If there has been one thing my old-man has been nagging us to do, it has been to climb the main berg and do a short traverse. I have always resisted. Firstly, there is the dreaded chain ladder, next there is the possibility that an overnight raid may leave you without hiking boots and lastly there is the very changeable berg weather. Thunder and lightning are not to be sneezed at but fear, fear, fear often results in us missing out on the most awesome of experiences.
This year, my sister, Les, turned 40. She joined my old-man and nagged about doing this hike and then it became a celebration of their birthdays. The old-man 70 and Les 40. So, it was just a matter of a few sharp words and the dreadful feeling of guilt that made me contact Ian from Drakensberg Hiker. Interestingly Ian had worked at the Cavern many moons ago and since he is an experienced guide I had to put my trust in him and make the blastered booking!
We gathered some cousins, a few friends and the date was set. We’d head out on the 19th April and hike from the Sentinel Car Park to the Mweni area, spending 4 nights out. The week prior to us leaving was wet and fairly miserable and the butterflies in my stomach left me feeling quietly anxious about the looming hike.
We met Ian and his team (porters included!) at the Car Park and began our adventure. Climbing the chain ladders is enough of an adventure for me and I was properly pleased that I didn’t have to come down them. My mum and a few of the aunts and uncles joined us for the Amphitheatre. We left them at the “window” and continued for our first night in the Ifidi Valley.
What a welcome sight to come over the rise and see the tents in the distance. I had forgotten how sore the shoulders would get from carrying a backpack and wondered if I’d make the remainder of the journey… Thankfully most of us girls were in the same boat and a bit of DeepHeat and a yoga stretch meant we were good for day 2!
On the second day we hiked through the valley and up to a beautiful view point where lunch was presented. Ian, Gwaine, Robert and Jeffrey hiked with us and provided the most awesome hiking meals. Lunch was boiled eggs, Provitas, a bit of cheese and a few left over muffins from the day before. They carried all our food and an additional 6 porters had our tents which meant our packs were a reasonable size and not too heavy. We did carry wine which was always welcome at sundowner time when the temperatures dropped quite suddenly and the cold could pierce the bones…
Our second camp was at the Madonna and her worshippers, in the bowl of the valley with a view out to the Mweni Needles. Temperatures dropped to minus 7 and I soon realised that my sleeping bag was not to berg standard. My phone froze and the battery pack suffered too… Panic set in as the thought of being without a camera descended upon me! Would I ever do this again!?
Morning coffee, warm oats with crunchy muesli and stretching out the limbs helps to get all the worries, the fears and the nervous energy out of the system. We then walked and walked, over another hill down a steep valley, across the source of the Orange, past small rock and grass shelters, to the Rockeries Vulture Colony. In this vast open space, we enjoyed the wilderness, drank in the memories and did our best to hold on to this special time. And, I just couldn’t understand what had taken me so long to do it…
Our camp at Rockeries was next to a small river. From the edge of the escarpment we looked over the Vulture Colony to the Northern Face of the Saddle. Stunning scenery. Incredible birds. Moments of shear magic. We left this camp, visited Mponjwane Cave and had a chance to gaze back at our Cavern Valley. We saw Camels Hump and felt quite pleased with our achievements. Then, it was time to descend and down Rockeries we began. At this point we realised just how fortunate hikers are in the Northern berg. The Amphitheatre is just so accessible. Rockeries was long and hard on the legs and at 1:30pm we needed lunch to recharge our weary selves.
After clambering down the pass and tripping over our own feet we were more than delighted to see our tents in the Ntonjelan’ valley. Our stride quickened and we all grabbed our “wash” goodies and raced towards the river. Each evening, before sunset, we’d descend and find a little pool to wash. It was the most invigorating moment of the day. Berg streams at 1500m will take your breath away, add Autumn and 1000m and it is proper heart-stopping stuff!
We woke on our final morning and watched the Rockeries go from grey to brilliant orange as the sun rose. We packed up and began a short walk through the valley to the Mweni area but we did stop for one final swim before meeting the family and heading to the Cultural Centre for a “welcome home” drink.
Incredibly special times. Magnificent mountains. A must-do if you have ever had an inkling to get there. As Ian, our guide told us, it’s much more dangerous in Canada, you can be eaten by bears! Don’t miss out because of fear. Be only afraid of missing the magic of the Drakensberg mountains.