Aged 89, another pioneer in Drakensberg mountaineering passed away recently.If you Google “Des Watkins Drakensberg” there are only a few references to a man rich in Drakensberg mountaineering experience. Most of the details available on his feats in these mountains are recorded in various publications of the KZN section of the Mountain Club of South Africa. Well circulated books on the Berg such as Drakensberg Walks and Barrier of Spears also credit this man, the latter showing a picture of him on the summit of Makheka (regarded the second highest peak in Lesotho) in December of 1950.
Starting in the 50’s he pioneered many climbs, and continued right through to the 1980’s, even at the age of 67! He succeeded in 17 first ascents, many in the Southern Berg where he was most active. These included various routes on The Rhino (including the well-known S Route), routes on the Mashai fangs and on the Mashai and Mzimude Buttresses in later years.
Together with Gillian Bettle, he retrieved Dick Barry’s pack from Monk’s Cowl, left there 14 years earlier on an ill-fated climb well known in the Berg’s climbing history. The twist in the story is that Watkins took his own fall on this attempt on Barry’s route. The attempt was abandoned due to his injuries.
He was an active part of the Mountain Club and was involved in establishing the Mountain Rescue Team. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne, a son, two daughters and one grandchild.
He will be remembered by the Drakensberg community.