ‘record’ of  11hrs 42min, which was set up on 13 July 1990 by two South Africans, Bruce Matthews and Ronnie Muhl. see : Fish River Canyon Challenge – 2003 […]

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