Overview: On the first 2 days of hiking we will be ascending up through the verdant valley's 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 0, Saturday: Meet and greet in Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport. Food shop. Transfer to the Mnweni Cultural Centre. Kit Check and then a relaxed dinner and early night!
Day 1, Sunday: Hike into the Rockeries valley in the morning. Set up camp in the early afternoon and enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding rock walls and pinnacles. Energetic hikers may wish to join me on an exploration of the area, but the views from the campsite are already incredible!
Day 2, Monday: A couple of extra porters will join us to assist in a 900m ascent 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 and minimising the weight you have to carry. Once again the views from 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 3, Tuesday: 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. There is opportunity for a quick swim and we'll also take a lunchtime detour to South Peak to one of the Berg's ultimate viewpoints. Our days hike finishes at the top of Ntonjelana pass with incredible views down over the valleys below and across to the Cathedral Ridge (no doubt you can see a theme emerging here!)
Day 4, Wednesday: 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 (see cover image!)
Day 5, Thursday: There are 2 potential routes to take on this day. Energetic members may choose to take the detour over the iconic Cleft Peak to see one of the most precipitous views in the whole Drakensberg. For those who want to take it easier - dont worry, the route around is more straightforward and the views of the Organ Pipes will still take your breath away!
Day 6, Friday: 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!
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, 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 at the Mweni Cultural Centre (traditional Rondavels) which is basic but ideal for our purposes. During the trek we will be camping. On the final day we will enjoy the total luxury of Cathdral Peak Hotel. Otherwise we will be camping every night in mountain tents.
The cliffs in the Drakensberg have deadly drops. If you are afraid of heights, or suffer from vertigo this trip is not suitable. You will be expected to follow my instruction as to what is regarded an acceptable distance to the edge.
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 (Zee and I are both insured mountain leaders in our respective countries).
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 £500-£600. You should aim to catch a flight overnight on Monday 18th March landing some time before 11am on Tuesday the 19th. A 4 hour drive takes us to the Drakensberg. Return flights should be booked for the evening of Tuesday 26th March landing on Wednesday 27th.
Price And Booking
This workshop is priced at £1450 with a £450 deposit required to book your place. The remaining £1000 is due 2 months before departure.
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