All the planning, detailed line item spreadsheets, numerous conversations with our guide, countless visits to Cape Union Mart and Outdoor Warehouse came down to this moment. An exhilerating 3-day, 2-night hike in the Northern Drakensberg region.
Unfortunately, the mountain plays by its own rules, and despite all our best preparation, our guide had to call off the hike due to the bad weather on day two. We were only three hours away from Lesotho at that point. My heart sank, but safety is always a priority for these types of activities. It’s easy to get an injury while trying to navigate and ascend through slippery mud, long wet grass and boulders of varying sizes.
Mnweni is in the northern Drakensberg region between Royal Natal National Park and Cathedral Peak. It is managed by the community and falls outside of the Drakensberg World Heritage site. For this reason, this area of the Drakensberg is less known to tourists and still maintains an authentic wilderness experience.
Our hike started at the Mnweni Cultural Center, where a register is kept for all hikers. We trekked for 14km on our first day before setting up camp later that afternoon. Our guide Caiphus has been walking the mountains for years and started as a guide in 2002. Caiphus is a multidimensional man who fits into a trend of what millennials have termed the gig economy; Hiking guide, maskandi artist and livestock hearder. He shared harrowing stories about the livestock theft in the region between the local Zulu people of the area and the Basotho people from Lesotho, just a few kilometres away. Later that day we relax and unwind over a bonfire until we finally retreat to our tents for a well deserved good nights rest.
We began our ascent on the mountain, which would lead us to Mnweni pass and eventually into Lesotho, but the rain was relentless. Tracking through the tall grass was like walking through a shower. I slipped and lost my balance more times than I care to remember, and it was during that point where Caiphus made a call that we should not proceed any further.
As we were hiking back to base camp, we came across hikers headed the same direction that we just came. They were surprised to see us in our rain gear as it was dry when our paths crossed. This encounter demonstrates the unpredictability of the climate and the varying climate conditions in different parts of the mountain.
We’ve committed that we will return to finish our hike and summit Mnweni and Rockeries passes.
In the end, our hike took us through a combined 32km walk through the most breathtaking area of our county. I have a natural bias towards the Drakensberg. The landscape continues for miles will lush rolling hills and mountain peaks that extend high up into the clouds. It’s in these types of environments that one is forced to switch off and realign the mind, body and soul out in the wilderness having only the bare necessities and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Serenity at it best.
God was truly showing off.