Slack packing in the Northern Berg – July 2015

We had put 4 days aside during the July school holidays to do a little hiking with the children and some good friends. We had also managed to convince the grandparents that they should be the Sherpas (in their vehicle).

Our first day was a hike from The Cavern to Witsieshoek Mountain Resort. The grandparents did this by car with our overnight bags in tow.

The hike takes approximately 5 hours and we departed at about 11am. The walk takes one through the sandstone cliff-line at Sugar Loaf Gap. This is about an hour’s pull and since we had the children we had a quick stop behind Sugar Loaf for a snack. The weather was quite cold, with a front moving in, with snow on the Maluti Mountains so we snuggled in an overhang for a few minutes, feeding our weary selves and getting ready for the next leg.

The hike then goes up Cold Hill and along an undulating contour behind Broome Hill. We huddled in a viewpoint to have our sandwiches and brew our tea for lunch. It was windy with a bit of sleet but we were all well dressed with jackets, beanies and gloves and the tea warmed us up from the inside. It is relatively easy walking along the old contour path to Witsies and the whole way one is rewarded with the most stunning views of the Amphitheatre and the main escarpment. This scene made ever more spectacular with the snow and clouds.

We arrived at Witsies, unpacked and showered. We were fortunate to stay in the new Sentinel chalets which are quite lovely with magnificent views of the Amphitheatre.

Day 2 was to be our Amphitheatre ascent. We had attempted this walk last year but crazy Drakensberg weather made us cut our hike short at the chain ladders. Secretly I was most relieved. I don’t have a head for heights and the last time I had summited the Amphitheatre was 24 years ago! Day 2 was going to be a challenge! We departed from the Sentinel Car Park at 8:30am, thanks to the grandparents shuttle service from Witsies to the car park. After just 30 minutes the first view site is a great reward following the slow steady walk up along the zig-zags. Then it’s an easy contour, with a few precarious spots, to the chain ladders. The newest ladder is definitely best for those of us scardy-cats… A lot of encouragement, patience and prayer got me to the top. We hiked from the ladders towards the windows. The clouds were below us and we had a great view of the Eastern Buttress while we munched our sandwiches and drank our coffee. The next moment, the clouds rolled in, and we were in a mini-snow blizzard with mist. We packed up quickly and headed carefully towards the ladders. It was a very quick descent, no time to worry about heights, and before we had time to think we were back on the contour path. The Drakensberg weather is dramatic. It has to be watched and groups need to stay together, particularly in misty conditions. There are too many sad stories of people dying on these mountains. The right gear is also a must, even on sunny Summer days. We were back at the car park before 3! And this meant we could have a lovely relaxing afternoon at Witsies and even time to watch the Tour de France.

Day 3 started a little more leisurely with breakfast and we began our hike at about 10am down the Mahai valley. Our destination was Thendele Hutted Camp in the Royal Natal National Park. It is an easy walk through lovely thick grasses and down into gorgeous forested kloofs. Then we picked up the path to Tiger Falls where we enjoyed a lovely lunch. From Tiger Falls the path meanders gently towards Thendele. We arrived around 2pm. The shop is well stocked and the beer and ice cream were a welcome reward for our small effort!

In the meanwhile the grandparents had driven the luggage round and had picked up a few goodies for our evening braai. Thendele is a gorgeous spot, right beneath the towering Amphitheatre, and we could easily have spent two nights here. Next time!

Day 4 was cloudy with a few sprinkles of rain. The children had walked for three days and chose to ride back home to The Cavern with the grandparents. This meant that there were only adults. We like to think we are stronger and we had a fast walk towards Mahai campsite. We were crossing the valley and heading towards Sunday Falls. The path then veers off left, just before Sunday Falls, towards Surprise Ridge and The Cavern. As we approached the forested stream we stopped for tea and a snack and then made our way to the top. Lovely to see the Cavern buildings from the top of Surprise Ridge. A gentle rumble of thunder meant we were very quickly down! Just in time to grab a little late lunch.

This 4-day holiday trekking the mountains around us was so incredibly special. You move from 1500m to almost 3000m through a range of terrain and do a giant circle before coming back to the starting point. It is easy enough to do with relatively active children, 8 and older, and the best time is probably Autumn & Winter when the weather tends to be settled. Having a set of grandparents to drive the goodies round does help!

You can book for your own party or to make things easier, be in touch with the ladies at Active Escapes who will arrange the first 3 days for you.

Megan Bedingham

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