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Hiking up the Drakensberg Escarpment

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South Africa’s most spectacular mountain views are from the Drakensberg Escarpment, the broad area right at the top of the major peaks, and from the top of the Amphitheatre, the grand sweep of mountains dominating the Royal Natal National Park. Both of these require a high level of fitness to reach if approached from KwaZulu-Natal but can be achieved relatively easily via the Free State from the Sentinel car park. A tough ten-hour climb from the Mahai campsite in the Royal Natal National Park, or a 2.5-hour walk from the Sentinel car park brings you to the foot of a 30m-high chain ladder leading up an almost vertical face; from the top, you can make the final short onslaught to the highest peak on the escarpment (3278m). Don’t be lulled by your apparently easy conquest: it’s the Berg’s prerogative to have the last word. Always tackle the ladder with enough food, water, clothes and a tent in which to sit out violent storms, and set out early so you have the whole day for the excursion.

For those bitten by the mountain bug, some serious hikes are available, including a two-week trek along the escarpment plateau to Sani Pass in the southern Drakensberg. You can also take in the most dramatic parts of the Berg on a five-day, 62km escarpment traverse, sleeping in caves, from the Sentinel car park to Cathedral Peak in the Natal Drakensberg Park, roughly 40km to the southwest. For any hikes of this nature you’ll need a map and the excellent Best Walks of the Drakensberg by David Bristow, available in most bookshops.

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