Keep on reading to enjoy the video at the end.
On the 13th of April 2018, my twin brother asked me if I would be up for a Drakensberg hike for the coming long weekend. I was stunned for a moment and before I replied to him, a hundred thoughts went through my mind. Well, firstly, we have never really hiked, and definitely not mountain hiking. Also, I didn’t have any hiking equipment, I was not fit to climb any mountains, I was just going through a really deep storm in my life, and had only two weeks to prepare.
But, I thought that I have just watched quite a few documentaries on the Camino de Santiago’s pilgrimage trails (a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.) I loved the movie about this exact hike, ‘The Way’, and I also just read the Afrikaans book, Elders. Now, for a book worm like me, there is seldom a new book that can stand out above years’ favourite books. But this book, written by the South African journalist, Erns Grundling, was a definite exception for me!
So, as always, I leaned into the possibilities of embracing a new challenge in my life and after exactly five minutes, I replied to my brother: “Yes, with love.”
That afternoon, the research started. We researched everything we could find on mountain backpacking, hiking trails, weather conditions, food to pack, tips for sleeping on mountain tops, hiking clothes and equipment to buy, the medical aid kit to pack and sleeping bags for ice cold weather. I would say that we really were as prepared as one could be on your first mountain backpacking trip. Although we were quite prepared in knowledge and research, even with our choice of packed foods, little did we know that absolutely nothing can prepare you for this hike, but personal experience.
Two weeks later at 03:00 one morning, Benjamin and his wife, Kendall, John and his girlfriend, Julanie, Martin (our group leader) and Johan and I were on our way from Johannesburg to the border of Lesotho to conquer our mountains. We had an early morning Wimpy breakfast in Harrismith, then we arrived at the start of the hikinig path, parked our cars, signed in and we were on our way. Now, for hikers with 12-18kg packbacks, the first 5-6 km’s are hard until you’re used to your backpack and it’s never-ending heaviness.
Description of the Mnweni/Rockeries Pass we did: An extreme hike in the beautiful Drakansberg Mountains of South Africa. The hike is 3-4 days and about 50km with almost 2km elevation.
On this three-day-hike we start at the Mnweni Cultural Center and head out to sleep at the base of Rockeries pass. Today is about 14km of hiking, moderate total ascent of approx. 400 metres, which we will take about 5-6 hours to complete if we keep at a moderate pace.
It is an easy to moderate trail with some moderately strenuous short climbs. The main gravel road becomes a narrow dirt road, and then a track. There are lots of cattle paths as well, so a guide is useful here unless you already know the way. Though there is plenty of water in the river, we filled our bottles before we started and used these for the first 3-4 hours—there are homesteads with people and live stock using the river. Halfway through the day, and we are having a break by the Ntonjelana river, cooling off in the water, filling up our water bottles (mixed with Game) and heading upwards. The valleys are almost dangerously green.
Just before it becomes dark, we set up out tents at the ‘station’ below Rockeries Pass. Here we have huge cliffs all around us with Rockeries pass on one side and Nguzu pass on the other. High above us is the amazing Cape vulture colony. At five o’ clock in the afternoon, it is almost dark inside the mountain range and we have to start up the small gas stove to heat our food and hang out our dirty and wet hiking shoes on branches before going to bed by 18:30.
What a beautiful morning. Today is mountain climbing day. Up and awake, enjoying an oats meal and getting the (still wet and dirty from yesterday) hiking shoes on again. Filling up our water bottles at the bypassing river, and of course, the Game-game is strong today. A little stiff from day 1, but ‘just keep moving”.
Today, we hike up Rockeries Pass to have lunch next to the Orange/Senqu river on it’s way to the Atlantic ocean over 2000km away. This is the most demanding of the three days as it ascends straight up the valley to the pass, an ascent of about 1600 m in total, with most of this in the morning, including a very steep final 2 km to the top of the scarp. There are lovely boulders amid rapids and small waterfalls for a quick mid-morning break. Then follows 3 hours of very steep ascent (happily most of it is zig-zag) up a steep grassy slope. If you are a rock-climber, this is spectacular scenery – faces, spires, chutes and gullies, overhangs, the lot. I tried by best to take a lot of photos and took some video’s with our frequent breaks.
Relieved, we reached the scarp in early afternoon, and we were freezing and exhausted. But “just keep moving”, because we still had to look for a place to camp out for the night. Then John, Julanie, Benjamin and Kendall headed for the Mponjwane Cave —just north of the Rockeries Pass descent. It proved tricky to find, at the end of a long and tiring uphill. In the meantime, Johan and I discovered an amazing view and took some photos. We were searching for about 45 minutes for a suitable camping area near some moving water and just before dark, as the night before, Johan went down to the river to take a freezing bath. The rest of us prefer wet-wipes, thank you.
It is a very, very cold night and by now, I already lost my voice due to a vicious virus and I am starting to become really ill and drained. The ice cold weather probably worsened the matter, and none of us really slept much on the mountain tops, as we tried to get warm in our sleeping bags.
Starting the descend.
Today we have to take 17 km’s easy down the very steep slopes of the Rockeries Pass, where you have a chance to see the Rockeries and North Peak of the Saddle. The views are absolutely breath-taking. The rocks are very slippery and it is tricky as a descent as well. There is a lot of loose rock – I went for a slide more than once – and the trek down took us between 3 to 4 hours. The journey is as spectacular as we hoped – clouds and fog hanging in the air as we are approaching the steep downhill trails. We took a break after about 3 hours and ate a snack to ‘just keep moving’.
As we are reaching the end of the mountain, we are so relieved as we now have only 6 km’s remaining to reach the info area again. This whole valley is full of Zulu culture and, of course, there are some dancing and singing at the end of the hike, as the Zulus pass us near the end. Our cars were waiting at the end of the valley.
We have just hiked the Mnweni/Rockeries Pass hike in the Northern Drakensberg.
We loaded everything in our cars and just when we wanted to get in and drive to our backpacker’s lodge, Johan’s car was locked with the key inside. As this was mainly MY fault, I’ll just skip this story for another day. (Johan, John and Ben eventually figured out how to break into a Ford Figo and can now be titled as professional car robbers).
We finally arrived at the Amphitheatre Backpackers Lodge the same night and enjoyed a wonderful 2 days of resting and bonding. Typically me, I made some new friends in the big shared kitchen where I met a girl from Sweden and another one from Italy. They love hiking in SA, especially in the Drakensberg. Different hiking groups and cultures barbequed together and enjoyed the ‘hippy-like’ atmosphere.
Although Johan had to rush me to the nearest hospital 4 o’ clock the next morning, because of a serious virus, I can only reflect on amazing memories from this hike.
The five of us are already on a new whatsapp group, called, ‘When is the next one?’
Let’s wait and see..
It was an amazing experience in nature, knowing every moment that our God is the Creator of it all.
Other than the fact that hiking is very therapeutic and amazing for stress-relief and experiencing God in a very deep way, it especially helped me in that certain time of my life. Pushing through in the middle of hardships and just focusing on giving the next step.
“You’re off to great places
today is your day
your mountain is waiting
so get on your way.”
Here is a video that Johan made from all our photos and video clips. Go watch it, share and enjoy!
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