Safety/Tips for the Drakensberg Traverse

30 Oct 2019 12:07 #75415 by murrayh

Just to start off with, i am new to the forum so i apologise if i'm not doing this correctly under the correct Category.

My wife and I are wanting to do the Drakensberg Traverse or mini Traverse in December. I have been reading up on the safety issue that can occur on the hike and will it has me a little concerned.
The concern is that it will just be the wife and myself and i don't want to put her in any dangerous situation. She's a toughy and can run faster than most mountain goats, but dodging flying rocks is a little intense.

Will it be safe for us to attempt the hike alone?

Another question: Its our fist time hiking in the Drakensberg so we not familiar with the area. Is there any other exit besides the start and finish if we want to shorten the traverse and only do half. Or is it possible to do the full traverse in 7-8 days? We are trail runners and avid hikers (We have done everest basecamp) so fitness isn't an issue and navigation we should be okay with. Ive looked up alternative 3 day hikes in the area, would you rather recommend that?

Also if there is anyone wanting to do the traverse From 22 December to 29 December, drop us a message here if thats okay. Safety in numbers is probably always best.

Thanks for any advice

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30 Oct 2019 12:37 #75417 by Drakie1
As you said: There is safety in numbers. I would advise against the two of you going on your own. If one gets hurt you are in trouble.

As for the DGT, if you haven't done any berg hikes on the plato I would strongly suggest you do one or two shorter hikes first before attempting the DGT.

Plan well and enjoy.

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30 Oct 2019 13:16 #75418 by vivo101
Hello Murray

Welcome to VE.

You will find most off the answers to your questions under the  Drakensberg Grand Traverse  Topic. I myself have not completed a full DGT, but has a Speed DGT in the works. My advise is therefore solely based on years of experience in the berg and my own research into the DGT.

1) DO NOT underestimate the DGT. I'm a keen trailrunner myself and fastpack frequently in the berg. Covering large distances on the escarpment is not like your average trail race, there is no path for most of the way and the terrain is very uneven. Therefore your legs take a massive beating, rolling ankles almost becomes a norm if moving at speed. You are also either climbing or descending most of the way. 

2) For Security concerns look at  Drakensberg Security  . The areas of concern would be the Khubedu valley behind Icidi/Fangs pass. Also read  Security Tips  for some tips on choosing camping site ect, in short don't  camp in main valleys leading up to pass summits and near mayor paths. 

3) There are several escape options, as mentioned in the link I posted in 1), some are better than others. Also note that there are large distances between escape options in some areas.

4) December is not the best time period for a DGT attempt, you can loose days to weather as the berg is renowned for late afternoon thundershowers. Trust me being on the escarpment in a thunderstorm is not what the average sane person would call "fun". Lightning can also be deadly in the berg. Autumn (March-May) is your better time period for a DGT, you will have shorter days, but the weather is generally more stable.

5) Doing a 7-8 Day DGT would require a resupply along the way.

6) There is also more to a DGT than blindly following a line on a GPS, knowing where the next water will be ect. can help. I would also advise carrying a GPS, as the berg is also renowned for whiteout mist conditions in summer. 

In my opinion it would be a wiser decision to do the Northern High Traverse (Sentinel to Cathedral Peak) first before jumping in head first into a DGT. This will allow you to experience covering long distances over the escarpment and gain some insight for a later DGT attempt.  

Just my 2cents worth.

"To those who are enthralled by mountains, their wonder is beyond all dispute. To those who are not, their allure is a kind of madness." - Mountain
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30 Oct 2019 13:50 #75420 by Herman
I second what the others have said here. Check the links. Also, first do a couple of other multiday Berg hikes up and down some of the passes. As mentioned above, it is about more than simply not getting lost. It is about many other things such as getting to know the weather (December is a bad time, unless you're trying to set a record and hoping for a few days of clear weather and long daylight hours). Also, if you do need to bail down a pass, you need to have an idea of the passes, which ones are realistic, and which aren't, depending on your reason for stopping. If it is snowing (which is not uncommon in December), some otherwise easy passes become very dangerous, for example. Being forced down a random pass, if you have never done a Drakensberg pass, can end very badly.

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30 Oct 2019 15:13 #75421 by BigArnie
My brother and I completed the DGT during December 2018. Ours was probably not a "conventional" traverse as we took 13 days and we went without any resupply. Granted, we had a few days of terrible weather but then we also had a lot of gorgeous long summer days with even the opportunity to take a swim here and there. The thunderstorms really are terrifying but in our case we just klapped dekking behind some rocks and waited it out. I would probably do it in winter next time but all things considered the summer traverse was amazing.

I have to agree with the other commenters, though, that attempting a DGT on your first hike in the Berg is probably ambitious. What we did last year was to load the GPS tracks and route descriptions for each and every pass along the escarpment on our devices and we were fully willing to bail had things become scary. So basically we set off from Sentinel knowing full well that we might have to take an escape route for various reason and not be so focused on the goal that you lose perspective. In essence we just started hiking and hoped to make it all the way. If you have the same attitude then there's probably no reason not to attempt it.

In terms of safety we camped at Tugela falls in night 1 where there were thankfully other people around but after that we didn't see another single hiker for the next 12 days. We were a bit apprehensive up until Ifidi/Icidi but we never encountered anybody on the trip that were anything but wonderfully friendly.

Good luck. I wish I could join you!
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05 Nov 2019 13:21 #75433 by murrayh
Thanks for all the advice, it was really helpful. After taking in all the research and comments we have decided to go with a guide from a local company. This will be a huge time saver and a safer option.

Happy hiking everyone and we will see you up there.

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