Image: Anja Wiehl

Earlier in the year he did 28-trails in 28-days and to celebrate his half century he plans on upping that number to 50, taking a cross-global stroll.

Not surprising then that he's also the founder and organiser of the Garden Route Walking Festival and the founding chairman of the World Trails Network.

We meet ahead of the Garden Route Walking Festival. Now in its third year and growing with the help of sponsorship from HiTec, Wesgrow and the collaboration of SANParks, CapeNature and municipalities along the Garden Route, it's a successful event attracting local and international visitors.

“An area like the Garden Route with its sweep of beaches, rugged mountains, enchanting forests and amazing small towns all within easy access to trails and walks, is the perfect place for a festival of this kind,” he says.

“If you think about it there isn't another event along the Garden Route that links the region from Mossel Bay to Storms River in this way.”

Saintz is an advocate for joining the dots. An avid rock climber, conservationist and adventurer, it was through a chance conversation that he became involved with creating and promoting trails in the wild.

“I was doing my masters dissertation on conservation corridors, and I was recommended to Joan Berning, the founder of the Eden to Addo Corridor Initiative,” he explains. “On meeting, we decided I would scout the route for a big walk through the proposed corridor to launch the initiative. I headed out alone, and 21-days later we had a route for what would become the annual Eden to Addo Great Corridor Hike.”

Now, the Eden to Addo is in it's eleventh year. A unique initiative, it's a 400km hike through five biomes across the Eden, Addo and Baviaanskloof areas. The hike traverses private and public land and its aim is to create awareness around and keep open the natural corridors that create bio-diversity and eco-system functioning.

What followed for Saintz was a collaboration with mountaineer Ivan Groenhof, and together with a small team they created the Rim of Africa, a 650km wild traverse across the Cape Mountains. Starting in the Cederberg Wilderness Area it ends in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains, following old pathways, existing trails and remote pathless ridge-lines.

It's an adventure that's open to all, but over the past few years a new product has developed aimed at South Africa's youth — the Matric Chill is the anti-Rage. “It's about connecting with yourself and the universe,” says Saintz, who sits as Chair on the Rim. “We have a full diversity of South African youth, and it's really about directing them to get soulful, but not in a highfalutin sort of way.

“Rim of Africa is very much about building self with nature and with others. These kids connect on another level, and we've seen that they keep the connection open — the Whatsapp group from two years ago is still very active.”

There's an Edward Abbey quote Saintz puts out: “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul”. When I ask around about him, the word that comes back is “ecological” and when he talks about his first love, he returns to conservation, but it seems the trail work — the Rim of Africa, Eden to Addo and the World Trails Network all feed into his idea of momentum and continuum, consistently connecting nature and conservation.

He sees trails as essential and often overlooked infrastructure that lie at the root of the global outdoor adventure tourism industry. His recent work in Nepal helped produce the country’s first trail standards and is a science-based approach to taking sustainable trail tourism to the next level. His current mission in South Africa is to have all our trails audited and certified as sustainable and responsibly managed trails through the Green Flag Trails system, and says: “Our trails are an important national heritage and we need to protect and care for them.”

Saintz originally studied physics in Cape Town before completing a masters in Ecological Science at the Schumacher college in Devon. In 2014 he walked the West Coast of the US, following the tracks of the Wolf OR-7 to raise awareness for human animal co-existence. David de Rothschild joined the walk for a period of time as part of his Sculpt the Future Foundation work, a foundation looking for creative solutions to environmental issues.

”There are important links between trails, nature and peace-building,” he says. “Trails are our link back to nature and in our disrupted world it is in nature that we find the peace and solace that can guide us into a future of hope.”

Importantly, he is proving that everyone has the ability for dynamic engagement in nature. It's the start of action that appears to be most important to him, and, once you're on the road it's always easier to continue forward than turn and head back.

Trail tips from Galeo

When heading out on a trail as a novice or newcomer remember comfort is always the bottom line.

The Approach shoe category give good support and HiTec make a good pair in this segment. Their V-Lite Wild-Life works because it's got grip for a cross-over shoe.

But if you’re hiking for more than two days invest in the HiTec Altitude OX for men or the robust Sierra Tarma I WP Women’s Boot, which will look after your ankles and has great grip. They're also waterproof. When buying hiking shoes grab a size bigger because of heat and swelling.

Poles can be a bad habit, but if you need them to help your knees, go for the Black Diamond Alpine Trekking Poles as they’re sturdy, yet light and foldable, so you can easily stack them in your pack.

I’ve had the same Deuter back pack for 10 years and it's as good as it was on day one. The key is it's light, but can fit in the essentials — lunch, suncream and a small medi-kit. For a bigger kit or a longer hike I take an Osprey pack as it’s also light, but can accommodate necessities like a sleeping bag, mat and cooking gear. 

The best place to buy gear are specialist outdoor stores or a really good online store. Always do a little research online before committing to any gear. Ask around for what others think. Good quality gear is always a good investment. Don’t skimp when it comes to packs, sleeping bags or tents, and always make sure your are choosing what is right for the task.

Enjoy your trails and if you outgrow or no longer need your gear, donate it to a worthy club or organisation.

walkingfestival.co.za
rimofafrica.org
edentoaddo.co.za

Image: Anthony Gardy
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