Known coloquially as Uhkahlamba (The Barrier of Spears), The Drakensberg offers the closest resemblence to Alpine Trekking in South Africa. By far the most Alpine of our mountain ranges, these mountains are big, the trails generally good, the views unsurpassed and the rock pools exquisite. Big enough to have two destinct tiers - The Little Berg and The Escarpment the hiking options are unsurpassed as a result. From easy half day or moderate multi-day outings in The Little Berg to moderate-severe multi day treks across the wilds of the South Africa / Lesotho border plateau along the escarpment.
ROUTES OF CLIMB
The Drakensberg Chain Ladder:
The Drakensberg Chain Ladder is one of the most scenic and rewarding of all hikes accessible to day visitors anywhere along the escarpment of the Drakensberg. It is recommended you use suitable walking/hiking footwear; carry an item of long-sleeved protective clothing/jacket plus a hat/cap; at least one litre of non-alcoholic refreshment per person in your party; light foodstuffs, such as fruit or a ready supply of glucose sweets (Super-C are very good); sun block, and a fully charged mobile phone (only to be used in case of need!). It is not entirely necessary to be a marathon-fit athlete, but discretion is advised: the lesser fit should allow a full eight hours to complete the return journey, which commences at 2560m and rises to 2987m at the crest of the Ladder.
Once at the top, one’s immediate response is a sense of anti-climax as the flat plateau is vast and quite fearless. Once having gained your bearings, the realization that you are now “not inside…on top!” of the mountains, dawns. Look for traces of the Tugela River below the Mountain Hut (1 kilometre southeast of you) and follow the path east which converges with the river/stream cutting. Twenty five minutes later, you will find yourself standing at the edge of the Amphitheatre, at 2926m, gazing down into the Tugela Gorge a full thousand metres beneath you. Here, we recommend you check the time elapsed since you left the Sentinel Car Park that morning, add half an hour (for those tired legs) and plan your arrival back to the Car Park for prior to nightfall.
Cathedral Peak is one of the best known and most climbed peaks in the Drakensberg. Standing at the end of the Cathedral Range, which runs perpendicular to the main escarpment, it can be climbed as a day hike. The easiest route involves some rock scrambling and is a little bit exposed in places, but does not necessitate the use of rope in dry conditions. The peak is dramatically shaped and steep on all sides, with the normal route running up the eastern face, the least steep of the faces.
Behind (west of) Cathedral Peak is the very distinctive Bell (2928m), then the Outer and Inner Horns (both 3005m), the Chessmen, the Ntonjelane Needle, the Mitre (3023m), and the Twins (2899m). It is possible to traverse the slopes of all these peaks by a route known as the Bell Traverse. The Traverse starts from the top of Mlambonja Pass, a wide grassy gully which summits on the escarpment, and runs along the sides of the peaks before descending to the Cathedral Peak Hotel. The peak can be climbed in a day from the hotel by following the lower section of the Bell Traverse to a little gully between Cathedral Peak and a gendarme, and then branching off the traverse route to ascend a few slopes and rock bands to the summit of the peak itself. The view from the peak is absolutely fantastic, and also atypical in that one can look across at the escarpment from a relatively high altitude.
Tugela Falls via Beacon Buttress Gully
This short and steep gully used to be the only way of accessing the escarpment in this area before the chain ladder was put in place. It is a really fun alternative to the over-used Chain Ladder Route (see above). No scrambling is involved but it is a boulder-strewn gully and a lot of the rock is loose. It tops out near the summit of Beacon Buttress and has an awesome view as a reward for the steep climb.
The Beacon Buttress Gully is accessed via the Sentinel Car Park which is just up the road from the Witzieshoek Mountain Resort. The first 2 km of the Chain Ladder Route must be followed before turning up the gully itself.
The first 2 km of the route follows along the Chain Ladder Route. Just after the saddle between the Sentinel and the escarpment is passed, a steep gully heads up to the escarpment. There is a very vague path in the beginning but the best way is just to make your own route up this narrow gully. There is a cairn at the top of the gully where you must just contour out to the right to reach the escarpment.
Finding the pass from the escarpment:
Climb up the Beacon Buttress and hike towards the Sentinel. The last gully before the edge of the escarpment with the cairn on top of it is the Beacon Buttress Gully.
Part of the imposing Drakensberg escarpment forming the border between South Africa and Lesotho, this is the second highest peak in the northern section of the range (after Mount aux Sources, just 1 meter higher). Not climbed by many parties, you're very likely to have the summit to yourself. The easiest routes (Mlabonja Buttress and Organ Pipes Pass) are just walking with a little bit of easy scrambling. However, it's a very steep uphill all the way to the escarpment, and then a better part of the day walking through 'hills' at over 3000m altitude.
Mafadi is a peak, although not particularly spectacular, is the highest in South Africa. At 3450m it is just 32m lower than Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest in southern Africa.
Situated in the central Drakensberg, it is on the border between South Africa and Lesotho.
The peak itself has no technically challenging routes, but as is the case throughout the Drakensberg range the real climbing takes place in the ascent to the top of the escarpment, and from here one is left with a simple but potentially exhausting slog to the summit. The mountain can be climbed from bottom to top without any technical expertise, all that is required is a good level of fitness, an eye on the weather, and a little patience. The whole climb should be spread over 2 or 3 days.
Due to the fact that the Drakensberg range is a long escarpment, it is common to do multi-day traverses at an altitude consistently around 3000m, tagging peaks along the way. The only ways to get on and off the escarpment are by the various passes which penetrate the otherwise formidable basalt cliffs. It is these cliffs and other other jagged, sometimes free-standing peaks that attract most of the visitors to this region
For more info on the Drakensberg including good pass descriptions and GPS waypoints, see the Super Traversewebpage.
From the town of Ladysmith one should head south-west for about 40-50 kilometres to the little town of Winterton. From here there is a road to the Injasuti Hutted Camp, which is the closest resort to Mafadi. From Injasuti there are marked and unmarked trails leading in various directions. It is important to consult a map, otherwise one could very easily choose the wrong path. One should hike up the very pleasant Injasuti valley in the direction of the Marble Baths, and from here take great care in choosing the correct path, in order to reach Leslie's Pass (there are a lot of gullies in this part of the escarpment, make sure you take the correct one). From Marble Baths the pass involves 6 km of walking and rises 1300m in altitude to its summit at 3070m. Once in the main gully the path should be quite clear. From the pass summit one must proceed south, gradually gaining altitude for about 6 km until reaching the summit, comfortably the highest point in the area. There are also a number of rock passes in this area, but they should only be attempted by those with technical ability and experience in Drakensberg conditions.