This is undoubtedly the most popular and heavily-used trail to the escarpment in the entire Drakensberg. The path is very well defined and usually quite crowded during weekends and holidays. The only obstacle on the way to the top is the chain ladder itself which ascends the final 30m of cliff face in two sections. The ladder should only pose a problem to those with a fear of heights.

* * (1/10)
Difficulty of the pass is rated from 1-10 (10 being very difficult, only to be attempted by the fit and experienced). A subjective quality rating is indicated by the number of stars (1 being low, 5 being the highest). Factors such as scenic beauty and overall experience come into play here, which may differ from person to person.

The Chain Ladder route is accessed via the Sentinel Car Park which is just up the road from the Witzieshoek Mountain Resort.

The distance from the Sentinel Car Park to the top of the chain ladders is 3km with an altitude gain of 400m.

The initial concrete path fortunately only lasts for the first 500m or so before the well-defined path zigzags up the northern slopes of the Sentinel. Most of the 400m gain in altitude is climbed in this section. After about 1km, there is an optional detour to a wonderful viewpoint over the Amphitheatre, Devil’s Tooth and the Inner Tower. This slight deviation off the path is highly recommended on a clear day. There are a number of paths which continue around the Sentinel to the right. Some of them are dead-ends but climbing a little higher up the slope usually gets you on the right track. From this point on, the path contours around the western side of the Sentinel and after passing Beacon Buttress Gully (see below), contours along the escarpment cliffs until the chain ladders are reached on the edge of a large gully. All that remains is to make your way up either of the ladders (the newer one is a lot more stable) and climb the short, steep slope to the 3 enormous cairns that mark the top of the pass.

Finding the pass from the top:
Follow the clear path from the ranger’s hut along to the west of the Beacon Buttress where the 3 huge cairns marking the top of the chain ladders will be found.

Overnight Spots:
There is a hiker’s hut at the Sentinel Car Park which sleeps 12 people. Sentinel cave is situated in one of the side gullies when contouring below the escarpment about 500m before the chain ladders. It is, however, not a very pleasant cave to sleep in. The escarpment, as always, has plenty of flat space for camping but robberies by Basothos are very frequent in the amphitheatre area. Rather hike across past Ifidi Pass before camping or alternatively, arrange a night-watch system. The hut near the top of the Tugela Falls is a ranger’s hut and may only be used in emergencies.

There is water available at the Sentinel Car Park but from there, the next available water is the Tugela River on the escarpment.

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ridr's Avatar
ridr replied to: #76358 07 Dec 2020 13:59
Hi, I'm planning on doing the hike tomorrow (8 December 2020) with my 10 year old daughter. Hopefully the weather permits it! What is the safety like now camping at the top of the Tugela falls / by the ranger's hut? Or where would be best to pitch our tent that doesn't add too much distance to the hike? (We'll probably go up the ladders and possibly down the gully.)
Smurfatefrog's Avatar
Smurfatefrog replied to: #75950 17 Aug 2020 21:14

Is there an update in respect of the Chain Ladders replacement project? Are both ladders safe to use?

Bottom right ladder is still unsafe.
Not sure on the status, Witsieshoek would be the ones to ask
HikerParsons's Avatar
HikerParsons replied to: #75949 17 Aug 2020 17:59
Is there an update in respect of the Chain Ladders replacement project? Are both ladders safe to use?
Smurfatefrog's Avatar
Smurfatefrog replied to: #75353 26 Sep 2019 10:43
It happened sometime during Saturday, I had gone up the same right ladder on Saturday morning!

