General help for overseas visitors to the Berg

16 Mar 2012 18:18 - 16 Mar 2012 18:27 #53243 by intrepid
Hi Olli and welcome.

Why is that you want to avoid driving to the top of Sani Pass if I may ask?

As Thomas mentioned, it is easy to catch a ride to the top. For example, you can leave your car at Sani Pass Backpackers and ride with their daily tours to the top (you can negotiate to get a reduced rate for the ride to the top only, not the whole tour which goes up to Black Mountain etc).

Else you are setting yourself up for some really long days. You might be fit enough, but navigation in the Berg is not always as easy at it seems on the map, and the weather will have to play along nicely. Its all possible if you put your mind to it and everything goes right, but its not necessarily the most enjoyable.

The other alternative would be do ascend Phinong Pass from the Police/Border post. I think that would be easier.

If you are into long day hikes then Giants Castle is OK, but not so much for Champagne Castle - agree with ghaznavid. You could use Giants Pass for Giants Castle - just make sure you allow yourself enough time. If you are not staying at the resort at the bottom then be careful since the entrance gate to the reserve is locked after a certain time - you stand a good chance of being late. For Champagne Castle you would have to start and end in the dark, I don't think its a good option.

Obviously you are trying to maximise your available time, and by the looks of things you are going for the highest peaks (the top Khulus). Bear in mind that the views on the way to these peaks is sometimes more enjoyable than on the summits themselves. And even though they are among SA's highest peaks, the reward in climbing them is not always as spectacular as you might expect. They definitely are special in their own way, but as a visitor you might get far more enjoyment out of a day-scramble up Sterkhorn North Summit and Cathedral Peak, for example.

Yes, the top of Leslies Pass is fairly safe for camping. Why is it you are wondering about this?

Hope you guys have a great time in the Berg and South Africa! Please let us know how it goes.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 16 Mar 2012 18:27 by intrepid.

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20 Mar 2012 18:20 #53260 by rafiki66
Hi Chris,

Thank you for your message. The reasons why we want to avoid driving to the top of Sani Pass are twofold.

Number one is that we just love the challenge and satisfaction of scaling mountains as much by ourselves as possible. There's nothing wrong with a 4x4 ride to Sani Top and we would certainly consider it if hiking up all the way was impossible or prohibited but I understand it isn't, so we'll happily walk the extra mile and enjoy the landscapes just a little longer than most people would deem necessary.

Reason number two is that we've seen photos of the Hodgson Peaks taken from Cobham, and it looks like a really nice climb that we should do no matter what. The Hodgsons' proximity to Sani Top Chalet just adds to their appeal, and it makes perfect sense to combine them with the slog up on Thabana. So we'll try. The plan is to arrange our South African departure stamp before we head on to Cobham, hope this can be done without too much hassle.

Re Giant's Castle, sounds like it might be wise to carry the tent just in case, so that's what we'll do.

You're right about us going for the top Khulus, by the way. If it's within the scopes of our abilities, we always try to climb the highest mountain of every country we travel. Hence, Thabana and Mafadi on our list, even though we know that "lesser" peaks in the Berg might be much more enjoyable. We want to go to Mont-aux-Sources too which hopefully compensates for the lack of great views on the "big ones".

Re Leslies Pass, we heard that muggings up on Leslies are much more likely to happen to individuals (we're just two persons) than to large groups, so that's why I was asking.

Best regards
Olli

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20 Mar 2012 20:05 #53264 by ghaznavid
If you want a real challenge, try Popple Peak (the 12th highest point in SA) via Bannerman Pass, you get to the top of the oass, then you look up at Popple and think "wow thats high!". On about 25 April 2012 I should finally conquer Popple while on a Grand Traverse, I failed on it 3 times last year...

Sadly my Masubasuba Pass hike got cancelled (as already stated), but according to my research its a very eroded and slippery pass, but I can't see how it would not amazingly scenic.

Giant's Castle is often thought to be one of the most amazing views in the Berg (being the most eastern point of the range, and the hinge where the range redirects as the northwestern ridge becomes a south eastern ridge), it is also visible from almost everywhere in KwaZulu-Natal, so the view from it should be amazing.

