Day Six of this epic adventure saw the brave hikers ascend only higher and deeper into the Drakensberg range, facing plummeting temperatures, muscle ache, fatigue and a lack of water. Nevertheless the intrepid five braved the elements and continued on that morning through Xeni Pass and over the ridge past the landmark known as the Elephant.
Once atop the ridge, a thick mist had begun to roll in, but there was nothing else to do but descend into Cockade Pass. Luckily the group discovered a faintly marked path and stuck to this as they began the long climb up the very steep Cleft Peak. Reaching the summit and an elevation of 3,277 metres, what would have been yet another breathtaking view was obscured by a blanket of mist.
As the hikers made their descent down the other side of the peak, breaks began to show in the cloud, revealing a majestic view of Castle Buttress in the valley. All in all the day was tough, and the group set up camp that evening below Ndumeni Dome.
Day Seven began with a later start, where the group worked their way around Didima Buttress, to encounter their first other form of life way up in the clouds – a village of Basothos and their rather aggressive pack of dogs. To avoid their advances, a slight detour had to be made and the group forged on, following the Yodellers Cascades through the flattened valley route up the Tlanyaku River, which was a stunning spectacle to behold.
Due to the team running a little behind schedule, their aim for the day was to find enough cell phone signal to reschedule their rendezvous time for a supply pick up, as they were running low on food. As they reached their highest altitude yet – 3, 313 metres, the team scurried to find a place to camp as the icy wind whipped about. Climbing atop a very misty hill, they managed to make a call and reschedule the rendezvous point.
Day Eight, and the reality of just how strenuous the adventure had been truly begun to sink in. After a rough sleep the night before, the team awoke to pack away their icy tents, feeling drained. A dilemma had arisen – they had completely run out of water. After a bit of a wayward trek around the wrong mountain, the team descended a steep ridge and by midday had still not found any water. They eventually found a partially frozen river, topped themselves up and pressed on in the rain and sleet. They reached the foot of Mafadi Peak that afternoon and after a tough day, with sore feet, sunburn and aching muscles, they turned in for the night.
The elevation of the hike had brought with it many challenges – the worst being the cold and the bone chilling wind. Day Nine saw the team reach their target destination of Mafadi Peak – the highest peak in Southern Africa, at a summit of 3450 metres, a tremendous achievement. Despite this, they were still behind schedule and feared they would not reach their rendezvous point in time for their supply pick up. After a strenuous and lengthy descent the team came in sight of Langalibalele Pass, and their fear was realised – they had missed the supply team.
After a heart breaking realisation, the team had reached a point of no return and had to choose between forging on with no supplies and no escape route the further south they trekked, or calling it a day, being incredibly proud of their achievements, regardless. Their decision was to complete their adventure at Langalibalele Pass, making their way down to Giant’s Castle camp the following morning for pick up.
A huge congratulations goes out to these intrepid adventurers for their amazing achievement in completing a full 10 days of hiking the prestigious Drakensberg Grand Traverse. This is a once in a lifetime experience that is a true feat of strength, willpower and bravery. Congratulations!