In Scotland the mountains above 3000ft (914m) are referred to as the Munros. This concept is well understood and people take on the challenge of climbing all of the 284 Munros that are currently listed. A similar concept in the South Africa are the Khulus, the peaks above 3000m, of which there are more than 160. All of them are in the Drakensberg range. The name is the Zulu word for “big” - an apt description of these peaks. The first list was compiled by Cliff Murch, published in the Mountain Club of South Africa Journal 1994. Unfortunately Murch committed suicide in 1996 and never continued his pursuit and research of the Khulus. We value his contribution and take on his challenge to know and climb them.
At Vertical Endeavour we take to heart the challenge to climb all of the Khulus. We also support the process of identifying and naming these peaks, giving them the recognition they deserve. About a third of the Khulus do not have official names and the very concept is hardly known at all. Even among the top peaks above 3300m, there are many without a name. Indeed until recent years even the highest peak in South Africa was not entirely resolved. We enjoy the remoteness and wildness of the Berg, the fact that it is so untamed, this should never change. At the same time we would like atleast the top peaks of South Africa to be named and known.
The list of Khulus has a long way to go before it matures. By this we mean that much debate and research is needed in establishing the criteria by which a peak is recognised as a Khulu. The official list of Munros has changed several times over many years. A Khulu is not simply a point above 3000m. There are many ridges where there are many points above that altitude yet not all of them should be recognised as a Khulu. One may debate extensively around what defines a peak in the Berg. Accuracy of measured altitudes and the exact border line between South Africa and Lesotho are other factors which will undoubtedly change the list of Khulus in the years ahead.
In compiling our own list of Khulus we follow a set criteria and principles listed below. Not all Khulus meet the criteria perfectly and we recognise that the mountains do not fit into our neatly defined ideals. The criteria are merely a guidline. This reflects the fact that it's really about being out there and enjoying the peaks rather than forcing them into a mould. Each peak should be considered on it's own merit too. A great deal of map study and actual field exploration is needed.
1. It must be 3000m+ and it must be in South Africa
This is the most basic and most obvious definition of a Khulu. Maps must be relied on to supply official altitudes since this cannot be accurately measured with hand-held GPS devices. We use the government survey maps, Slingsby's maps, the new hiking maps and the Garmin topographic maps as a reference. A vexing problem is the exact South Africa-Lesotho border definition. It is generally true that the border runs along the escarpment edge and along ridges that form the watershed. Peaks that lie directly on these lines generally are part of the border and belong to both countries. There are many cases where the border cuts back in order to include a prominent peak. On scrutinising the maps however it will be seen that the exact line indicating the border does not always include the actual summit of the peak that it was running on. Even among the top 20 peaks there are several cases where, according to the maps, the summit of the peaks is actually 50-100m from the border in Lesotho. This may have a lot to do with inaccuacys that existed when the border was officially defined. With topographic features becoming more accurate, the actual position of some peaks may have shifted in relation to the border that was drawn on the maps.
The problem is not so much recognising a summit as it is to separate them from each other. Many of the Khulus are not free-standing peaks but occur on the escarpment edge or on ridges which they share with other Khulus. It is easy to recognise a prominent peak, but for many of the Khulus this is not as easy at it may seem on the outset. Cliff Murch mentioned that he used several criteria, one of which was "common sense" - indicating a subjective element which anyone who delves into this topic will soon discover.
The following 3 criteria are based on map study and are designed to distinguish between summits that lie close to each other.
2. The summit should be discernable by at least on contour ring
The contour interval on the maps is 20m and a Khulu should ideally have a clearly defined summit with a sufficiently rising slope around it such that there is at least one ring formed by the contour lines around it.
3. There should be at least 5 contour lines between each Khulu
With a contour interval of 20m this allows for at least 100m of altitude change between neighbouring summits.
4. There must be a distance of 1km between each Khulu
This helps in spreading out numerous summits on a long ridge. The shortcoming is that it does not take into account the gradient of the and thus the actual distance between two points and thus many Khulus do not strictly meet this criteria (for example, the Inner and Outer Horn on the Cathedral Peak range).
The following guidelines are very subjective, not based on "scientific" parameters, but are nonetheless important.
5. Historical recognition of a peak
Some 3000m+ peaks may have a higher neighbour close by but because they are known or have official names on the map, they have become “established” and accepted as a peak.
6. Impression from a field study
Nothing replaces actually going out and climbing these peaks and seeing them for yourself. They may look entirely different from the impression one may get from the maps. The effort needed to climb them may be substantial. Their appearance may be very appealing. The overall impression one gets may make it very desirable to award them with a Khulu status.
The more people investigate and climb the Khulus and the more discussion is generated around this topic, the clearer the understanding will become. Nothing beats sharing experiences and observations with others who share the same passion. A healthy debate will pool knowledge and experience to produce a list which has been tried and tested. Please participate in our Drakensberg forum which is a vital tool in this.