Intrepids suggestions of Cathedral Peak and Sterkhorn would also count as peaks with amazing views.

If you do Mafadi, the ridge also includes the Injisuthi Dome (SA's second highest point) and the Trojan Wall (the highest point on the escarpment edge), in addition to Upper Injisuthi Cave (which I believe is the highest cave in Southern Africa), so you can have some real statistical fun in that area. Around 8 of the top 20 highest points in South Africa are in the Injisuthi area (Mafadi, Injisuthi Dome, Lithabalong - 4th highest, Trojan Wall - 6th highest, and some others)

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20 Mar 2012 20:34 #53266 by intrepid
Can't fault your reasoning behind wanting to skip Sani Pass, Olli, so go for it and hope it works out! The Hodgesons Peaks are fun, especially the southern one. Masubasuba Pass is a well established smuggling route, by the way, so its not hard to follow but it does have fairly serious erosion in places due to over-use, so it can be slippery as ghaz mentioned. The connection between Gorge Cave/Spectacle Cave and the base of Masubuasuba Pass along the Pholela is bushy.

I understand your interest in the Khulus, and thats great :thumbsup:

Highly recommend you take adequate food and some sort of shelter (light tent or bivy) on the hike for unplanned overnight stops. Same for all of your day hikes. Remember your headlamps too!

Giants Castle is indeed very spectacular - an isolated summit above 3300m looking straight down into the valleys. Fairly rare among the 3300m Khulus (normally they are not right on the edge like that). You can make use of Giants Caves as an emergency shelter. Once you get down from the pass onto the contour path, its OK following the path back to camp in the dark, path is good - this assumes you are staying at the resort though.

Mt Aux Sources would be a good option for you - easy day hike, and, yes, good views in the area.

When you do Mafadi, if you have time, do go down to the escarpment edge overlooking the Triplets, especially the western one!

About camping at Leslies Pass - petty theft can and does occur anywhere along the main Drakenasberg escarpment. Injasuthi area has been no exception. Currently I do not see Leslies has a high risk area though, compared to some of the other things that have been going on. Still curious where exactly you heard about "muggings on Leslies"? Did you come across an old reference somewhere, or is it a recent incident which wasn't reported widely? Reason I ask is that we try keep track of these things since its important info for us.

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

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21 Mar 2012 19:54 #53271 by rafiki66
Hi ghaznavid,

Thanks for your post and the info on Giant's Castle and Mafadi's neighborhood. Popple Peak sounds interesting, good luck with your climb. Shame your Masubasuba Pass hike got cancelled.

Best regards
Olli

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21 Mar 2012 20:10 #53272 by rafiki66
Hi Chris,

Thanks for the info & tips, this will help us a lot.

Regarding camping at Leslies, I heard about potential muggings from a fellow mountaineer & highpoint collector who lives in the neighborhood. He's been to the Berg and climbed Thabana (check his trip report at www.summitpost.org/thabana-ntlenyana-little-beautiful-mountain/700346). He was also interested in climbing Mafadi but passed on the occassion after rangers told him that single hikers - he always walks alone - would be easy prey to muggers on the higher slopes, whereas larger groups of people were much less prone to such trouble.

Seems these "dangers" are not as grave as the rangers made my friend believe, otherwise I'm sure you'd heard about it.

We're leaving Germany tomorrow, look forward to seeing SA and the wonderful Berg.

Best regards
Olli

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22 Mar 2012 06:32 - 22 Mar 2012 06:33 #53274 by intrepid
The advice given by the rangers is sound, its just that its not specific to the Leslies Pass area. I have heard of lone hikers getting mugged in the Berg. As said, Injasuthi has had its share of problems, but nothing in recent times that I am aware of. By comparison, the Giants Castle area is a risky area. Read through the security sections on this forum and in the blogs for more info.

Have a great trip and hope you enjoy the Berg!

