Ascending the Amphitheatre
The stunning sprawl of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre’s solid rock face rises up a staggering 3,254 metres above sea level at its highest point, Mont-Aux-Sources.
As our team of hikers assembled at Sentinel Park, the impressive and comparatively ominous peaks stood before us in all their well-weathered glory, a rumble of summer rains threatening in the distance. Africa, you show-off.
I had been fantasising about waking up surrounded by a swarm of cloud at the summit for two weeks prior to our hike. The trek itself is only a round trip of 7 kilometres, but the ascent is relatively steep, and the descent – hard on the knees, not to mention a set of two chain ladders to reach the top of the plateau – definitely not for sissies! If you are absolutely afraid of heights, turn back.
Year round, the Drakensberg is regarded as one of the most breathtaking places in the world. But in summer, this region of South Africa truly comes to life with its iridescent, green hillsides and mountain passes. We made it to the summit and up the chain ladders in just under three hours, greeted by curious smiles and gestures from local Basotho herdsmen.
After a quick lunch stop, we made our way across the plateau to what seemed like the edge of the world. An easy 1000 metre drop off the edge of the Amphitheatre gives even the most seasoned of hiker’s vertigo, but what a view. This is the only one-day hiking trail which will take you to the top of the Drakensberg escarpment, and the view from the summit is reputed to be amongst the most beautiful in the world. It did not disappoint!
Our stay at the top of the mountain was a very cold one that evening (even in the height of summer), with temperatures easily plummeting to zero degrees that evening, and then, let’s talk wind. Wow. Let it be a lesson to all hikers that the threat of dramatic weather changes high in the Drakensberg Mountains is very real, and is never to be under-estimated.
We had turned in for the evening at 9pm, and by midnight the wind had picked up and woken us out of deep sleep. As the hours passed, the wind got worse, and the ground beneath us rumbled. Our tent had collapsed half way through the night and we hoped the rest would hold.
Miraculously, we made it to daybreak and the most magnificent sunrise peeked over the mountain ridge – a sight I had been hoping to catch in time, and an experience never to be forgotten.
Stay at Mont-Aux-Sources hotel or Qwantani resort and brave the steep ascent for a day hike to the top of the Drakensberg!
- Do not attempt this hike in a group of less than three people
- Wear non-slip, trek shoes with good ankle support
- Make sure to pack a raincoat or warm jacket
- Pack a head lamp and change of batteries in case the mist rolls in
- Carry enough water, you can refill your bottle at the top of the mountain if need be
- Take plenty of energy-packed snacks
- Carry a fully-charged mobile phone in case of emergencies
- Pack an emergency blanket
- If you plan on staying overnight, take a good quality, all-weather tent
- Take a minus temperature sleeping bag, even in summer