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Drakensberg - South Peak

19 Mar 2023 - 27 Mar 2023  |  £1650

What to Expect

During this 7-day partially portered and guided hike (9 days total) we will backpack along the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment staying at altitudes over 3000m. We are almost guaranteed to be alone for the duration of the hike and treated to unspoilt views of world class scenery. This trip is extended by one day over my normal routes to allow us to camp at South Peak, one of the best viewpoints in the Drakensberg. This does mean that we will have a couple of very short hiking days too!

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!

 

AT A GLANCE

MountainPhotography
ActivityBackpacking
AccomodationTents
AccomodationHotel
PhysicalityHard
Group SizeFive Clients
Duration9 days

Booking

Terms & Conditions

Itinerary

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. 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 3, Tuesday: 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 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. There is opportunity for a quick swim on route. This will be a very short day of hiking, which gives us a nice change to recover. Our days hike finishes at South Peak, which has one of the best (and least photographed) views in the whole Drakensberg. (The main image at the top of this page shows one of the views, the view in the opposite direction, towards the Cathedral Ridge, is perhaps even better!)

Day 5, Thursday: Another short hiking day, this time to Ntonjelana. This is incredibly close to the Cathedral Ridge, and the view is all encompassing.

Day 6 Friday: 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 7, Saturday: 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 8, Sunday: 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, Monday: Morning transport back to Johannesburg for evening flights home. 

Tuition

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.

Equipment

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!

Accommodation

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.

Additional Expenses

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.

Transport

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 18th March landing some time before 11am on Sunday the 19th. A 4 hour drive takes us to the Drakensberg. Return flights should be booked for the evening of Monday 17th March (we will arrive at OR Tambo by 4.30pm).

Price And Booking

This workshop is priced at £1650 with a £500 deposit required to book your place. The remaining £1000 is due 2 months before departure.

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