Drakensberg Trails Mapping and Assessment

16 Feb 2021 16:32 #76517 by Lechmere
Hi everyone

I would like to invite members of the VE community to participate in a project aiming to improve the trail network conditions and map products in the greater 'Berg. If you are interested, please read on ...

The Drakensberg trails network is important to the long-term conservation of this biodiversity hotspot and World Heritage Site in that it gives people access to this splendid mountain range, and thus underpins public interest and the conservation ethic in the area. Although the ‘Berg is unlikely to be flooded with tourists, it is important that there is a growing community of ‘Berg lovers across multiple generations and cultural groups to sustain conservation efforts. However, many of the current trail users can attest to the deterioration of the hiking and trail-running experience due to two primary reasons:
1. The trails information is outdated and sometimes incorrect. Paths shown on maps may have disappeared on the ground, and there are many paths that are not shown on the maps. It is not easy for inexperienced hikers or runners to enjoy safe and stress-free access in many areas, even if they have a map. In many cases, inexperienced hikers or runners do not know what to anticipate when they plan a hike, leading to situations that may be over-whelming or even dangerous.
2. The condition of most trails has deteriorated considerably over the past two decades. Trails have become eroded, entrenched and over-grown, forcing the formation of multiple-lane pathways that are unsightly and destructive.

The poor information base and deterioration of the trails seriously diminishes the user experience and compromises any attempts to promote hiking and trail running. The net result is that, increasingly, the Drakensberg is not being enjoyed by people other than the experienced and dedicated, and this has long-term ramifications for its conservation, which relies partially on public interest and use.

To assist the various conservation agencies responsible for the various parts of the Drakensberg (Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Lesotho - coordinated through the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Programme), I am coordinating a volunteer research project that aims to:
1. Map each existing path and provide reasonable descriptions of the path condition with suggestions as to what fitness, experience and equipment are required for that section. This will allow users to be confident of what they can safely do.
2. Formally assess the condition of each trail in the Drakensberg so that work programmes and budgets can be prioritised for discrete sections of the trail network.
3. Assist with the development of new and expanded map products (paper and electronic) for the full geographical range of the ‘Berg including those sections from the Free State, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Lesotho.

If you would like to be involved in this project, we would appreciate the following assistance:

1. Provision of GPS tracklogs of any trails that you are confident exist on the ground. These can be provided electronically in kml, gpx, or shapefile format. Tracklogs for any trails (including indistinct ways-to-go) in the areas outside of the KZN ‘Berg will be of particular interest, with a focus on the data-deficient areas listed below.
2. Provision of GPS locations and photos of beautiful and interesting spots that could be included in specific routes; such as special swimming holes for families, geomorphological features, historic features, favourite camping spots, and so on. I am aware that some people may not want to share such information as they think that their favourite spots will be overwhelmed with visitors, but this is highly unlikely to ever be the case.

All contributions will be acknowledged in the mapping products, and once the data have been verified for an area, they will be made available as gpx or kml files for public use via a website (and on VE). At some point, printed and Geo-referenced pdf maps will be produced for the entire 'Berg. These will be available for sale similar to the current KZN maps.

Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you would like further information or to indicate your willingness to volunteer information or help.

Kind regards
Dr Richard Lechmere-Oertel
Chairman: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Drakensberg Trails Wing Honorary Officer Corps


Sani Top to Thabana Ntlenyana
Sani Top to Kotisephola
Sani Top to S’ethlabathebe National Park
Inland of S’ethlabathebe National Park
Letsa-la-Letsie to Tsatsane (Quthing)
Letsa-la-Letsie to Mount Moorosi
Monontsa to Oxbow, Afriski
Afriski to Mount Aux-Sources and Soloane Hot Springs
Afriski to Bokong
Bokong to Tshehlanyane

Eastern Cape
Lunden's Nek to Tenahead
Tenahead to Ongeluksnek Nature reserve
Ongeluksnek Nature reserve and surrounds
Ongeluksnek Nature reserve to Qacha's Nek (incl. Methloding Trail)
Qacha's Nek to S'ethlabathebe NR

