9 peaks challenge with a twist

The 9 peaks challenge has grown in popularity over the years. The premise is simple - stand on the highest summit within each of the 9 provinces of South Africa. As they follow a reasonably direct line, it isn’t too complicated to string them altogether. I’ve personally done 7 out of 9, with just Limpopo and Mpumalanga to go.

However, one aspect that has always bothered me with this challenge is that a number of peaks on the list don’t even have enough prominence to qualify as “mountains” (7% prominence, 200m minimum definition). Mafadi (KZN and SA high point) only has 75m, Namahadi (Free State) only has 54m and Nooitgedacht (North West) only has about 100m despite being right next to the highest point in the Magaliesberg which has 362m.

A fun variation on this challenge is to switch the province high points for the peaks with the highest topographic prominence in that province. None of the province high points have the most topographic prominence within that province - so it’s an entirely different list.

The list is as follows:

  • Western Cape: Du Toits Peak 1994m, 1732m prominence
  • Eastern Cape: Cockscomb 1768m, 1291m prominence
  • Limpopo: Marakele 2088m, 1061m prominence
  • Mpumalanga: Mariepskop 1947m, 845m prominence
  • Northern Cape: Rooiberg 1692m, 797m prominence
  • Free State: Platberg 2398m, 720m prominence
  • KZN: Ingeli 2267m, 682m prominence
  • North West: Pilanesberg 1689m, 554m prominence
  • Gauteng: Nooitgedacht West 1852m, 362m prominence

People may find the fact that the Drakensberg doesn’t feature once to be odd - the range does have a summit with over 2000m prominence (Thabana Ntlenyana) and one with over 1000m prominence (KwaDuma Parent Peak), but both are in Lesotho. The most prominent peak in the SA Drakensberg is the South Knuckle at Bushman’s Nek, at 3010m with 498m prominence.

*Note: since initially making this post, I have reviewed the satellite data and I am reasonably confident it is now correct. The only change being Marakele as Limpopo’s most prominent mountain - I initially had it as Iron Crown. Notably North West’s second most prominent mountain only has 3m less prominence than Pilanesberg, so that is easily within measurement error, although the survey maps do tend to back up the satellite data on this one.


I like the alternative 9 Peaks. They are arguably easier to access to, perhaps with the exceptions of Cockscomb and Pilanesberg, which being in a big 5 game reserve, could require some interesting permit negotiations.

I’m finally climbing Cockscomb this weekend with an MCSA team. I have been wanting to do that one for years, but as you say, access is a pain to arrange.

North West does have another peak with almost identical prominence - it would be nice if their prominences were the other way around to make the list a bit easier logistically, but when talking about a 3m difference, conclusively determining which is more prominent isn’t easy.

I can’t find any info on Northern Cape’s peak - no clue how hard that could be to access.

This method of measuring the prominance of a mountain, still does not make much sense to me…

The easiest way of explaining it is with this topo map of Devils Peak in Cape Town. The red arrow points to the lowest contour line that circles the entire peak and within which there is no higher summit. You can see the ring immediately below it includes the higher peak of Table Mountain. Thus the point by this arrow is the key saddle for Devils Peak, with Table Mountain as its parent peak, and its topographic prominence is the difference between this saddle, at just above 700m, and the summit at about 1000m - giving it a prominence of approximately 300m (Peak Bagger has it at 297m).

There’s a detailed explanation at this link with tons of diagrams:

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One of the best explanation videos on prominence.

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