So far the trip to the Drakensberg had been absolutely fantastic. We had done really relaxed meandering, as well as a more intense hike taking us to some incredibly breathtaking views. During the latter hike, and looking at the escarpment on the horizon, I decided that it had to be climbed before we left. The distance, technicality, difficulty and route was completely unknown at that moment but my mind was made up – pick the biggest, most epic challenge you can and go for it.
With a little convincing I got the rest of the gang onboard. After the World’s View hike we went and got more information from the Giant’s Castle offices about the various peak hikes. We found that it was possible, but that some were classified as multi-day, and that all required significant hiking experience. Most of us were seasoned hikers so that was not an issue, the multi-day would be though. We decided on the Giant’s Castle Pass which took us along the Giant’s Ridge to one of the peaks.
We woke up bright and early to start the hike around 7:30, still feeling semi-fragile from the hike/run the previous day, but super excited for the epic that laid before us. We started off following the river, and took the path which would lead us along the ridge. The seemingly neverending hills before us were mesmerising. Being in nature, totally surrounded as far as the eye can see by rolling landscapes, forests and peaks, is something truly extraordinary. There were six of us, and yet there was still a sense of incredible and beautiful solitude, calming and reflective.
Around 5km in we had our first dropping out. Andrew had previously tweaked his knee on the World’s View hike, and the niggle was now flaring into an injury. He decided to turn back, as we weren’t even a third of the way to halfway yet, and still on the comparatively easy terrain. It was the right decision, we bid him and Georgia adieu as they head back towards camp. We were down to four.
Around 2km later we had our second victim. Another niggle had caught up to Franscisca and her calf was really starting to hurt. Still barely halfway to halfway, the only option was for her to turn back. Apparently the hike yesterday had taken it’s toll on everyone – clearly it was a true adventure fitness hike. With myself, Lucie and Shelley left we continued along rolling hills on the ridge towards the escarpment. Lucie even remarked how she could not believe there was no else around. Being from France, even the most remote trails she had been to had always had people around. At this stage, there was no one (that we knew of) within a 10km plus radius of us. The joy of the Drakensberg.
Just as that was said, I heard a noise coming from below. On either side of us the hills lead down to separate streams flowing back into the river. The noise came from dense bush on the other side of the one to our right. I stopped, asked if either of them heard that sound, but it was only me. We carried on moving forward, and in a few minutes we heard the same sound but much louder. We all froze in our steps, waiting for a follow up noise to distinguish any potential danger. “AUGHUH!” we heard again, loud and clear. Lucie literally jumped from fright, it was clear that this was a baboon. We decided to move forward quickly, as the noise was coming from a path we weren’t going to get close to crossing and was still a decent distance away. We should be safe as long as we stuck together and stayed alert.
We were nearing the halfway mark, taking in the incredible beauty that surrounded us. The closer we got to the escarpment, the greater we realised the challenge was going to be and the more excited I became. As we reached the T junction that split to the different peaks, a little over halfway there, Shelley decided to head back. That left just Lucie and myself for the remainder of the hike – from six, we were left with two. We jokingly said that it was starting to sound like the beginning of a “How did they survive” story.
We turned right at the T, to head straight up the most direct route to the peak. We crossed streams, loving the sound of the water breaking the silence every now and then. At this stage we were just under five hours into the hike, so we didn’t have all that much to say to each any more. At around the 12km mark, the route started to get difficult. We found ourselves walking across very steep elevation with very small footholds so concentration was key. We zig-zagged up like this for a while and the path started to become less obvious. Thank goodness for the stone markers left by other hikers, otherwise this would have been significantly more difficult.
We were now on the ascent proper, the very steep “V” shape that we were to head straight up. As the leader, I was to find the most suitable path while looking out for the markers. This was hands down the most difficult part of any hike – almost any physical activity – I have done to date. My body was already worn down a bit from doing the 13km here at a decent pace, and this angle was devilish. Additionally, at some parts the ground was really loose, and every step would be arduous. I would take a step of a metre or so, and would slide back around 80cm, meaning that I would only gain 20cm per step. These parts were the hardest. For the first time on any hike I’ve done I questioned if I could finish.
Being the determined person I am, of course giving up was not an option. Lucie was pushing herself and was being such a trooper with not a single complaint of being tired the entire hike. She was a ways behind, but taking minimal breaks. Being ahead of her allowed me time to find the right and easiest path up.
Eventually we neared the top. We had seen some hikers ascending earlier and we now heard their voices. As I reached the peak and finished the ascent, I was greeted by half a dozen hikers. I love how friendly hikers are, it’s as if nature brings out the best in all people. We chatted a bit about the route I had just done, and the route they planned to do. They were all packed with 20kg backpacks and heading into Lesotho for a multi-day hike.
The view from here was absolutely breaktaking. The pain of the past five and half hours faded into the background as Lucie and I enjoyed this incredible sight. We had the Drakensberg range in front of us, seeing the escarpment fade into the distance. Behind us we had the incredible beauty of “The Kindgom in the Sky” Lesotho. You feel like you are in a completely different world.
It was around lunch time, and I had some concerns about getting back to camp before sunset, as well as some storm clouds Lesotho side. The hikers had also mentioned how “brave” we were for doing this hike in one day and planning to head back to camp from the peak. With these thoughts in mind, we started the long road back.
Normally the descent is quicker and easier than the ascent, with it taking around half the time on my normal hikes. With this angle of ascent and some very tired legs and mind this was definitely not the case here. We had to tread very carefully down back towards the T junction, one wrong step on the loose rocks could lead to a sprained ankle or worse, which could very quickly turn into a more serious situation. Once we were more or less on the flat, we kept as fast a pace as we could. We had both run out of water (3 litres between two of us turned out to be insufficient, even with filling up from the stream), so the focus was completely on getting back to camp in good time.
At this stage my body was in automatic mode, eight hours of walking and some exhausted muscles will do that to a person. We kept up a fantastic pace, pushing any pains we had to the back of our minds to be dealt with when we were safe in camp. We passed the space where we heard the baboon, and kept especially aware. A baboon during at nightfall is definitely more threatening than during daylight. We seemed to be completely alone and made sure we watched our steps and kept pace.
The remainder of the walk, around four hours or so, I don’t think a word was spoken between Lucie and myself. Mental and physical exhaustion, pushing ourselves in a race against nightfall and focus on the task at hand kept us in solitude. I brought some headlamps with in case, and we put them on for the last half hour. We made it back into camp just as night fell. (Andrew commented how he and Georgia had seen the headlamps, and had thought that they were from cyclists due to the pace we were keeping).
Back in camp we reunited with everyone else. We headed straight to the restaurant, ate a massive meal, and hobbled back to the rooms as the stiffness began to set in. I foam rolled a bit to try and offset the damage, showered and got off my feet. Exhausted, I silently reflected on the epic feat we had just accomplished. Around 26km hiked, over 1km elevation gain, over the span of 12 hours – a good day indeed.
This is my absolute favourite hike to date. The difficulty, reward, beauty and solitude from this epic is incredible. I was a on a high for weeks afterwards. I highly recommend doing an epic like this a few times a year 🙂