Free State
RNNP to Sterkfontein Dam
RNNP to Golden Gate NP
Golden Gate NP & surrounds
Dinkoeng Camp Site trails
Thabana Tsoana Trails above Phutadijhaba
Holhoek Hiking trail
The following user(s) said Thank You: firephish, ASL

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17 Feb 2021 05:19 #76520 by intrepid
Hi guys, I have had some communication with Richard about the project and he has initiated this thread based on my recommendation on how engage the VE community.

We are all aware of numerous inaccuracies and outdated information on the hiking maps. As a community here we have been able to clear up some of the inaccuracies and maintain a collective awareness of the current condition and reliability of many trails. We know of the existence (and non-existence!) of some trails which is sometimes contrary to the picture that the maps present. This project presents a very real opportunity for us to formalize this knowledge along with others, and to have copies of maps that can be relied upon, rather than needing to be corrected by experiences posted on an online forum such as ours.

We've all seen the state of many trails in the Berg. it has come up on our forum periodically, and you may also remember that we did some of our own very basic clearing of overgrown trails at one stage as part of our Pine Tree Project trips. This project will provide very important, formalized data for making decisions on future budgets as it concerns trail maintenance. Many of us have wanted to see more attention directed at trail maintenance, and this is our one tangible opportunity to get it going and to be part of it.

Through VE we've always intended the promotion of the concept that the Berg is far more than just the well-known KZN part. There is so much more of this "Dragon" to be seen and explored in the Free State and Eastern Cape parts. We've also always loved and promoted the idea that the Berg is inseparable from Lesotho, and that there is so much more to be enjoyed beyond the political boundary we are so aware of when hiking on the escarpment. The collective awareness of what is beyond the KZN Berg is limited however. I am glad to see that this project intends to reach into these areas!

Please consider the merits of this project and support it however you can. You can contact the project co-coordinators through the email address provided and you can also ask questions on this thread. :thumbsup:

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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17 Feb 2021 08:38 #76521 by firephish
It would be great to see this get going properly, maybe they can start with the contour path in cathedral / didima / injisuthi area :)

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18 Feb 2021 14:46 #76526 by ASL
This is a great initiative. Can I ask if there are any standard assessment templates or do we need to create one?

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19 Feb 2021 09:51 #76530 by Lechmere

If someone is just volunteering GPS tracklogs or point data of interesting features, then a sentence or two of description is sufficient. The primary purpose of the tracklogs is to verify that a trail does or doesn't exist on the ground, and whether it is formally built/maintained so the description should clarify that. For example trail sections could be described as: "A distinct trail with log drains, but has become overgrown and entrenched, with multiple parallel paths being formed", or "An indistinct trail that often disappears and no evidence of proper establishment", or "A well-formed trail that is properly maintained".

At some point, all the formally built/maintained trails need to be assessed using a template and protocol. The purpose of this assessment is to identify specific sections or points where interventions are needed, e.g. to control erosion, deal with bramble, and so on (see pic example). These data will be used to develop the budgets and rehabilitation projects for the next few years. Some training is needed to do these assessments, but if there is interest, I am happy to arrange a weekend in a central area to train a few folk. My 18 yr old son and I developed the protocols in collaboration with EKZNW ecologists, and have completed about 500km of trail assessment over the last while - mostly in the Southern Berg. It has been a great project that requires us to go to new areas all the time. We have fine-tuned our approach so we can do it while trail running or hiking, and the 30 secs or so we need to take a GPS point, take a pic, and make a few notes is a welcome break in the running (it allows me to catch my breath and to keep up with his younger legs :) ).

Both data sets will become the foundation of the proposed new map series, which will show the formal paths and the lesser ways-to-go paths.
I hope that clarifies things a bit.

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The following user(s) said Thank You: Serious tribe, Macc

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