Blogging about the Drakensberg

Blogging about the Drakensberg

Monk's Cowl National Park
That silly idea I’ve always had about one blog per country unless I live there is becoming untenable. Finally the Drakensberg has done it. After three trips to South Africa I finally made it to the Drakensberg Mountains and if I would have known how stunning it is I would have been here sooner.Our favourite type of exploring involves mountains so in South Africa that had to involve the Drakensberg. The dilemma was whether to go on a couple of multiday hikes or numerous single day hikes. Multiday hikes would take us well off the beaten path but would mean taking camping and cooking equipment so lugging large bags – not just on the hikes but also for the rest of our time in the country.

The infamous Chain Ladders
The infamous Chain Ladders
We decided on choosing a few bases to do day hikes from, which also meant hiring a car would be more cost effective and we wouldn’t have problems of parking it in one place then somehow getting back to it after a multiday A to B trek.
There are a lot of potential hiking destinations in the Drakensberg and we chose three based on things like Google Images searches, an ancient Lonely Planet and reviews of places to stay. The accommodation inside the national parks can be really expensive whereas some of the other places to stay advertised as being in the Drakensberg are actually quite far away. The original plan was for one destination in the South African Drakensberg and the rest of the time in Lesotho but that had to change when we found out at the last minute that we needed a visa.Royal Natal National Park

Rather than stay down in the national park, we stayed up on the ridge at Witsieshoek. This was definitely a good idea. The views were great in all directions and especially across to the Amphitheatre. There are lots of hikes that could be done directly from the lodge without having to drive. However, we mostly chose it for its proximity to the Sentinel car park which was about 20-minutes away up a sometimes terrible dirt road (though we managed it in a little hire car). The Sentinel car park is the start of the lovely then scary then lovely hike up onto the top of the Amphitheatre and is reputed to be the easiest way up onto the High Berg plateau. The scary bit I’m talking about is the infamous chain ladders. I’d read about these and was looking forward to a bit of a via-ferrata style climb to add some excitement. However, they were higher, longer and wobblier than I expected. The AmphitheatreThe AmphitheatreIt never crossed our minds to not climb them, especially seeing as a very large group of teenagers with big rucksacks had recently passed us who must have come down them and because we had read they get easier as you get higher, but I occasionally had a bit of a shake going on in my hands and knees. Up on the top was a different world from the lush green gorges and high cliffs that we’d been walking among and looking down on. Above the ladders, it is a fairly flat rocky plateau with little vegetation. There should have been a great view off the Amphitheatre escarpment, including of Tugela Falls, the second highest in the world at 948 m, however, we could see precisely nowt. The clouds were blowing up the valley and sitting just off the escarpment, occasionally blowing over the top reducing visibility to just metres. Our plan was to hike up to Mont-aux-Sources and when the clouds came in we followed a compass bearing, when they cleared we realised we had done a pretty big loop and gone up the mountain the long way round. Although, Battle Cave, Injisuthiour route was much prettier than the shorter and direct route down. Going back down the chain ladders was again a little leg wobbly especially as there was a bit of a queue including several hysterical people who wouldn’t get onto the ladders. They may well be still up there… This ended up being the only hike we did in the Drakensberg when we actually saw any people. The following day we set off in thick fog towards Surprise Ridge and Cannibal Cave. When the fog eventually cleared, it was beautiful and we only saw three shepherds all day who tried to sell us some unidentifiable meat! I will point out that our map and route descriptions talked about paths down into the Royal Natal National Park valley from the ridge we hiked along somewhere near Cannibal Cave but we couldn’t find them. Every time we looked over the edge where the path should be there were just vertical drops so bear that in mind if you are out that way.

Monk’s Cowl National Park

Unexpectedly the photos from Monk’s Cowl have turned out to be the most dramatic and, although it’s not that we didn’t appreciate

The infamous Chain Ladders

it at the time, there were parts of this hike that were a bit boring but looking back it appears to have been entirely spectacular. Monk’s Cowl has lots of short loops that are well marked and last a few hours each that could be pieced together into a lovely day. We decided to get up above the marked routes onto the lesser frequented paths. Unfortunately, these turned out to be much less frequented paths so, while easy to follow, they were a bit overgrown and scratchy on the legs. We saw a couple of people at the very beginning and a couple at the very end, otherwise nobody all day.

Injisuthi

It might look close to Monk’s Cowl, it is close to Monk’s Cowl, but the road in is a shocker. If I would have known it was that bad I wouldn’t have taken the little hire car in. But we made it, albeit going extremely slowly for the final 10 or so km weaving around boulders and stubborn cows. The setting is stunning and the hike up to Battle Cave was a nice change from our previous days’ hikes. There were no serious climbs, just little ups and downs along a river valley with a few stream-crossings thrown in though along a surprisingly overgrown path.

The clouds mark the edge of the AmphitheatreThe clouds mark the edge of the Amphitheatre We’d been in a few caves while in the Drakensberg to look for the San rock art and Battle Cave was by far the best we saw. The San Bushman are the earliest still-in-existence inhabitants of Africa, who used to inhabit these parts before being pushed out to continue their hunter-gatherer lifestyle now mostly in the Kalahari Desert. Their cave paintings are anything from a few hundred to a few thousand years old. Battle Cave is so called as, in addition to the cattle, rhinos, giraffes, and other animals as depicted elsewhere, there are a lot of people with bows and arrows seemingly having a big fight – though some reckon this is symbolism for something rather than representing an actual battle. Saw 5 people all day.

Sani Pass

Our final Drakensberg hMonk's Cowl National ParkMonk's Cowl National Parkike was up the pass from Sani Top so over the border in Lesotho. See the next blog for a tale of climbing Thabana Ntlenyana; Lesotho and Southern Africa’s highest mountain. Saw one person all day.

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Blogging about the Drakensberg
Antbear Reservations

Antbear Reservations

Andrew has been living in the Drakensberg area for nearly 20 years. He has walked nearly every trail himself and recommends daily what his guests that stay his lodge do each day. He certainly is a great person to talk to

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