“He undertook to do his self imposed task between six in the morning, and six in the evening, and finished with an hour and ten minutes to spare. In each ascent he was accompanied by a friend as pacemaker, Mr. E.V. Bentley and Mr. C. Otto sharing this duty, while Mr. G.M. Anderson officiated at the Johannesburg Hotel, which was the starting post and finishing goal from which Mr. Schneeberger had to start and return to each time.”
The Cape Register – Saturday March 13th, 1897
Trimble (left) and Schneeberger
In March 1897, 25-year-old Carl Wilhelm Schneeberger successfully ascended Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, starting from, and returning each time, to the old Johannesburg Hotel in Long Street, Cape Town. He completed the challenge in ten hours and fifty minutes (including rests) and was duly presented with a gold medal.
Thirty years later, Sandy Trimble, then in his early thirties and a regular climber on Table Mountain and other peaks in the Western Cape, met Schneeberger’s son and a discussion ensued over whether the time could be bettered. Trimble took on the challenge and accomplished the feat in record time. Another medal was struck and presented to Trimble by Mr CW Schneeberger in person. It was inscribed: ‘To Mr Sandy Trimble who climbed Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head in 7 hours 17 minutes on September 25, 1927.’
Trimble’s 1927 medal
In June 1977, 26-year-old Geoffrey Pitter “came across the reminiscences” of Trimble’s friend, A.B. Berrisford, who had recounted the event in the 1963 Mountain Club of South Africa Journal. He decided that the 50th anniversary should not go unnoticed and on the 25th of September, 1977, 50 years to the day, he commemorated and emulated the feat, completing the three successive climbs in 6 hours and 51 minutes in the process.
The tradition continues…
In September 1997 Don Hartley, an experienced mountain climber and marathon runner – he won the Two Oceans Marathon twice in the early 1970s – initiated and organised a 100-year commemoration of Schneeberger’s achievement. Eleven of the thirteen starters completed the ‘inaugural’ Three Peaks Challenge which was won, appropriately, by Hartley. Intended to be a one-off affair, it revived a tradition that has since entrenched itself amongst the toughest physical and mental challenges of its kind.
With its intriguing blend of mountain and city, culture, history and adventure, it has become a truly quintessential Cape Town event.
Header image by Ark Images and Shawn Benjamin Photography