Hiking to the Highest Mountain in South Africa

Mafadi – the highest mountain in South Africa 

One of the definite highlights of any trekking enthusiast is to summit the highest mountain in South Africa. The peak, which is situated in the Drakensberg Mountains, is named ‘Mafadi’. Although we have been involved in over 20 successful summits of this 3451m peak, this hiking trip was full of surprises.

Our team for the hike consisted of just the 6 of us. The purpose of the hike was primarily to test the team’s mental and physical stamina in preparation for their upcoming attempt at climbing Island Peak (6189m) in the Himalayas. I had mentioned to the team on the way down that I hoped the conditions were hectic. Not because I am a sadistic and cruel leader who loves to see our clients suffer. (This is why I always make sure I have a spare teddy bear and a massive bag that contains zero sympathy.)

Nope. The purpose of the hike was to test the teams resolve under duress. As the age old saying goes-Adversity introduces a man to himself.  And we needed to be introduced to ourselves in order to see how the team operated in extreme conditions. And man…. Did the highest mountain in South Africa come to the party in a big way!!!

Day 1

Our conventional hiking tour in this part of the Drakensberg usually sees us spending 3 nights on the mountain. We decided for the purposes of this hike to change this a tad. We drove down from Johannesburg at 14H30 arriving at the Injasuthi Campsite (the start of the hike) by 20H30. We had a quick bite to eat, packed the hiking bags and started to walk at about 22H00.

Our intention was to cover the 7km to Fergeys Cave. Hiking in the night time is incredible and gives the mountains a totally different atmosphere. It also keeps us on our toes in terms of navigation. It is easy to miss a turn in the Drakensberg and land up on the wrong path. We reached the cave by 12H30 and nestled into our sleeping bags for a few hours’ sleep.

Day 2

We had an early start today. We were up at the crack of dawn. Today was going to be a long and challenging hike. We were going to be covering about 14km with an altitude gain of nearly 1200m. And for those of you who are familiar with hiking in the Drakensberg, you will know that a kilometer in the mountains is equivalent to like 6 kilometers on normal terrain. But, first things first- We needed a good breakfast to fuel up for the hike ahead.

Oats with peanut butter and honey was on the menu. Not everyone’s favorite but its serves a purely functional purpose. Oh… and a word of advice when embarking on a hiking trip to the Drakensberg. Never stray from the pack. And never leave your backpack unattended. The resulting consequences of such acts can lead to stray rocks ‘accidentally’ wondering into your pack adding another 5kg to weight. Our first victim was Bruce who strayed for a ‘Bos Kak’- aka, Bush Poo.

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He was in for a 2 hour hike before he was going to discover the rocks. Poor sucker. Anyway, we the first part of the hike sees us slogging up what we like to call ‘The Burns’-An aptly named incline that leads us into Centenary Hut. This section took us about 2 hours with an altitude gain of about 400m. After a quick snack it was onwards and upwards. This time it was Thys who strayed from the pack resulting in a few rocks finding their way into the abyss of his backpack.

Our route to the escarpment was via Corner Pass. We decided this was the better option as we did not feel like the 3,5km contouring to Judges Pass. Corner Pass is an incredible ridge climb with a few ‘scrambling’ sections that tested the wits of a few guys. The Pass goes up about 900m over about 3km. So yes there were a few grumbles of woe on the way up. Just as the guys thought they were at the top, guess what? Yes, yet another distant ridge to climb.

I kept on reiterating the 3 rules of mountaineering- It’s always higher, further and harder than what it looks. Anyway after 3 hours we reached the top the Pass and meandered den to the closest river for a well-deserved lunch break. After we were fueled up, we started the last section of the hike into the Upper Injasuthi cave ( the highest in South Africa). It was only 4km from the stream but the gradient and of course the effects of altitude were now taking its toll.

In fact, I might have had a smattering of sympathy for the lads given that we had climbed nearly 1800m in just over 15 hours since we started the hike. So yes, we had to dig deep for the last part of the hike. We reached the cave by 16H30, unpacked our sleeping bags, had dinner and passed out. Oh yes. This is when Thys discovered the rocks we had put in his bag 6 hours earlier. Poor guy had been wondering why he wasn’t feeling as strong as he usually does on the way up.

Day 3:

Our aim today was to summit Mafadi and chill out for the rest of the day allowing our bodies to absorb the 3400m air. A few of the guys had never been above 2500m before so it was a good way for them to experience a higher altitude and get an idea of how their body reacted to it. Bruce decided he was going to run to the bottom of Judges Pass and back. The rest of us took the 1 hour hike to the summit.  On route the wind started howling and it started to snow.

When we had left the cave the sun was shining. Another reminder on how quickly conditions can change in the Drakensberg. Having said that, we were not on the summit for long. A few complimentary handshakes and it was back to cave-But not without a bit of a face blasting. The wind was so strong that it was blowing the snow horizontally into our faces. But being the brave and strong group we were, we made it back to Upper Injasuthi cave.

The order of the day was to chill out, some whiskey, sherry and good laughs as the lads shared their life experiences. And no the stories had nothing to do with woman. We are mature grown up men remember. We spoke about the bespoke turnkey solutions for the economic systems and the impact they had on the government’s fiscal policy.

And remember what we mentioned earlier about what not to do while hiking in the Drakensberg ? Do not stray from the pack. Bring forth Thys. He had decided to go to bed early. The resulting consequence was both his hiking boots being jammed packed with stones.

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The first part of the hike today (after Thys had delayed us by trying to get rid of some unexpected stones in his boots) was along the escarpment for about 5km to the top of Leslies Pass-A walk that took us longer than expected. The Drakensberg had decided to unleash 100kmh winds onto us. In the 25 years I have been hiking in the Drakensberg, I have never experienced such intense wind velocity.

There were a few times we were blown over by the wind. And we dared not get to close the edge of the 1000m drop of the escarpment for fear of getting blown over. The wind was relentless and I think most of lads had to dig deep to get through it. Going down Leslies also had its moments.

There were a few sections where gusts of unexpected wind would try ripping us from the mountain. In those moments we just flattened ourselves against the cliff and held on waiting for a gap where we would scurry on until the next gust came. But we endured and eventually made it to the base of Leslies Pass. We had a quick siesta in the sun and then ‘bush whacked’ the final 3.5 km into Marble Bath Cave for the night. We had dropped 1600m in altitude and the lads were hungry.

It was like feeding time at the zoo as the food warmed up-Everyone pacing up and down in anticipation for the meal ahead. Once the food was dished up we all retreated to our corners in case someone tried to steal some scraps. We all hunkered under a ledge and got a good night’s sleep.

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Day 5:

The last part of the hike covered 7km back to where we started a few days earlier. The highest mountain in South Africa had been knocked off. It was an incredible test for the team dynamics and mental preparedness for the upcoming Himalayan expedition. We piled into the car and headed back to Johannesburg for a long awaited bath.  Thys’ mom phoned us to say her little munchin was crying on her shoulder and she had to put him to bed with a nice warm glass of milk, his favorite teddy bear and a bed time story. 

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In conclusion:

Hiking o the highest point in South Africa is an incredible hike that any avid hiker should have on their bucket list of things to do. There are various options in terms of routes than can be taken and days needed to complete it. Contact us for information-we would love to be a part of your hiking experience!!

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