3-4 day hike recommendation

28 Oct 2022 17:07 - 28 Oct 2022 17:09 #78089 by Milton
Hello! 

We are traveling around eastern South Africa with my wife and would love to make a three or four day hike in Drakensberg. We have quite a bit of hiking experience from various mountain and wilderness areas around the world but this is our first visit to South Africa. Could someone please suggest a route that would meet as many of the following criteria as possible? 

1) As safe as possible. I know that nothing is ever perfectly safe but we'd like to minimize the risk of ending up in a fight with the locals.

2) Starting from a safe parking lot accessible by a normal car and ending at the same location.

3) 3-4 days. Even two is fine in a stretch.

4) A route that is beautiful :) 

We have our food and equipment (no technical climbing equipment packed) sorted out. We have a tent and don't mind using it as long as it's safe. Now we just need to find a nice place to go to :)

Thank you very much in advance! 
Last edit: 28 Oct 2022 17:09 by Milton. Reason: Formatting errors
The following user(s) said Thank You: ASL

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29 Oct 2022 07:14 #78090 by Drakie1
Replied by Drakie1 on topic 3-4 day hike recommendation
There are so many possibilities but given your requirements the most obvious route would be the Mnweni-Rockeries circuit. The route starts and ends at the Mnweni Cultural Centre. It can be done in three days. Be aware that the weather in the Drakensberg is unpredictable,  it can change very quickly. Seeing that it will be your first time in the Drakensberg it would be a good idea to hike with a guide. That can be arranged with Mnweni Cultural Centre. It is safer in the Berg than most other places in South Africa but a guide would also give you that extra security. 

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29 Oct 2022 15:32 #78092 by TheRealDave
  • Cathedral Peak: To Tseketseke Hut. Up Tsektseke Pass to Twin's Cave via Elephant Traverse. Down Mlambonja Pass. (The Elephant Traverse is rather scenic.) Or from Tseketseke you could head south to the Ndumeni Caves. Then descend The Camel or Organ Pipes Pass, which is considerably longer and might warrant another night. There is one rock ledge on The Camel where you need to be careful, especially if it's wet.
  • Monk's Cowl: Camp at Keith Bush. Up Gray's Pass, camp at Champagne Castle. Down Ship's Prow Pass, camp at Cowl Fork. (Gray's is a smuggling route, but the smugglers tend to mind their own business. Descending Ship's Prow is not too hard; you just have to keep left in the river bed.)
  • Giant's Castle: To Bannerman Hut. Up Bannerman Pass and camp on top (but not near Langalibalele Pass). Down Langalibalele Pass. (This is the easiest route but perhaps the least scenic.)
  • Garden Castle: Pillar Cave. Up Mashai Pass and across to Mzimude Cave. Down Mzimude Pass. (There have been sporadic reports of harassment at the top of Mashai and of stone-throwing at hikers ascending Bollard Pass, which is between Mashai and Mzimude. But this part of the escarpment is not considered a risky area in general.)
The locals are generally friendly. If they approach, they often just want to ask for some food/tobacco or to chat. Fluency in English will vary. When tenting, don't camp near pass heads and be aware of your surroundings. If you're being watched, keep moving and wait until dusk to pitch. Keep your gear inside your tent at night.

Check out the threads on the above routes/passes and the security threads. GPS tracks are recommended and maps advisable. Navigation of these routes is not hard, but mist, which is common in summer, can change everything. Consider posting your dates on the "Upcoming Hikes" thread; someone might be able to join you and act as guide.
 

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29 Oct 2022 19:48 #78093 by Milton
Replied by Milton on topic 3-4 day hike recommendation
Thanks a lot for the recommendations! I'll check the routes and will try to find maps to study. I'll make sure to post in the Upcoming hikes thread when we've come to an agreement with the wife :).

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29 Oct 2022 20:41 #78094 by Drakie1
Replied by Drakie1 on topic 3-4 day hike recommendation
There is an excellent map of the Drakensberg in the download section.

