Drakensberge Northern Traverse (South Africa)
The Drakensberge, 3 hours away from Johannesburg, are a unique mountain range due to their rugged outline. These elevations are distinguished by steep angular contours. There are several routes to choose from, some of which are quite obvious since they are also being used by shepherds. However, since this is not always the case, a GPS or a compass and a topographic map, which can be acquired at the Cathedral Peak Hotel, is an elementary requirement.
We leave the car of Frank, my South African companion on this hike, at the Cathedral Peak Hotel, the final goal of this trek. A privately organized transport takes us to the Sentinal Car Park, where we begin in the late morning with our walk – in drizzle and fog. The route to the Chain Ladders is also a tourist day trip, which is why we soon meet the first tour group. After an hour, the two steel ladders, called “the Chain Ladders,” are taking us upwards – a strange feeling, as they hang loosely on the rock. The cold iron makes me wish I had thought of my gloves.
On the top, the weather takes away all the hopes of a pleasant continuation of the hike on this day. We follow a river in the green landscape towards the cliff, on which we will walk for the next few days. There, we find the first time a thrilling spectacle. The fog ripples up just so much that we can see a waterfall, which pours a few tens of meters downward and disappears there in the ghostly cloud cover.
We use an emergency hut as a dry place for lunch, before we continue along the rocky path southwards. Our goal: to spend the night in the Ifidi Cave. We can see the outlines of the unique mountain formations through the wisps of fog which are storming from the valley up to here – steep slopes that pass into a rather flat plateau. Because of the low visibility, we take some minor detours a few times before reaching the cave. Actually, it’s more like an overhang, which does not prevent us from pitching our tents on the narrow-covered ledge.
Sunshine wakes me – I open my tent and admire for the first time a fog-free view over the edgy contours of the Drakensberg. The exciting route takes us along the cliff. I explore the terrain near it and take a glimpse downwards – and freeze, as a 1000-meter-deep abyss opens up. After this breathtaking moment, we stay a little ways off the edge, avoiding detours due to the deep, long incisions that appear there from time to time, and follow a river.Some white storks look at us suspiciously. As we approach, they take a running start, flap twice with their wings, and rise majestically before turning off and letting themselves be carried by the wind. Back on the steep slope, we pass some fascinating rock formations, such as “Madonna and her Worshippers,” before we arrive at the hill, on whose summit our second chosen accommodation cave should be located.
While we fill up our water supplies, some curious sheep take a few steps towards our backpacks before they are driven away by two local shepherds with the rest of the herd. We have a short chat and give both of them a little piece of chocolate, which puts a happy smile on their faces.
After we have taken the strenuous way upwards, we realize that the cave is occupied – the South Africans seem to like to hike on weekends. So, we set up our tents on a nice meadow close by.
Regrettably I have to conclude that I have no more water because of a tiny hole in my Camel Bag, so I make my way back to the river, 600 meters down, and then up again, to arrive just before dark. While I repair my water container, I observe the other national guests who arrived in the meantime and can be clearly assigned by the Dutch-like language. The surface now looks like a tent camp.
Another morning with sunshine. This time upon a dense sea of clouds, which docked a few hundred meters below us on the rocks. On a small, single standing rock some baboons arrived. Our breakfast is abruptly interrupted by angry cries – on the baboon rock a dispute has broken out within the group over its dominance. The victors rejoice, while the rest of them climb down with seemingly depressed faces.
We leave our campsite and the mountain, whereby we break through the clouds and sadly leave the sun’s rays above them. The orientation with map and compass is getting more difficult again, due to limited visibility, but Frank’s GPS on his mobile helps us with the orientation. Since he has some muscle aches, we follow the advice of the leader of yesterday’s hiking group and decide to aim for the Easter Cave, which isn’t too far away.
In the early afternoon, the clouds are getting less and less, we walk over a stony flower meadow with white, yellow and pink blossoms. The herds of sheep are being joined by cows and horses, even two donkeys cross our path.
Around 3 pm we reach the cave – this time it is actually a cave and not just an overhang. Inside, I unfold my mat while Frank, who froze the nights before, sets up his tent. We glance over a knee-high stone wall towards the mountain scenario framed by the cave entrance – a picturesque sight.
When I open my eyes, ther is an incredible play of colors: At first, the entire horizon is dipped into a deep orange, shortly after the dawn paints the clouds in a warm violet tone – just incredible.
It is our last day and Frank is navigating us with his GPS in the direction of the Cathedral Hotel. However, due to some faulty coordinates, we end up on a green area, at the edge of which there is only a steep slope.
Two hours later we left the most exciting part of this hike, on which we had to move sideways like crabs, along a narrow path, behind us. In front of us, the Twin Cave opens and we find the path that leads us downwards. The way to the hotel has some obstacles to offer due to the man-high plants, which partly overgrow it. But afterwards the beer in the hotel’s restaurant tastes even better.