Looking up at Ponte City

That Time I Climbed Ponte

Let me tell you about that time I ran to the top of Ponte City.

Looking up at Ponte City
Looking up at Ponte City, the tallest residential building in Africa (at least for now).

Every few months Dlala Nje and Microadventure Tours co-host the Ponte Challenge, which invites people to gather at the bottom of Ponte City at a very early hour and run or walk 54 storeys to the top. Last month I finally made the event and I (mostly) ran to the top. It really wasn’t that bad.

Running Up Ponte City

Here’s how it worked. I arrived at Ponte just before 7:00 on a Sunday morning, parked in the garage, and went up to the Dlala Nje headquarters on the ground floor to register for the race. The race costs R150, or about $10. (Dlala Nje is a Ponte-based nonprofit organization that runs tours of the surrounding area and community activities for kids.)

I should mention, for anyone who doesn’t already know, that Ponte City is 100% safe. Yes, it was once a notoriously crime-ridden building but that was 20 years ago. Today Ponte is legally occupied and a joy to visit. Search my blog for other posts about Ponte — I have several.

View of Berea looking down from the Ponte City parking lot.
View of Berea looking down from the Ponte City parking lot.

There were 30 or 40 of us there, laughing nervously and wondering (both aloud and inside our heads) if we could actually do it. Once everyone had arrived we gathered in a grassy area outside the building to limber up. Then the guides called for groups of ten people at a time to start the race. A new group left every five minutes or so.

We started all the way at the bottom, in the core of the building.

Inside the Ponte core
Ponte City is hollow on the inside.
George Khosi of the Hillbrow Boxing Club in the Ponte core.
Coach George Khosi of the Hillbrow Boxing Club, ready to run the stairs.

Going in, I knew the record time for running Ponte’s 54 flights is about five-and-a-half minutes. I could not even imagine how this was possible. I figured it would take me at least 30 minutes and I’d have to walk most of it.

But although the race was indeed exhausting, it was nowhere near as difficult as I thought. Here’s a short, amateurish video documenting my trip to the top.

I am reasonably (but not insanely) fit and I ran the steps in about 12-and-a-half minutes. I think I can definitely run it faster next time. George, who has pretty bad knees, did it in 14 minutes. I think everyone who participated — including some people who walked the whole way and even one family with a toddler — finished under half an hour.

Ponte’s stairwells are relatively spacious and clean so the run was pleasant overall. It was funny watching the reactions of people who live in the building as I ran past, panting and spluttering. Dlala Nje guides were posted every 20 floors or so to monitor our progress and there was even paramedic on hand. (He wasn’t needed.)

Best of all, at the end of the race we were invited to have a light breakfast in Dlala Nje’s event space on the 51st floor.

Selfies on the 51st floor of Ponte City.
Selfie time.
Heather and George at the top of Ponte City
My boxing fist pose always looks stupid compared to George’s.
View from the 51st floor of Ponte.
The view.

The Ponte Challenge was an excellent way to start a Sunday. A nice burst of exercise, great views, and I was back home by 9:30 a.m.

Follow Dlala Nje and Microadventure Tours on Facebook for announcements about future Ponte Challenges.

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  • Reply AutumnAshbough April 3, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    My knees hurt just looking at the photos. Good job! And that photo of you is great, too.

    • Reply 2summers April 3, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      Haha, thanks. I never thought George would make it with his bad knees and I was worried about myself too, as I’d strained my achilles tendon about a month before. But it really isn’t as bad as you think, as the stairs themselves are quite small and the individual flights are short. I wish I’d taken actual video of myself running on the stairs.

  • Reply dizzylexa April 3, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Well that’s one Joburg activity not on my to-do-list. Well done.

    • Reply 2summers April 3, 2019 at 3:16 pm

      Hahaha 😂 Thanks.

  • Reply Emily Cannell- Hey From Japan April 3, 2019 at 3:29 pm

    Awesome Heather. Anything that uses stairs and run in the same sentence is not something I jump at…..

    • Reply 2summers April 3, 2019 at 3:57 pm

      Hahahaaaaaa. I’m a sucker for punishment I guess.

  • Reply Andy April 3, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    Congrats Heather!

    • Reply 2summers April 3, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      Thanks Andy 🙂

  • Reply Peter April 3, 2019 at 7:39 pm

    Heather, as a tour guide myself, I am always looking for new and interesting things to do in JHB. Ponte has really been on my agenda recently. I met another tour guide, working out of Victoria Yards, who does Ponte tours. But Ponte as a stand alone tourist attraction, in my opinion, would only be attractive to local JoBurger’s who have fond memories of going to Ponte to do some Tin Pin Bowling. I also had student friends that once lived there. It is such an iconic JHB building, with a rather sinister history as well. Also probably some of the best views of JHB …….. Well done on your ascent .

    • Reply 2summers April 3, 2019 at 9:17 pm

      Thanks Peter! First, are you the same Peter the tour guide who I met at Victoria Yards recently? Second, I must respectfully disagree with your opinion about Ponte. I was FASCINATED by the building from the first time I saw it and I know many other expats who feel the same. There’s just something about it…Hope to see you again soon 🙂

  • Reply Kal April 4, 2019 at 4:41 am

    Well done! When u read Ponte City, I thought it’s an actual city 😓 I dont think I could do it, but maybe with the right motivation (like breakfast buffet maybe) who knows?!

    • Reply 2summers April 4, 2019 at 6:16 am

      Hahaha. Sorry I should have clarified the city part!

  • Reply Elizabeth April 4, 2019 at 9:43 am

    This is a great idea! For many people, myself included, there still exists a stigma around Ponte and safety. Thank you for showing us how clean and beautiful it actually is.

    Quick question: I couldn’t quite make out from your video but are the stairs “open” in the sense that one would be able to look down on all sides as one ascends?

    I’m not fond of heights but I’d like to do this challenge. However just looking up the “tunnel” makes my head spin and stomach churn. Therefore I just want to know whether the stairs are surrounded with brick walls with no “see-through” to the bottom between the stairwell.

    Geez, I hope that makes sense?!

    • Reply 2summers April 4, 2019 at 9:49 am

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thanks for the comment. If I remember correctly, there is some “see-through” in the middle of the stairwells. The flights of stairs are short, about 16 stairs per floor (and the stairs are on the small side), so to me it didn’t feel super claustrophobic. I hope that helps!

      • Reply Elizabeth April 4, 2019 at 9:55 am

        That helps a lot, thank you.

        I’ll still do it and just push through the fear. And feel like a Conqueror once I reach the top!

        • Reply 2summers April 4, 2019 at 9:58 am

          You will for sure!

  • Reply Peter April 5, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Yes – I am the Vic Yards guy. I love your blogs. You do amazing stuff …

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