Drakensberg 5 Peaks Extravaganza

During January of 2022, 8 students decided to embark on a Drakensberg Extravaganza expedition, aiming to summit 5 of South Africa’s 6 highest peaks. The route combined numerous common hiking routes, while also incorporating our own path forging and some hiking in Lesotho. The trip took 6 days of hiking with 5 nights of camping or sleeping in caves. There were no food drops, toilets, huts or even other hikers - overall, a truly wild adventure.

Anna Brooke, one of the 8 members of this crew, shares her hiking journal with us...

Day 1 - 15.3km with 850m elevation gain

While our packs were heavy and the day was hot, we woke up at Monk’s Cowl campsite with excitement and motivation emanating from each of us. We hiked from Monk’s Cowl, through the glorious lower berg region via The Sphinx up to Blind Man’s Corner and along the contour path, before doing our final push up the valley to Keith Bush Camp. This was one of our shorter days and we had time to swim in the river and take in the stunning surrounding views.

On the menu:

Lunch: Mashed avo rolls and cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Mama Alles Jolof Rice

Day 2 - 16.4km with 1311m of elevation gain

Day 2 showed no mercy. We started from Keith Bush, immediately climbing 850m up Grey’s Pass and onto the escarpment. As Cape Townians, the >2000m of elevation definitely contributed to this hard start to our day. After a snack break at the top of Grey’s Pass (and obviously a couple on the way up ;)), we followed a river across the escarpment to the base of the Champagne Castle hill. After another tough climb, we reached our first peak - Champagne Castle Peak, the 3rd highest mountain in South Africa at 3377m above sea level. After lunch we hiked another ~6km across the rolling valley and ridges of the Drakensberg Escarpment in a continuous drizzle/downpour of rain and a lengthy hailstorm, to finally reach the top of Leslie’s Pass. We set up camp while cold, wet and exhausted - making us even more grateful for our simple, flavourful, quick, easy and nutritious Mama Alles dinner.

On the menu:

Breakfast: EasyOats with peanut butter, fresh banana and protein powder

Lunch: Pumpernickel bread with mashed avo

Dinner: Central African Peanut Stew (my personal favourite!)

Day 3 - 10.4km with 567m of elevation gain

We woke up with wet boots and clothing and the early creeping tendrils of fatigue trying to dampen our spirits. However, we knew the day ahead of us would be far less strenuous than the previous day, and that our destination for Day 3 was also exciting enough to be worth every squelchy step! We hiked from our campsite up onto one of South Africa’s highest ridges, which allowed us to traverse across the escarpment and summit our next three peaks - Lithobolong (4th highest in SA at 3375m), Mafadi (HIGHEST in SA at 3451m) and Njesuthi (2nd highest in SA at 3410) - with relatively little elevation loss and gain. After passing multiple flocks of sheep and herds of cows, as well as meeting a handful of the Basotho shepherds that reside on the escarpment, we descended down to our overnight spot - the gorgeous Njesuthi Summit Cave. Overlooking a valley of wild horses and a stunning flowing river, it is the highest cave in the Drakensberg used by hikers to sleep in, and is situated only a few hundred meters from the edge of the escarpment - a sheer cliff going hundreds of meters down to where it meets the rolling lower berg hills. We spent the afternoon trekking down to swim in the magical pool in the valley (just above the point where the river disappears off the escarpment and down into the clouds), playing cards, snacking and resting our feet. This provided a much needed “active rest day” between our big push up and lengthy slog back down.

On the menu:

Breakfast: EasyOats with peanut butter and chocolate protein powder

Lunch: Pumpernickel bread with Mama Alles Instant Hummus and sliced cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Mama Alles Mushroom Risotto

Day 4 - 19km with ~1600m elevation loss

After watching the sunrise over Trojan Wall, we left Njesuthi Summit Cave feeling revitalised and ready to tackle our last peak. We hiked the short distance up the other side of the valley, passing over 20 wild horses, to summit the famous and truly breathtaking Trojan Wall (6th highest peak in SA at 3354m above sea level). While it may have been our lowest peak, it was likely our most impressive on account of the plummeting drop that makes up the “wall”, and the flock of Cape Vultures that circled below us. We then continued our escarpment traverse to reach Judge’s Pass, which we took to get back down to the Contour Path, before back-tracking along the Contour Path for ~8km to reach Centenary Hut for lunch. We decided to do one last push after lunch, down to the base of Heartbreak Hill where we set up camp at the confluence of two rivers, and spent our evening swimming and marvelling at the distant view of Trojan Wall, where we had sat just that morning.

On the menu:

Breakfast: Mama Alles Nectarine and Chia Oats with protein powder

Lunch:  Pumpernickel bread with Mama Alles Instant Beetroot Hummus and sliced cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Mama Alles Ethiopian Dahl with sliced cherry tomatoes

Day 5 - 11.1km with 133m elevation gain

Day 5 ended up being full of unexpected challenges. We woke up to discover that one of our team members had been throwing up throughout the night - either due to fatigue and dehydration or a gastro bug - and that another team member had developed SIXTEEN blisters on her feet overnight. This resulted in a slow morning, and we were all grateful for the gentle terrain that made up the hike from Heartbreak Hill to our lunch destination - Injisuthi Campsite. After a power nap and lunch, we found ourselves watching a lightning storm materialise before our eyes, which we decided to wait out in the safety that Injisuthi Camp provided. While watching the storm, we debated whether or not we felt strong enough to still climb another ~850m to our planned overnight spot at Wonder Valley cave, in the rain… 

After much deliberation and patient waiting, we finally set off again in the late afternoon. After crossing the Njesuthi River, and hiking less than a kilometre from camp, an ill-placed wet rock resulted in a twisted ankle and many tears. Defeated, we dragged ourselves back to Injisuthi and set up camp.

On the menu:

Breakfast: Mama Alles Nectarine and Chia Oats with protein powder

Lunch:  Pumpernickel bread with Mama Alles Instant Harissa Hummus and sliced cherry tomatoes

Dinner: Mama Alles Moroccan Tagine

Day 6 - 20.2km with 835m elevation gain

Despite having decided we couldn’t hike any further and having multiple injuries amongst us, we woke up the following morning feeling dedicated to our initial plan and keen to continue, albeit with some minor modifications. Those too injured, tired or simply over it, decided to wait at Njesuthi for a lift to Monk’s Cowl, and kept with them all the overnight gear and unnecessary luggage belonging to those who chose to continue. With light daypacks and a stubborn sense of determination, we once again left Injisuthi and crossed the river to get to Van Heyningen’s Pass - a shady, moss-covered, magical ravine - which we climbed to get up to the “escarpment” of the lower berg. We crossed through kilometres of flat, grassy fields and flowers, before reaching the Contour Path and following it back to Blind Man’s Corner. After a brief lunch break, we tackled the final descent, via the alternate route, back down to Monk’s Cowl. After 6 days of hiking, 92,8km and over 4100m of elevation gain, we collapsed into sweaty, proud and truly exhausted puddles on the floor, while our remaining teammates poured our G&Ts.

On the menu:

Breakfast: Mama Alles Mango and Turmeric Oats with protein powder

Lunch: Mama Alles Instant Hummus with salticrax

Other snacks taken:

Denny’s mushroom biltong, Eden’s wasabi peanuts and dried apricots, sweet and salty Grumpy Snacks, Sparkles, Rootstock crisps, Clicks mini nut snack packets, Komati Foods carob coconut balls, dark chocolate Jungle Oats energy bars, Wellness Warehouse beetroot bounty bars and Futurelife granola bars (all vegan)


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