Thursday, 7 June 2012

Drakensberg Hike 3100m - Detailed Breakdown

If you only ever get to do one hike - THIS IS THE ONE!!  I cannot stop talking about how beautiful this day was - it literally takes your breath away (and not just the steep climbs).

It is a full day hike, so make sure you get there early as you need to start the descent by latest 3pm - the weather can close in very quickly, and you would not want to be stranded at the top in winter!
I thought it easier if I do a proper breakdown on each factor involved in this hike - there is a lot of info available on the actual paths to take etc, but nowhere can you find it all condensed/grouped together for easy reference.

The Mont-Aux-Sources trail via the Sentinel & Chain Ladders

1.  The Drive

If you are heading out to the Berg from Johannesburg/Gauteng area, please take note of the following (our fellow hiker Ray followed the gps and had to spend an extra 90 minutes to backtrack to the right gate).  You have to make sure that you go through the town of Phuthaditjhaba (I know - I just called it putjaba for short) and not through the Royal Natal National Park - you cannot physically drive to the Sentinel Car Park that way - you can only go that way if you hike, which is 10 hours just to the car park!

The town mentioned above is quite a scary drive - between the animals, people, taxis and drunk drivers, we were lucky to get through unscathed - the said drunk driver almost killed at least 20 children and then hit a tractor and trailer on a sharp bend and spun out of control - so BE ALERT.

Once you get to the gate and start the drive up towards the Sentinel - be prepared.  It takes quite some time as it's a dirt road for some of the way, very steep and huge rocks and boulders.  We were in a truck and still bounced around all over the show!  We did pass a tiny rental car with 2 hikers, they chugged up and did eventually make it!  Shame poor Ray was in his brand new Peugeot sedan and had to subject it to this hectic road!

The views are spectacular - I was just about climbing out the window to take photos - so do take a camera! These pics were taken from the car on the drive up!


2.  The Sentinel Car Park

Once you have parked in the demarcated area, you need to head into the office and sign the register.  There are toilet facilities - but be warned they are not great and take some tissue paper with you.
Take a moment to enjoy the view all around you - and you can even spot the switchback trails heading up the mountain - spot other hikers who are ahead of you!  It is very cold early in the morning, so dress warm (in layers of course) and make sure to have enough water and snacks with you.  I packed a trekking pole but did not use it at all - the choice is yours!



3.  The Hike to the View Point (Tugela Gorge)

The first part of the hike is on a concrete path (quite strange in such natural surroundings) and winds its way up and around...there are some loose rocky areas to negotiate, but nothing earth shattering!  You basically continue along the switchbacks heading left and right - take a breather and admire the panoramic views - and I just couldn't get enough of the Sentinel - it's super imposing and actually gave me vertigo a couple of times!
The path alternates between concrete and earth until eventually you reach the viewpoint which is on the left and around the Sentinel if you are looking at the image above.  It is spectacular, looking down this gorge so far down below - and your voices echo along the ridges and gully's - spend some time here and just enjoy the silence (or the call of the eagles which you will see flying around).















4.  Hike from View Point to The Chain Ladders:

Now the trail starts snaking towards the base of the Sentinel and you will make your way across rocks, boulders and soil, rounding outcrops of rock and koppies making your way towards it until you can literally touch the base along the path!  Views are spectacular, the terrain is uneven (I have short legs so had to brace a few times) and you need to concentrate at certain areas as the drop offs are quite severe in certain places.  You cannot have a fear of heights on this hike, there are many exposed areas and if you had to slip I don't think you would stop until you reached miles below!  They were also doing controlled burning on the slopes as its so dry at the moment and the risk of fires is extremely high.

We sat down on some rocks and had some snacks, admiring the views and just listening to the silence...with the sun baking on our faces! The shade is cold and there was bit of a breeze, I never removed my sweater, but I did remove my jacket and gloves a few times!
The approach towards the ladders is along a well marked path and they are situated right in a corner.  There were a few other hikers here, as it's best to wait until each person is off the ladder before you embark on the climb - there are 2 sets of 2 ladders, one being a bit more 'daring' and the other more 'stable'.  The one on the right with the large rings helps if you need to lean whereas the other one is more exposed.

The climb is actually not so scary, but I did feel it in my thighs - and make sure you concentrate on where to put your feet - especially if they are large!
The first part is longer and then you progress to another shorter steeper section.  Same thing applies regarding the type of ladders here.  Upon reaching the top the views are amazing, take a breather and dare to look down!






5.  At the top 

We were following some printed directions I got online, but got a tad lost as we got off the last ladder - word of advice - don't veer right and follow the cliff edge, you will see there is a path going up over rocks and boulders - follow that and you will emerge onto the flat area - following the stream (the source of the Tugela and many other rivers!)

It was quite windy on top, but lovely in the sun! The little ponds etc were amazing - they had frozen sheets of ice on top - we had loads of fun taking pics of it!  There is a cave and some rocky outcrops, but the going is easy and flat - all sand and grass, and of course the odd mud pool!
We walked straight to the edge where the mighty Tugela falls drop down, and had our lunch on the rocks with the most beautiful views imaginable!

Ray and his son Jayson were SUPER BRAVE and decided to strip down and jump into the deepest water hole - keep in mind the ice sheets - that's how cold it is!!  We had loads of fun photographing them, and then they even did it again!!! I could feel their pain sitting on dry land!! Ray's philosophy is to try everything once - more like twice in this case haha!

We started heading down around 2:30pm and by now the wind was a tad stronger - I was nervous for the chain ladder as I had heard they can swing if the wind is strong enough! But no worries, we all made it down and we had a very fast walk back!
I will never forget this hike and I will most certainly go back - it's just spectacular!!!





  1. Cool review! How long did the whole hike take from the car park to the top of the Amphitheatre?

    Louis van Vuuren

  2. Hi there, I"m sorry I see now my reply never went through to you! We started around 9am and were done for the day around 4pm, so it's a 7 hour round trip, but up we took it slow taking lots of pics, so prob around 4-5 hours I'd say! We also had lunch at the top!