Matt and I are doing the Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT) run together later this year and in the effort of at least doing some prep for this race we had decided to recce the last ‘bit’ of the berg from the Sani pass road to the end of the DGT at Bushmans Nek.
As neither of us had been on this section of the mountain we knew it was bound to be a little adventurous.
We knew it was going to be cold, going to the high berg in mid-winter makes you think twice about fast packing. Not taking a sleeping bag or sleeping pad might seem a bit fool hardy and dangerous to most but we knew what we were capable of when we needed to bed down for the night.
The day started off warm, we were already taking gear off within a few kms of leaving Sani Lodge Backpackers. Up past the border and onwards to Lesotho it just became a slog for me.
Matt was in his element taking photos and video with a new small fancy camera and I really hope he brings it with him on the DGT - it's the only way I managed to keep up!
My new UD Fastpack 30L held all my gear and chow snug to my back, I found it more comfortable than the older version. The extra soft flask pocket in the front paid for itself, I had one bottle of water and one bottle with a mix of Hydrate and Slowmag.
After checking the time once we were in Lesotho we decided not to attempt a summit on Thabana Ntlenyana and rather push onto the route we would use. After filling water at a little church along the way, we were on route and in for a long afternoon and night.
The saddles and valleys just kind of blur into a flow of movement. From the saddle you pick where you need to fill water, and from the river you pick which saddle you need to pass through and just try to make the best way there and use the least amount of energy.
Moving efficiently over the high berg is more of a fast hike than a run and you tick off the kms surprisingly quickly but this whole time there were suggestions of the colder weather we were meant to be getting. There was a couple of short snow flurries soon after leaving Sani Pass and this persisted until about 6pm when it didn’t let up for quite a while.
We made it to our cave (which turned out to be the wrong one) just before 8pm.
After putting warm clothes on we got into our Rad bags and had some dinner. As We needed to be up at 2am in order to catch our lift at 8am from Bushmans Nek.
I think this is about the time we both were regretting not bringing a sleeping bag. This was one of the longest, coldest nights of my life. The rad bags did their part and didn’t let us freeze to death, but we weren’t exactly comfortable either. Matt ended up making himself a hot water bottle from an empty Forever fresh freeze-dried meal packet that we had for dinner. Turns out his plan worked because I heard him snoring soon after his head hit the ground - I'm pretty sure I actually swore at him.
By 1am and with snow now blowing into the cave and onto us we were both over being cold and needed to move in order to keep warm - arguably the best decision we made that weekend was to get out the cave and down off the mountain. Isicatula pass took us far longer than anticipated as it was just rocks covered with ice which consequently was then covered with snow. This was pretty dodge in those conditions, we were both very cautious going down but at least we were moving and warm. The bottom of the pass brought its own risks, Kraals and dogs. We kept away as much as we could from the kraals but in the dark you are bound to bump into a few. We now have a new route for this section (thanks Merv) as we don’t want to be bumping into dogs near the end of the DGT.
Dawn broke right near the top of Thamatu Pass and the high berg behind us was pretty special to look at. Matt's camera came back out and he said if it wasn’t for the lift we had organised he could have spent all morning taking photos of the Drakensberg peaks covered in snow.
There was even sleet and snow whilst coming down Thamatu pass. It was quite a special way to end the adventure.
We ended up doing 60km with 3069m of climbing on the Saturday and 20km with only 439m on Sunday.