Drakensberg

South African’s have yet to become better informed about it....”fracking”. It burst onto the scene this year when the South African government halted plans for drilling for gas in the Karoo by oil company Shell. A moratorium was imposed on fracking allowing the government to better understand the environmental consequences it will have. In the meantime prospecting taking place in other parts of the country, including the Drakensberg has had less media coverage. Should we be surprised?

AMAFA/Heritage KwaZulu-Natal has embarked on a programme of cleaning up graffiti that has defaced some rock art sites in the uKhahlamba/Drakensberg region.

And it has also set up a system of access control.

Long term negotiations have finally culminated in an application to have the Mnweni ("Upper uThukela Location") declared a Wildnerness Area! This is with a long-term view to have this area included in the Drakensberg World Heritage Site.

At the age of 98, Jack Botha passed away peacefully, and I doubt whether many of his contemporaries are still around to do justice in honouring this great South African climbing legend.

Every year, the 50km race to the top of Tugela Falls and back from Royal Natal National Park, takes place in September. The number of participants is limited and selected. The route ascends Gudu Pass to Witsieshoek, up to Sentinel Car Park along the road, after which the Falls are reached via the Chain Ladders. Descent is via The Gully and back along the same way. This year's event was held on the 10th and was won by Lance Chapman in a time of 05:04:59. For more information visit the official website. A personal account by one of the participants, with pictures, can be read on this blog.

The following list reflects the highest summits in South Africa which are not shared with Lesotho. It will be recalled that many of South Africa's highest summits form part of the border between the two countries.

A collection of Drakensberg weather forecast information.

While physical exploration in the Drakensberg can be rewarding, solving its scholarly enigmas can be more so. In collusion with Professor David Ambrose at the National University of Lesotho, I uncovered a significant naming aberration for a significant Drakensberg peak. The name in question is incongruously called “Mafadi”, a label that was actually misappropriated to the highest peak in South Africa from an already named peak inside Lesotho. While the peak itself is indeed the highest, and always has been, it lacked a name until the Directorate of Surveys and Mapping, Government of South Africa, 2929AB Champagne Castle 1:50 000 map of 1971 was published and indicated the new name of the highest peak as “Mafadi”  (at 11,306’ - 3446m). This was the first time the name appeared on an RSA publication.

May the 14th 2011 saw the running of the annual Mnweni Marathon – that epic mountain race which pits body and mind against the Drakensberg terrain, the altitude, the weather, your training or lack thereof, your hidden masochistic tendencies, the clock, and above all, your desire to get high on life / endorphins / adrenalin / cataflam. The circular route is easily described in one sentence: run up the Mnweni valley and pass, run down Rockeries Pass and the Ntonjelane valley back home – overall distance 38Km, altitude gain to the summit 1600m (stats may vary, depending on how officially lost or found you were at any given moment of the self-navigated route). The trials and tribulations of the day, and each participant’s unique tale of conquering the Mnweni could fill a chapter.

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.

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