Driving into the Drakensberg just the day before and seeing Southern Africa’s highest escarpment rise up in sheer cliff’s before us was jaw-droppingly beautiful and filled us with a sense of wonder mixed with a tinge of anxiety for we knew that one of the things we came here to achieve was summiting at least one of these impossibly tall peaks…
The weather was superb the afternoon we arrived and the sun shone late into the day, casting a golden hue upon the tall yellow grasses that extended far out, past the acacias, until the purple hues of the mountains rose up. Rain had been scarce of late and we were told the spring rains had not yet arrived but that the weather in this region of South Africa changed quickly and without warning.
The friendly staff of Amphitheatre Backpackers assured us the day before that although the six or seven hour Sentinel Peak Hike was a tough task; it was an incredibly rewarding one. Morning came and as Murphy would have it – the weather was miserable. Thick clouds rolled over the mountains, blocking them from our view and the conditions turned to cold and slippery overnight.
Our group was briefed by local guide and former mountain goat, Sim, before we, almost begrudgingly, clambered our bodies into the van that would transport us to the Sentinel Peak Car Park. The two hour drive wasn’t reassuring at all at road conditions worsened and the inevitable rain began to fall, dampening further our spirits.
Normally a 5 day hike, we were extremely grateful to have been able to drive so high up the mountains (2600m), through the Royal Natal National Park, to a point which would allow us to achieve it in just seven hours.
We donned our warmest layers and set out to conquer a peak which we could not yet see; in fact we could barely see more fifteen metres in any direction thanks to the conditions. Less than a quarter of the way into the hike, however, the cloud began to thin and we finally saw the monstrous mountains below us – it was beautiful.
We looked back along our zigzagging paths and saw the narrowness of them and how impossibly high up we already were. In no time at all it was hot and the skies were blue and the sun shone with all its might upon our backs. Energised, we tore off our layers, stopped for water and headed higher.
We headed up an incredibly steep section called “The Gulley” and even though a few thought they may not survive it, we eventually reached the top and impressively, the 3166m high summit. We stopped there for lunch and watched large birds soar majestically through the air.
We peered over the edges and took photos that made our knees go weak and we soaked up our accomplishments with wide smiles and relieved laughter. The mountains and hills we looked down upon seemed to extend out endlessly and dotted between them were a few lakes and dams that seemed like sapphires sewn across the land.
On the way back to the car we went to visit the 2nd highest waterfall in the world – The Tugela Falls – which was sadly dry and we ended up standing right where the water would usually be flowing from. Instead of descending through the gulley again we took the chain ladders down, two sections of 20 and 40m respectively and found they were easier to navigate than they first appeared – all we had to do was hold on tight and not look down – easy!
I would recommend the Sentinel Peak to anyone of relative fitness – our group included a 70 year old man and a five-month pregnant woman and they were both fine.
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Telephone: Contact Amphitheatre Backpackers on +27(0) 82 855 9767