Ever heard the term via ferrata? Not many South Africans have. It’s hiking, with a radical twist.
Instead of gaining elevation along a walking trail, you strap on a harness and tackle parts of the route vertically by way of iron rungs and safety cables fastened to the mountainside. It originated in Europe as a way to connect low-lying villages to high pastures but became popular after World War I, when it was used to move troops over the Alps.
In South Africa, there are just a handful of rung-assisted ascents (most often used as part of an abseiling adventure) but currently, the only place where you can do an actual, guided via ferrata (Italian for ‘iron road’) hike is at Shelter Rock in the Magaliesberg. We started at 9am on a Saturday morning with a quick demonstration, before hiking 30 minutes to the base of the shimmering Magaliesberg range and the start of the ascent.
It takes a little time to get comfortable with the dynamics but once I found a rhythm it was exhilarating. With each rung, you’re thrust further into the sky, and the horizon behind you (if you’re brave enough to turn around) spreads out like a dancing fan.
There are spots to stop and take in the view, and once at the top it’s a leisurely two-hour return walk around the back of the mountain. If you’re hiking in spring, keep an eye out for the colourful African bush grasshoppers at the top – they’re quite spectacular in flight.
Do it: It’s safe and easy to learn (according to the organisers, 99% of clients are first-timers) but decent hiking fitness is required. Ascents are done with a guide and must be booked in advance (weekends and public holidays are best). It takes about four hours in total. From R350 per person (minimum eight).
Contact: 0714736298, shelterrock.co.za