The Rhino Army Grand Traverse (Part one)

Six intrepid hikers from the Qwantani Berg and Bush Resort recently embarked on a journey of epic proportions across the Drakensberg range to raise funds for the Rhino Army / Wildlands Conservation Trust. The first ever attempt at traversing this route, beginning at Qwantani and up over to the Babangibona Saddle through to Bushman’s Nek Resort, began on 12 April 2015.

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What makes this journey so unique is that the Drakensberg Grand Traverse usually begins in Witsiehoek, Sentinel Park, located 40 kilometres from Qwantani Berg and Bush Resort. This extra distance raised the bar on the difficulty levels of this journey – but nevertheless the team set off, spirits high.

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Over a period of 10 days, the team traversed a staggering 187.4 kilometres, averaging 18.7 kilometres a day. With a number of emotional, mental and physical highs and lows, the journey took them through some of the most breathtaking scenery as well as two of the highest points in Southern Africa – Mafadi and Thabana Ntlenyana Pass, at elevations of 3500 metres.

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Unfortunately Day Two saw the hikers lose team member, Johann, due to a nasty blister that hindered his efforts to trek any further. That evening the team rested their weary bones at the Witsiehoek Backpackers Lodge, while Day Three saw them set off from Sentinel Car Park – the original starting point of the Grand Traverse.

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After a zigzag ascent up the chain ladders to an elevation of 3010 metres, the hikers stopped for lunch to marvel at Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world, at 915 metres. A day of wonderful weather, spectacular scenery and good spirits led the group to Icidi Pass where they camped for the evening.

As they passed through billowing clouds at Madonna and her Worshippers after a tough ascent, Day Four saw the group reach their highest elevation yet, at the ridge above Rwanqa Pass – measuring 3223 metres. Here they set up camp for the evening.

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Running a little behind schedule, the hikers had an early start on Day Five. Despite the wet, misty and extremely cold weather, the group packed up their frosted tents and forged on, making up good time in the morning.

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By afternoon the path took them along a climb up the Kaokaotsoan River Valley and when they crested the top of the ridge, the team was stunned by the magnificent view over Ntonjelana Pass towards the Cathedral Peak range. As it was nearing sunset, the group began their descent down the slope with some difficulty and reached the bottom of the valley, setting up camp for the night…

Watch this space to read more about the tumultuous highs and lows of the remaining five days of this epic journey!

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