I’d say September is about the worst month of the year to do a GT. On my first GT (April 2012) we had snow on day 3 and it cost a lot of time on days 3 and 4 plus a huge hit to morale. We were doing S-N and we happened to have our stop at Sani on the snow day, which at least meant sitting next to a big fire while having lunch - but September is often the month with the biggest snowfall for the year, and if you’re up there in that, you might lose a full day or two to it.
I’ve completed 6 DGTs and started 8 (incidentally my first 6 were all successful, but my 7th and 8th tries both ended with a sick team mate). The only time I didn’t have bad weather was on my 107h51 traverse in November 2015 - and that was in no small part due to the severe drought that was occurring at the time. Unless you can do a full traverse in 3 days, and can time it perfectly with the weather (i.e. set the dates very close to the time) - you will almost definitely have some bad weather along the way. Summer - probably thunderstorms, winter - probably snow, autumn or spring- probably severe wind combined with rain or snow. Notably any weather is possible any time of the year - you can get snow in summer, and severe wind and rain happens year-round. Be ready for this, because there is very little you can do about it.
I agree with the points on the team, do a few overnight hikes together beforehand as training, a fitness test and to ensure that you all get on well. A GT is very mentally taxing and if you’re still friends at the end, you can probably get through anything together.
A GT is no joke - and while you won’t finish if you aren’t fit enough - mental strength is what counts the most. You’ll be halfway in with a sore back, sore feet, wet shoes and plenty of other issues and you’ll be questioning your life choices - knowing you’ll still be out there for another week. Pushing past that is really hard. Its why I have a rule on a GT - we do not even joke about bailing. The only scenario where anyone is even allowed to discuss it is if it is for a legitimate safety issue or an injury/sickness. This was very intentional, on a GT you’ll consider bailing a lot, and if you are all thinking about it at the same time (e.g. during a massive storm), your odds of bailing are high, even though you would be fine to finish if you just push through. Never underestimate the mental game on a GT. Don’t get me wrong, its an exceptional hike, one of the best in Southern Africa, but its not easy and it entails a fair bit of suffering. Steve House had three rules for bailing on a mountain:
- Never decide to bail when your heart rate is over 100.
- Never decide to bail when you are hungry.
- Never decide to bail at night.
Have you picked a line for the traverse yet? I’d suggest downloading the Vertical Endeavour GPS track for the non-speed traverse and studying the different route options to ensure you know what there is in advance. E.g. on a speed traverse you use the Mokhotlong to get from Giants to Sani very quickly, but you miss the great views at Vergelegen and Lotheni as a result - its good to know this is an option if you’re behind schedule or have bad weather on these days, but I wouldn’t suggest using it otherwise. The Jarateng shortcut is awful and best avoided - the second fastest DGT time ever (45h08) actually used the escarpment edge line through Giants Castle, as did my own fastest DGT (107h51) - as I really didn’t want to use the Jarateng.
If you need advice on any aspect of the traverse, you’re welcome to run it past me. You can also get hold of Tony Marshall on Vertical Endeavour - he is one of the most knowledgeable people regarding the route and might even help you put together a GPS track for the route if you ask him nicely.