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29 Oct 2022 22:17 #78096 by intrepid
Hi Milton and welcome to VE.

Though not a direct answer to your questions, be sure to check out the following threads that have grown over the years with oversees visitors posting questions on this forum:

General help for overseas visitors to the Berg

Safety for International Visitors to South Africa

 

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

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31 Oct 2022 11:16 #78098 by Milton
Replied by Milton on topic 3-4 day hike recommendation
Thanks everyone for the replies! Most helpful! We had already pretty much decided on Mnweni-Rockeries circuit but going up Fangs pass but then had a look at the weather forecast. I think it's safe to say that my wife hates rain, and almost 20mm of rain over 24h is a bit of a show stopper.

We're flying back on Monday evening so there's still some time for the forecast to change. Speaking of which, what weather service have you found to be the most accurate with Drakensberg?

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31 Oct 2022 19:34 #78099 by supertramp
Hi Milton,

Definitely some interesting early summer season weather in the Berg as of late. 

My most dependable site is Windy.com
Hope the forecast turns favourable for you guys.

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06 Nov 2022 12:55 #78114 by Milton
Replied by Milton on topic 3-4 day hike recommendation
Neither Windy or yr.no promised great weather but we decided to take our chances and went for MCC - 5 star cave - Fangs cave - Ledges cave - MCC route over three nights anyway, and I'm really glad we did! Security concerns aside this must have been one of the most beautiful hikes I've done. This feeling is probably amplified by the fact that the nature in Drakensberg is very foreign and full of new exciting things to someone from Scandinavia.

Sleeping in caves was something new to us as well. We ended up pitching our tent in all three caves because of humidity and/or rain. The 5 star cave gets maybe two stars from me. There was quite a bit of cow manure around, some trash and even some injection needles in an unopened package. Fangs cave was a much better experience with great cover from rain and lightning and no trash to speak of. There was however a rat or something similar that went through our food trash in the night :). Ledges cave totally blew me away. I had read about the cave beforehand but I didn't remember the name of it so I didn't know what the cave would be like before we saw it. I had to convince my wife for quite a while before she agreed to make the traverse over to the ledges to see that it's actually much safer than it looks at first sight. The best pitch I've ever had for sure.

Fangs pass was an interesting experience with quite involved path finding required. Very rewarding to find a way through the thorny bush! A strange experience considering that physically it's not a huge effort (short distance, 1000m vertical) but the day still felt surprisingly tiring.

I underestimated the length of the Rockeries pass. The path itself was just fine with barely any route finding required but the sheer distance to MCC made it feel pretty substantial!

Security wise everything went well. I didn't sleep very well though so that's definitely a minus even though nothing happened. We only saw two shepherds on the Lesothon side and I don't think they saw us. Without the potential security issues Drakensberg would without a doubt be a world class hiking destination, and even with them it still might be. I especially love the true wild nature of the place. We walked for 48h without seeing anyone, which just doesn't happen e.g. in the Alps.

Thanks again everyone for all the help! I'll definitely not forget Drakensberg. Perhaps one day I'll be back with some climbing gear :).

 
The following user(s) said Thank You: Stijn, firephish, PeterHowells, MarkT, Smurfatefrog, tonymarshall, ASL, supertramp, Papa Dragon, wildingo

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06 Nov 2022 21:31 #78117 by intrepid
Thanks for posting Milton, it's always nice to hear back from people who have been helped on the forum, and I'm glad the Berg left it's special impression on you - that's what we like to hear!

It is usually mice and shrews that go for your food in the caves. I slept 2 nights in Fangs Cave in May this year and there was a very persistent, small rodent that did the same. It eventually chewed a hole through my pack right next to my head to get at my food. 

5 Star Cave is currently being used by locals, yes. It isn't always like that. And there is currently no tall grass and bush in front of the cave either. On many other occasions I have seen it quite closed in and more protected.
 

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

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