On 5 January 2017 I completed one of my strangest, yet most difficult, mountain objectives: I completed a double Drakensberg Grand Traverse over 16 days. It was the hardest hike I have ever done and overall one of the most difficult challenges I have ever undertaken. While I have had big projects in mind since then, for the most part, they haven’t really gotten off the ground.
Maybe I am being a bit harsh – I have hiked 1868km in the Drakensberg between the completion of the Double Grand Traverse, as well as a lot of distances in other locations, Mount Kinabalu, about 50 Park Runs, and 3 Mnweni Marathons. My point being – I haven’t really gone properly big for a while now.
The longest hike I have done since the double DGT was a solo double Giants Cup trail. 117km in 36h14 – not trivial by any means, I could barely walk for a few days afterward and took months to recover from an ankle injury I picked up on that hike. But upon completion of the hike I realised something: the Drakensberg has 3 major thru-hikes, and this meant I had done a double on two of them. I don’t know how many people have completed all 3 thru-hikes speed style, but I think its safe to say that no one has completed all three of them back-to-back. And thus the push for the double hattrick was born.
Now when you are preparing to do something big, you have to make sure you get the right training in beforehand. So after a fairly slow start to 2019, I woke up on Saturday morning, drove to Giants Castle and did a solo day hike to the top of Langalibalele Pass and back (22km). I had planned on doing two laps, but being on top on your own is bit unnerving, and I really wasn’t up for it. It was strange to be at home before 3PM on a day where I started in my own bed, and hiked to the top of the mountains. My time was a few seconds faster than 4h43, so it was just under a minute faster than my previous best time. With a concerted effort, I think I could beat this time by about 15 minutes, but it wasn’t really what I was trying to do on the day.
So a week later I was back, this time more determined not to chicken out. Well, I got to the top of the pass and on the way down, decided to tick off the section of contour path between Langalibalele Ridge and Bond Pass – the only section in the area that I had never done before. I considered bailing at Middle Ridge, but luckily Andrew Porter was there (via Whatsapp) to remind me that I needed to keep going. I came down Oribi Ridge in the end. I ended up doing 38km with 1.7km in altitude gain and loss, finishing in 9h17.
These two weeks of training had been great, but I knew I was still far behind.
Luckily for me, trail runner Dave van der Veen was looking to do an easy day out and agreed to join me on a day trip at Garden Castle.
The objective was Moroke, a 3335m peak in Lesotho. The name means “rain maker” – which is kind of appropriate, as it was raining lower down in KZN for most of the day.
We drove up to Garden Castle on the Wednesday after work, since Thursday was a public holiday.
At 4:15AM we had our hands on the mountain register and were ready to head off.
We started along the Giants Cup Trail, heading south towards the Mzimude River. We followed the trail to Puffadder Rock and crossed the Hidden Valley at a very fast pace. A herd of eland awaited us at the far end of the valley.
We continued up past Curtain Cave (well, disputed cave name – but the cave with a roof that looks like curtains) and then followed the gully between it and Wave Cave. We had been in the mist for most of the day so far, but as we got higher, we realised we would soon be out in sunlight.
The gully is steep, and our pace slowed a lot, but we were still making good time when we reached the top of the ridge.
From here you follow the ridge for a short distance before you start to climb again. We hit the saddle by the “dome crux scramble” just as we got above the clouds. The reveal was spectacular, and served as a reminder why I think Walkers Ridge Pass is one of the most spectacular routes around.
We got a group selfie before heading up the scramble.
We followed the top of the ridge to maximise views, and get some bonus altitude.
We saw some livestock near Corn Cob Cave, and some shepherds were shouting in the distance, although they never came to us.
From the top of the pass, we stayed on the south side of the Walkers Ridge to get past Walker and Thamathu. It was quite a spot in terms of views, being at the southern end of the Eastern Ridge. I was struggling for pace, having not eaten enough. I stopped and had some food before we continued on.
My fatigue really started to show when we began the slog up Moroke. Dave must have been on top a good 10 minutes ahead of me. Moroke is about 5km from the escarpment edge, so the views are very different to normal. Leqooa is across the valley, with about a 700m drop in the middle. Makoaneng is right there, across an even deeper valley. In the distance, the Middle Ridge is also visible, although it is at least 20km away, and I don’t know any of the peak names.
We had lunch just below the summit, out of the wind. It was actually a lovely day on top. Not exceptionally windy by any means, but a bit cold. There were scattered clouds, but nothing to worry about. Overall a lovely time to be on top of a 3335m mountain.
We made our way back to the escarpment edge by following the north side of the Walkers Ridge. The escarpment edge was back in the mist, and some shepherds were shouting at us – not entirely sure what they were asking for. They were walking towards up, but as we set off into the mist, we never saw them again.
We used the south gully of Mzimude Pass as a means of descent. My new Marrell shoes had been struggling for grip on the grass all day, which made some usually easy sections a bit scary.
We held the gully for most of the pass, and opted for the Mzimude River walk out rather than heading back to Curtain Cave. We skipped over the ridge just before the cave I refer to as “I’m Sure its Not A” Cave, and found our way back to the trail just before the valley widens out.
We pushed as hard as we could on the way back, trying to finish before 13 hours. We ran short bits along the Giants Cup Trail, but fatigue was against us (well, more me than Dave), and thus we finished just short of 13h04. Still not a terrible time for a 48km day hike with 1.7km in altitude gain and loss.
Overall a great day out, definitely one of the best day hikes I have done.