Hiking South Africa’s highest provincial peaks

Posted by Fiona Mcintosh on 1 June 2011 Tags:, , , ,

This time last year, Mandy Ramsden became the first South African woman to join the Seven Summits Club – a list of climbers who have reached the highest peak on each continent. The list has grown exponentially in the last few years as more and more adventurers tackle Kilimanjaro before setting their sights on the Big E (Everest). If you’re envious but lack the money, time or inclination to knock off the big mountains, you might fancy a more manageable challenge – summiting the highest peak in each of South Africa’s provinces. It won’t give you quite the same bragging rights – and the heights of some of the tops are disputed – but it’s nonetheless a fun goal.

You should keep in mind that there are no “˜official’ trails to the summits, although many of the smaller peaks have footpaths to within a kilometre. The higher peaks require good navigation skills to find your way to the top, while the Drakensberg peaks are a serious undertaking, with long walk-ins and overnight stays. KwaDuma, for example, is 23 kilometres from the nearest gravel road, making it a four-to five-day round trip. Exercise caution and follow the rules of mountain safety should you attempt the challenge.

Highest of South Africa’s summits

Contrary to what we were taught at school, the highest peak in KwaZulu-Natal (and in South Africa) is not Mont-aux-Sources (3 282 metres) but the fortress-like Mafadi (3 451 metres), a flat-topped Drakensberg peak further south.

The Eastern Cape‘s highest point is also in the Drakensberg, the lofty KwaDuma (3 019 metres), right on the Lesotho border near Ongeluksnek. The highest non- Drakensberg peak and an excellent day out in the mountains is Compassberg (2 502 metres) near Nieu-Bethesda.

Make a weekend of it by hopping across the border and knocking off the Northern Cape’s highest point, the 2 156- metre Trig Beacon 29 (sometimes referred to as Murch Point). It’s only eight kilometres away.

There’s a trail from Broad Acres Farm near Ladismith up to Seweweekspoort Peak (2 325 metres), the highest point in the Western Cape. You can also bundu bash up from the north. Either way, it’s a strenuous two-day hike overnighting in Seweweekspoort Peak Cave or in a tent.

The Free State boasts a number of peaks over 3 000 metres, the highest of which is Namahadi Peak on the west side of Namahadi Cutback (3 291 metres or 3 275 metres, depending on your source).

To round off the adventure, you need to bag the lower, more accessible summits of Die Berg (2 331 metres) in Mpumalanga’s Steenkampsberg; the evocatively named Iron Crown (2 126 metres) near Ebenezer Dam east of Polokwane; Toringkop, in Suikerbosrand to the south of Johannesburg (1 913 metres) and Nooitgedacht West (1 806 metres) in the North West’s Magaliesberg Mountains.

Peak bagging in SA

The Mountain Club of South Africa is a good bet for up-to-date information on access to the peaks, www.mcsa.co.za. For numerous lists of peaks throughout the globe and wonderful references for summit baggers, head to www.peakbagger.com.

Essential gear
A good watch with an altimeter is an essential aid to peak baggers and Suunto lead the field. Its Extreme Core Edition Everest is a limited edition of 8 848 – inspired by the height of the world’s highest mountain, of course. www.suunto.com

Top tip
Before long uphills, lace your boots snugly below the midfoot (use a double overhand if your boots don’t have locking laces) and looser around the ankles. For long descents, tighten laces back up around your ankles.

Did you know?
A popular Scottish pastime is munro bagging, whereby climbers tick off the Scottish peaks of 3 000 feet (915 metres) or more. In South Africa, points of 3 000 metres or more are known as kulus.