Day 7: Drakensberg Mountains

The breakfast buffet spread at the Cathedral Peak Hotel was a perfect pre-day-hike meal: eggs, sausage, home fries and hash browns, yogurt and granola, and a better selection of fresh fruit than you’ll find at a Whole Foods: kiwi, guava, mango, pineapple, honeydew melon, apricots, litchi, etc.—I found myself passing over the grapes, bananas, and apples because it almost seemed like peasant food. Maybe it’s South Africa, or maybe it’s the hotels I’ve been staying at, but fantastic breakfasts seem standard here.

My objective for the day was Cathedral Peak, a beautiful 9,856-foot spire that involves a 5,000-foot climb and some Class 3 scrambling near the summit that becomes frightful when wet, as it was today. I could easily see how hikers occasionally die on Cathedral Peak—a slip in the wrong place could result in a long tumble or an all-out freefall. The Hotel has two guided climbs per week up Cathedral, which would help to eliminate route-finding issues and to minimize scrambling concerns (since the guides rope the difficult sections.). On the ascent I took a more roundabout route, up past Baboon Rock, in order to get better views along the grassy trail-less ridgeline; and then descended via the standard Orange Peel Trail to arrive back at the hotel about 7.5 hours later. (The recommended time is 10-12 hours.)

The Drakensberg is among the most amazing places I’ve even seen in all of my travels, and is unquestionably my favorite place in South Africa so far. The ‘Berg is the remnant of an ancient African plateau that has been slowly eroded away. Its lower half, or the Little Bergs, are a series of sandstone layers that form gradual steps to the bottom of the Upper Berg, which is one thick layer of basalt that was deposited after an ancient volcanic eruption. The ‘Berg is not comparable to anything in the US—the Grand Canyon’s sedimentary layers and impassable cliff bands are similar, but the Bergs are cloaked in thick green grasses, have more perennial water sources, and have baboons instead of gawking tourists.

Posted in on May 8, 2008

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