How fit do I need to be for a hike in the Drakensberg?
Drakensberg Hike Fitness – not only is this one of the most frequently asked questions about our hiking tours in the Drakensberg but is also a topic of concern for us as a guiding company as well. A lot of people underestimate hiking in the mountains. There are so many factors at play that the average person does not take into account when booking for a hike.
We have written this article to hopefully give our clients a rough idea of what to expect, how to train and what routes to choose when embarking on a hiking tour to the Drakensberg mountains. All of these things play an important role not only in the ‘comfort’ levels of your hike but also helps with the overall success of the hike. For example, it would not be a good idea to book on longer multi day hikes if your level of fitness does not match the output required.
We would rather try and determine beforehand what your levels are and recommend a hike that suites your levels. And we have to admit, it is very difficult as a guiding company to determine our clients level of fitness. We rely on the information that clients tell us. We have had people tell us that they run 5km every day and consider themselves to have above average fitness.
Three hours into the hike and they are battling. We all have a basic idea of what we think is our level of fitness. In the mountains however that idea can be way different. Our ideas below may not be scientific but they are general ‘guidelines’ that will hopefully allow us to determine the levels of fitness required for the various routes.
But also stress not. They are a multitude of routes that you can choose from. Our objective is for you to enjoy your hike and not hate every second of it because you are physically broken.
Drakensberg Hike Fitness | What factors influence your comfort levels while hiking in the Drakensberg?
Okay so we have clients coming to us and saying that they can walk 8km in about 1.5 hours. That works out to just under 4km/h. So they so reckon they can handle 12 km in the Drakensberg. What they have failed to consider is that the Drakensberg is way different to walking on the road or a treadmill. The gradient for example can be pretty severe. The terrain is uneven. Hikers need to dodge rocks and lift their legs to get over them. And with the gradient and uneven terrain come the aching calves and quads.
And of course we are dealing with Drakensberg. One of the most unpredictable weather patterns in South Africa. Add cold or drenching rain to the terrain and the going can also get tough.
And then there is the mental aspect of walking in the mountains. They are big. You can walk for an hour and they don’t seem any closer. That sometimes gets into people’s heads and creates duress which in turn drains valuable energy.
The other aspect is the logistics of a hike. Obviously we need to factor in amount of daylight. We plan our hikes in such a way based on an average walking speed taking into account the gradient as well. If we plan that the first day will take say 6 hours and someone is not fit enough, we could get ourselves into a potentially dangerous night time situation. Especially if we cannot find a camp site.
Drakensberg Hike Fitness | How fit do I need to be for a hike in the Drakensberg?
How long is a piece of string? It is very difficult for us to gauge the fitness level of our clients. Not only is there the physical aspect but also the mental aspect. We have no idea how mentally strong our clients are. But that is something that can be influenced. The more points of adversity our clients endure through their training regimes, the more mentally strong they will become.
Sometimes the varying disciplines of an individual sport can influence the level of hiking comfort in the Drakensberg. For example, I can handle 15km for days on end some tough mountainous conditions, but put me on a road and make me run 21km-I will most likely frizzle away.
Okay so back to topic at hand. Our recommendations on what you should be able to do physically prior to a hike.
Let’s take our typical multi day hiking tours like Champagne Castle or Mafadi (the highest mountain in the world) The routes usually cover on average 12km a day. In a flat and ‘normal’ environment, the hike should take a person of average fitness 3 hours or so at 4km/h. In the Drakensberg we travel at an average of between 1.5 and 2.5 km/h. So all of a sudden a 12 km hike becomes 7 hours.
Drakensberg Hike Fitness | Our recommendation for the longer mutli day hikes?
If a hiker cannot walk 10km in 2.5 hours then you need to book yourself on a shorter hike. And of course there is the fatigue factor as well. In may be all good and well hiking 10km on day one. But you still have 3 days still to go. It is a good idea to do a lot of repetitive training. In other words train for 3 days in a row so your body gets used to the idea.
For the shorter hikes like to the top of the Amphitheatre or even Cathedral Peak, our requirements are less dramatic. These hikes are relatively short and although may be painful are very doable by hikers who may not be that fit.