Drakensberg - Cathedral Adventure
17 Mar - 24 Mar 2024
Hotels and Tents
£1950 (£500 Deposit)
What to Expect
During this 7-day partially portered and guided hike (8 days total) we will backpack along the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment staying at altitudes over 3000m. Once we are up on the Escarpment we are almost guaranteed to be alone for the duration of the hike and treated to unspoilt views of world class scenery.
The Drakensberg is a spectacular mountain escarpment in the heart of South Africa. Also known by the Zulus as uKhahlamba, The Barrier of Spears, it includes vast cliffs, jagged ridge lines and endless pinnacles. With incredible weather conditions and awe inspiring scenery this is a UNESCO World Heritage site and prime photographic location that remains completely off the beaten track.
In the mornings mist swirls around the valleys below with the bark of baboons echoing off basalt cliffs. Cape Vultures, Lammergeier and black eagles soar overhead. In the afternoon thunderstorms crash around the mountains often bringing dramatic lighting conditions. This is the ultimate adventure photography trip made much more accessible with the help of the porters!
Overview: On the first 2 days of hiking we will be ascending up through the verdant valleys of the lower Berg with views up to massive rock faces above. Once at the top we will cover moderate distances each day (around 12km) and aim to set up camp around midday. Our campsites are in the most picturesque locations possible. In the afternoon and evening we will photograph spectacular vistas and watch thunderstorms form. If the storms hit we will retreat to the shelter of the tents. The sunrises are of course the highlight of the Drakensberg (which faces east) and we'll be aiming to photograph every single one!
During the trip we hike along the top of the escarpment in a rarely visited or photographed area. We will swim in high mountain streams, visit vulture colonies and take in some of the most notable features of the Northern Berg. Our Zulu guide Zee will provide insight into the landscape and people whilst porters will take some of the load off your back! We will hike among the beautiful rolling hills of Lesotho and occasionally run into local Basotho shepherds and their livestock of sheep, cows, goats and donkeys. At various points along the hike, and at the end of each day, we emerge at the edge to awe-inspiring views.
Day 1, Sunday: Meet and greet in Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport. Food shop. Transfer to our accomodation in the Drakensberg. Kit Check and then a relaxed dinner and early night!
Day 2, Monday: Hike into the Rockeries valley in the morning. Photograph the views looking up at Rockeries before continuing on to a high campsite amongst the trees.
Day 3, Tuesday: We will hike to the top of Rockeries Pass. This route is mostly gradual but steepens in the upper section, as a result we'll be going slowly. The views from camp at the top of Rockeries Pass are magical, but if you're feeling ready for more I will be taking an optional hike to Mponjwana to watch the vultures and shoot sunset.
Day 4, Wednesday: On our third day of hiking we will head along the top of the escarpment up and over hills on gentler gradients. We'll pass a Cape Vulture Colony and if we are lucky we'll spot a few Lammergeir. This is a moderately long but incredibly scenic route with an opportunity for a quick swim. We finish at Ntonjelana, which has superb views of the Cathedral Ridge.
Day 5 Thursday: We will walk up a beautiful slowly rising valley for the first half of the day before hiking through Elephant and Cockade - one of the rare opportunities to hike between pinnacles. We finish our hike at Pyramid and Column and spend the afternoon relaxing above this remarkable scene.
Day 6, Friday: On or final day atop the escarpment we make our way gradually to the top of Cleft Peak, one of the highest peaks in the Drakensberg. After enjoying lunch on the mountain we head down to our camp at the head of Organ Pipes Pass, out descent route the following day. Although the views here are lovely, they are even better up at Castle Buttress, a short walk away.
Day 7, Saturday: The decent is a long day but we'll have eaten all our food and there will be a full team of porters to assist in getting us down to the Hotel! This is one of my favourite days - not only do you get so see wide views back up to the Escarpment but you also have true luxury to look forward to at the end! We'll spend the evening celebrating our achievement in the hotel restaurant (dinner, accomodaition and breakfast included)!
Day 9, Sunday: Morning transport back to Johannesburg for evening flights home.
I will be on hand at all times to help you with your images should you wish. With a modest group size (maximum 5) there will be plenty of opportunity for 1-to-1 time. On the other hand advanced photographers have often joined me on these trips to expand their horizons in a new way. The level of independence and tuition is entirely flexible, depending on individual interests and needs.
Fitness And Experience
At this altitude the oxygen levels are only 70% of what you might be used to at sea level, but the distances we are covering are not significant. We will contour the hills as much as possible to avoid significant elevation changes. The group will have the use of 5 porters, each of whom can carry 8kg. Based on this you can anticipate your backpack weighing around 16kg at the start of the trip and 10kg once you have eaten all your food! You do not need prior backpacking experience to come on this trip however you should be walking fit and free from injury. On the first two days will will be ascending slowly to the top of the escarpment. On the final day we will descend over 1000m to the Cathedral Peak Hotel, this will be a long day.
It is very likely that we will be hiking in unbroken sunshine so sun protection is essential. You should dress for warm days (up to 20 Celsius at the top, warmer lower down), heavy rain showers and much cooler mornings/ evenings where it can get into single figures. I can provide high end lightweight camping equipment perfectly suited for the trip. This includes Terra Nova Quasar tents (shared between 2), Rab Neutrino 400 sleeping bags and NeoAir Xtherm sleeping mats. If however you would prefer to use your own sleeping kit, or bring your own mountain tent then you are welcome to. A full equipment list will be sent out at a later date which tells you everything you need to know!
At the start of the trip will will stay in comfortable accomodation in Bergville. During the trek we will be camping in shared mountain tents (or your own tent). On the final day we will enjoy the total luxury of Cathdral Peak Hotel.
The trip does not include flights, insurance, tips for the porters or food and drink. It does include transport from Johannesburg to the Drakensberg, accomodation, gear rental and guiding.
There are regular overnight flights from Europe to Johannesburg from Virgin, British Airways, Air France, Turkish Airlines and others. Prices fluctuate through the year, you should be able to find a flight for between £600-700 return. You should aim to catch a flight overnight on Saturday 16th March landing some time before 11am on Sunday the 17th. A 4 hour drive takes us to the Drakensberg. Return flights should be booked for the evening of Sunday 24th March (we will arrive at OR Tambo by 4.30pm).
Price And Booking
This workshop is priced at £1950 with a £500 deposit required to book your place. The remaining £1450 is due 2 months before departure.
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