Drakensberg Escarpment hiking trails

Posted on 12 June 2013

There aren’t many hikes in South Africa where you stand a good chance of seeing snow. The trails to the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment are the exception and I make an annual pilgrimage in search of the white stuff.

If you’re hard-core enough to tackle the notoriously strenuous passes, the Giant’s Castle and Cleft Peak areas are good playgrounds, but the easiest route to the top is from the Sentinel car park near Phuthaditjhaba (formerly Witsieshoek) in the Free State.

The Sentinel Peak Reserve is now managed by Witsieshoek Mountain Resort, so if you are in a sedan and the road from the resort to the trailhead is in bad condition you can leave your car there and organise a lift for the last seven kilometres. From the car park, the trail follows a well-maintained but, at times, steep and rocky path past the daunting bulk of the Sentinel to the foot of the chain ladders. Although only 30 metres or so in length, the two parallel sets of double ladders are quite intimidating, but steel yourself; they’re the key to reaching the top of the plateau.

Once on top it’s a short walk to the head of the Thukela Falls, where the river drops into the gorge below. The views across the Amphitheatre to the Devil’s Tooth are mind-blowing, and if you’re fortunate enough to have snow, you can spend a happy hour or so building snowmen before returning the way you came.

This is a serious mountain outing at any time of year, so check the forecast, sign the mountain register and go prepared for all conditions. Local guides can be hired at Witsieshoek. Peak High Mountaineering offers guided day and multi-day hikes here and elsewhere in the Berg.

Cost: Park entrance fee R20; day hike R40 a person
Length of hike: 13 km
Duration: Six hours
Contact: Witsieshoek Resort, tel 058-713-6361, [email protected], www.tfpd.co.za.

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