This is the latest

Chain Ladders to the Amphitheatre: Update

A meeting was held at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge between the Dept of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and their Implementing Agent on Wednesday 25th September.  DEA confirmed that they have allocated funds for access projects in the area, and are in the process of submitting plans to include the complete replacement of the Chain Ladders in that project.   In the interim the lower ladder on the right remains closed to hikers.  Management of Witsieshoek are currently getting experts to assess repair and stabilization options pending the full replacement of the ladders.
On Saturday one of the shackles that bolts the bottom, right-hand chain ladder to the rocks on the Amphitheatre sheared off at the rockface, and has compromised the structure of that ladder.  The left-hand ladder has no problems. These ladders are accessed from the Sentinel Peak Car Park by hikers who are hiking to the top of the Amphitheatre and on to Tugela Falls and Mont-aux-Sources.  No-one was injured, and the ladder is still attached to the rockface. Temporary nylon rope has been used to reduce the movement of the ladder, but that ladder is unquestionably not safe for use.
The Sentinel Peak Hike is still open and hikers can either use the ladder on the left, which is open, or the Gully.
Herman's Avatar
Herman replied to: #75352 26 Sep 2019 10:14
On Sunday morning one of the two anchors on the right-hand bottom ladder sheared off(!) Upon inspection, it was found that it was rusted halfway through. The other anchor looks much the same, apparently. I.e. that ladder is very unsafe. Don't use it!
GriffBaker's Avatar
GriffBaker replied to: #74920 23 Apr 2019 11:57
The ladders are open. No construction has occurred on them. Just follow the grey brick road(trail)
Peter Hattingh's Avatar
Peter Hattingh replied to: #74916 22 Apr 2019 18:20
Is the construction at the chain ladders complete? In other words, are the ladders "open"?
Colan's Avatar
Colan replied to: #73385 04 May 2018 17:32
We descended via the chain ladders on Sunday, only to run into a Witsieshoek Guide escorting some others up :laugh: . So to confirm - they are operable.
AdrianT's Avatar
AdrianT replied to: #73325 30 Apr 2018 10:04
Correction. There is a sign, but people still use the ladders. Hopefully when the real work begins no one tries to go up :silly:

ghaznavid's Avatar
ghaznavid replied to: #73319 29 Apr 2018 08:14
On Thursday we were told that the contractor hasn't arrived yet, so we used them.

And no - me posting this less than 100 hours after using the chain ladders doesn't mean I've finally done a sub-100h GT. I'll post the story soon, but Mike got sick and we had to bail at Thuthumi Pass.
AdrianT's Avatar
AdrianT replied to: #73318 28 Apr 2018 19:33
I saw on Instagram people using the chain ladders a day ago. My father in law was there today (28 April 2018) and he went up them no problem. There was no sign or warning not to use them, nor any signs to use the gulley.

So work has obviously not started at all. TIA :silly:
Herman's Avatar
Herman replied to: #73135 06 Apr 2018 18:53
I'm sorry if this has been posted elsewhere on VE and I didn't see it, but it seems as though the chain ladders will be replaced and are closed until the end of May 2018. The gully will still be open.

EDIT: My apologies - I see it has been discussed elsewhere. Missed it!
andrew r's Avatar
andrew r replied to: #66275 04 Jan 2016 21:45
Hi Myriam

Welcome to VE.

At Sentinel Carpark there is only one large dormitory with about 12 bunk beds (no matresses), no electricity and no water. I may be wrong but it seems to be standard practice to just book when you arrive; if the hut is full then you may have to camp in the carpark.

A more comfortable option is to stay at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge which is about 8km before Sentinel Carpark. If required they can also arrange transport from the Lodge to the Carpark.
myriam's Avatar
myriam replied to: #66274 04 Jan 2016 19:04
It is Myriam from Spain. I am organizing 15 days hiking in the Drakensberg with colleagues of my mountain club ( Do you know how I can rent a hut in Sentinel Car Park?
SeriousTribe2's Avatar
SeriousTribe2 replied to: #55764 17 Dec 2012 14:48

I never drink from the Tugela...way too much traffic up there for my liking! Most other parts of the KZN Berg, yes.

Ditto that Sir!

Just wouldn't have referred to what we had to dodge - stepping in - last time as 'traffic' !
intrepid's Avatar
intrepid replied to: #55760 13 Dec 2012 21:32
I never drink from the Tugela...way too much traffic up there for my liking! Most other parts of the KZN Berg, yes.
ChrisPatient's Avatar
ChrisPatient replied to: #55758 13 Dec 2012 10:44
Thanks. I allways remember bergwater as being some of the purest water in the world and I look forward to sampling it again on the top of the Tugela falls.
HFc's Avatar
HFc replied to: #55757 13 Dec 2012 08:21
Tugela on top of Amphitheatre is fine, I've never had issues. Some minor pastoral activities in the area but not enough to impact water quality. Same goes for rivers further east along the escarpment of the Amphi. Obviously always use running water, there are some marches which should off course be avoided.

ChrisPatient's Avatar
ChrisPatient replied to: #55741 11 Dec 2012 19:54
Is the berg water still has pure and as good to drink as it always was? Especially on top of the amphitheatre.