My first trip to the Drakensberg was a hike up to Tiger Falls when I was 6 years old. I remember it being so steep and difficult, I remember a super scary bridge over the river that looked like a slide and had no protection on the side, I remember a sketchy traverse above a big drop and I remember trying to jump a river crossing and ending up in the river. A distant memory, but one I remember fairly well.
The Crack and the Mudslide is a very popular hike at Royal Natal National Park in the northern KZN Drakensberg. On my mother’s side of the family, it is a hike that everyone has done (except me, naturally). From a family perspective, you basically haven’t really been to the Drakensberg if you haven’t done it – so after 7524km of Drakensberg hiking, 113 High Berg passes and 6 Drakensberg Grand Traverses, I was finally about to visit the Drakensberg for the first time.
I decided to take the Cascades/Tiger Falls approach to the route – well, more accurately, I took the wrong trail. I soon found myself walking across that “super scary” bridge I had crossed as a 6 year old. Amazing how trivial it is when you aren’t little. The “sketchy traverse” just past it was over 1m wide with no realistic possibility of a fall and a relatively minor fall if you do somehow manage to go over. I had to chuckle!
After a long break from Drakensberg hiking, I was happy to start up on something easy. The hill above this section is actually remarkably steep – and by far the steepest hill I had done in months.
After losing the trail, just after the split to Tiger Falls, I made my way across the river to the trail I was more familiar with – the one that leads to Witsieshoek – and followed it till I hit the Crack turnoff.
I had heard about the route being a bit sketchy in places, and I knew a chain ladder was coming.
The narrow gully provided some great views of the Amphitheatre – although I have to admit that it is far less impressive when you are so far away from it. Three eland were grazing on the opposing slope – how great it feels to be back!
The weathered sandstone features were rather interesting, although sadly there was a lot of graffiti around.
As the gully steepened, I hit the first short wooden ladder.
And then the chain ladder. I don’t like these wooden rung ladders, if you aren’t careful – they can crush your fingers! Luckily that was a lesson I learned many years ago and thus was easily avoided. The ladder wasn’t that steep, nothing scary at all.
I hit the top of the ridge in a strong wind, but it was nice to be above 2000m for the first time in a long time.
I walked across, past the top of Gudu Falls – another sight I had been wanting to see for many years. It had a decent flow for the dry season and was fairly impressive. Although the lighting was terrible for photos.
The trail abruptly hits a cliff with a chain ladder – this is the top of the Mudslide. I wanted to bag a summit, so I fought some vegetation with some light scrambling – and went to the summit of Plowmanskop. It was hard to get a decent selfie in the strong wind. The summit isn’t particularly notable – it doesn’t have enough prominence to qualify as a mountain, and the views from the top are identical to views you get from the route without making the detour. But I did have to conduct my audit to confirm that this was the case!
I started down the Mudslide – the top ladder wasn’t bad at all, and was actually very short.
Shortly after the ladder, there is a very loose wash-away – not great at all. A chain was bolted in place to make this section easier. First to cross it, and then to descend the gully below it. The chain does admittedly make this much easier – although it can be done without it, but won’t be very pleasant.
What follows is a sequence of very eroded ground, with wooden ladder after wooden ladder – and a number of spots where some caution is required.
Overall it is very doable – but I would go up the Mudslide and down the Crack, as this would be far easier.
The gully itself is fairly short, but very steep. I was happy to be out of it.
From there I hit the trail in the valley and made my way back to my car.
It was great to see the trails had been kept so well despite the lack of visitors.
Overall a fairly interesting route, I would recommend it to someone staying at Mahai Camp or in the area. But if you only have time for one hike, rather do the Gorge Walk – it is far more impressive.