Last month Landie Greyling, Robyn Owen and I decided to book ourselves a girl’s week away in the Drakensberg - the biggest mountain range in South Africa. By girl’s week we don’t mean pretty hair, cute nails and pampering… Girls week for us is more like daily summits of various mountain passes, rock scrambles, river swims, ridgelines, evening fires and yes – a girly glass of wine or two before crawling exhausted into our sleeping bags by 7.30pm, exhausted.
We started our week with maps, ideas and back and forthing between a million different and tempting options of places to explore. We finally decided to kick of our adventure at Mnweni Cultural Centre. Robs and I know the area well, but Landie (having lived in the Cape) had never had the chance to get to know it. Sharing a place like that, with a person like Landie – with her inspiring talent, passion and love of mountains was very special; it was like seeing it through fresh eyes. In all the excitement of choosing routes, we didn’t manage our sleeping situation very well, and only packed one tiny 2 man hiking tent. The ever-gracious-and-up-for-an-adventure Robs immediately offered to sleep outside and leave us the tent to ourselves as she was quite keen to test out her new super warm, down sleeping bag. So each night when Landie and I crawled into our cozy tent, we lay listening for sounds of a freezing cold Robyn outside. All we ever heard was contented deep breathing so we knew she was happy!
We spent the first day in suspense as the bucketing rain and cloud cover prevented us from seeing the towering peaks around us. We also knew from the chill in the air that snow was imminent so we waited patiently until morning for the proper adventure to start. And what a morning it was….
With the sun slowly rising and illuminating its orange glow on the surrounding peaks, we set off through the villages towards a snowy capped summit. We were lucky enough to have team navigator Robs guide us through the route. She’s got the mountain eye, and the ability to choose perfect lines, contours and river crossings. And for the most part (except for that one time that we won’t let her forget) she kept us out of brambles and scrambles….
Soon, the icy bits became snowy and as we made our way up the pass, we all fell into an awed silence – accompanied by the squeak and crunch of our footsteps in the snow. The summit was a soft thick blanket of snow, and it didn’t take long before snow balls were being hurled with our screeches and whoops echoing off the peaks. One Best4Sports/SuperBar snowman later and we began the descent down Rockeries Pass towards camp.
The beautiful Cathedral Peak, rising to 3004m above sea level, was chosen as summit number two. The path leading to the summit is an absolute spoil and pure showcase of the Drakensberg, with incredible views of the lower slopes, endless grasslands and a definitive feeling of freedom. It was a slightly slower ascent than the previous day but we finally reached the rocky scramble that would take us to the summit. Unfortunately, the rock was wet and slippery from the snow and rainfall. After lengthy debates and lots of alternative route scouting, we finally decided to turn back. It was the safest decision as we didn’t have any rope or protection with us at the time. It’s a fine line between being adventurous and being reckless, and it often takes a lot more willpower to turn back than carry on. Safety should always be the number one rule and we had to settle for a ‘pretend summit’ photo and enjoyed the beautiful descent all the way home to camp.
The Rhino Peak was our last summit. This was an organized event to raise awareness and funds for the Bearded Vulture breeding program and the Rhino fund. It was held on World Rhino Day, the 22nd of September 2015. The idea was for 10 elite athletes to race up and down the iconic, 3000m peak to set a new FKT (fastest known time) while people pledged money for how fast they thought the athletes could do it. Read more at http://www.rhinopeakchallenge.co.za/
Upon our arrival we were treated to the wonderful hospitality of Drakensberg Gardens Hotel. On the day of the Rhino Peak Challenge, we woke up to howling winds and were warned of even stronger winds on top. They couldn’t have warned us enough! The gale force wind blew down the gully at full force and whipped us around at the top. At one point, a gust actually blew me right off my feet and I did a few somersaults before I was able to regain my balance! Nevertheless we all managed to get safely back to camp and break the existing records. Landie and Holly Page even broke the existing men’s record, flying home in 2 hours and 45 minutes! Our efforts were definitely worth it and R300 000 was raised for the Endangered Wildlife Trust. This was just the best way to end such an unforgettable week.
Our week in the mountains reminded us that the simpler one can live, the better. All you need are some special, adventurous friends and a map or two. We ate just enough to fill our tummies, kept warm enough to be comfortable, played, laughed, ran, explored and appreciated our beautiful country. I can’t wait for what the next Girls Week holds….
We recommend doing your homework if you’d like to make this happen for yourself. There are endless peaks to summit, caves to sleep in and rockpools to be swum in. For more information about the particular places we visited you can look at:
Cathedral Peak http://peakhigh.co.za/blog/cathedral-peak-3005m-drakensberg/
Rhino Peak: http://peakhigh.co.za/blog/hiking-up-rhino-peak-in-the-southern-drakensberg/