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 22 Mar 2012 06:33 by intrepid. Reason: typo

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03 Apr 2013 11:02 #56492 by wosh
Hi,

In June we will be in South-Africa, and the Drakensberg is certainly on our itinerary.
We will arive at Johannesburg saturday morning 1/06/2013.
We will drive directly to the Drakensberg region, and therefore should arrive there easily in time by saturday afternoon/evening.

We can stay in the region for 2 or 3 days.
I've already did some research, and I certainly would like to do the hike to the top of the amphitheatre.
So some specific questions now:

1. Is it necessary to stay at witsieshoek mountain resort to do that trip, because it is the only resort close to the starting point. And how is the place? It is under renovation, but is it already more or less ok?

2. Is it doable to stay at another place and drive in the morning to sentinel car park to start the hike?

3. Is there a quotum of people they allow to start the hike? Do you therefore need to be there very early to be sure you can start?

4. Do you think it is best to stay three nights at the same accomodation? Are there other great walks that start at witsieshoek?

5. Which is, besides the hike to the amphitheater, another great 1-day walk?

Thanks so much for the help!!

Regards,
Wouter

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03 Apr 2013 18:29 #56501 by ghaznavid
Hey Wouter, welcome to VE! You have definitely come to the right place :thumbsup:

I see you're from Belgium, so what we call freezing cold here in sunny South Africa may be a bit different from your definition :laugh: But remember that June here is the beginning of winter. It will be below 0 degrees C, so be ready for the cold :) Also make sure you carry emergency gear, emergency food, water bottles etc.

Question 1: That depends on how prepared you are to "rough it". There is a hut at the Sentinel Carpark - it has bunk beds with thin foam mattresses (not sure if it has hot water though). From a time perspective its the closest non-cave to the start of the route.

I walked through Witsieshoek on Thursday last week, the new buildings are almost complete on the outside, but are still under construction. The existing resort rooms are not by any means fancy, the doors don't line up properly, the baths are stained and for the most part the rooms are on the shoddy side. However, they are by no means unlivable or uncomfortable.

Personally I found the restaurant there to be very nice, but there are varied opinions on this.

I imagine there would be decent accommodation somewhere between Harrismith and Phuthaditjhaba, but I don't know offhand and haven't checked any such place out.

Question 2: The road to Witsieshoek isn't particularly bad, but once you pass the resort it gets pretty bad. The 8km from the resort to the Sentinel car park is slow going, it takes about half an hour to do that stretch. So yes, definitely doable in a day. Also remember that from the Sentinel car park to the top of Tugela Falls (2nd highest waterfall in the world) and back again can be done in 3 hours with day packs if the team is relatively fit. So it really depends how far you plan to go.

Question 3: I am not aware of a daily limit. Tons of people do the route every day, many even in the afternoon, so you should be ok.

Question 4: :laugh: great walks from Witsieshoek. You'll have to define "great walks". You could hike down and do the Crack and the Mudslide, Tiger Falls, Mahai Falls or something like that. Personally I would head down to Didima area or somewhere like that for the second and third day. The distance to head from Witsieshoek to Royal Natal (the bottom of the Amphitheatre) would be roughly the same, and Didima has tons of really worthwhile day hikes. If your group is fit, a day walk up Cathedral Peak itself (19km) would be well worth it.

Question 5: Tons of great day walks, but it really depends on your fitness and what you are aiming to do. The walk up to Mushroom Rock (Tarn Hill) at Didima is probably one of the most worthwhile kind-of-easy day routes I have done.

Remember that the chain ladders from Sentinel car park is one of very few easy routes to the top of the Drakensberg.

Hope that helps. Feel free to fire questions back at the forum. I'm sure some of the other guys will have some other comments to make on your questions :)
The following user(s) said Thank You: wosh

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03 Apr 2013 19:48 #56504 by wosh
Thanks for you effort! A forum like this is fantastic to plan your holiday in a decent way:-)

So I conclude so far:

- Staying at witsieshoek is not really necessary, as you can drive to sentinel car park in the morning and start the walk up at around, let's say 10h. This leaves options to look at other, nearby, accomodations.
- I assume the walk up amphitheatre can be done without a guide?
- Best 'base camp' to stay the remaining days = didima

Thanks so much!

Any other opinion is always welcome.

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