Drakensberg Grand Traverse Advice

Hi all, I hope you are well.

Please forgive me if I’m repeating questions that have been answered on the forum. I have searched around on the forum and I’ve not been able to find answers to these questions specifically. Some times the answer is close, but not exactly what I’m looking for e.g. “Isobutane is better for colder temps” is fine, but it doesn’t answer the question of whether I should buy it for the Berg, or whether Eiger is “good enough” etc.

Three of us are looking to do the GT at the end of March. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and buying, to prepare for the hike. We are a decently fit and experienced group, but none of us have done much hiking in the central Drakensberg. I would have preferred to be able to a shorter “practice” hike in the Drakensberg before trying the GT, but life just isn’t being very accommodating.

The longest hike that I’ve done before would be the Naukluft (one and a half times, got sick the second time round, did a write-up here on the forum). We are looking to do the GT in 10 days if possible.

I’ve been reading up as much as I can but I do still have a few questions that I would be very grateful for any assistance with:

  1. How much gas would you recommend? I know how much I would usually take on a 10-day trip, but I’m not sure how to account for the lower temps and higher altitude. We will be using pretty standard stoves. Some kind of Firemaple stove that I’ve been using for a few years now.

  2. Should I spend extra and buy MSR Isopro gas, or can I get away with Eiger? Possibly a mix (e.g. 1 bottle ISOPro for when it’s really cold and 1 bottle Eiger for the warmer days).

  3. We will be taking maps, a compass, and a Satellite phone which can give GPS co-ordinates. But I’m intrigued by the offline GPS navigation apps that you find on cellphones these days. Do you have any recommendations about which apps work best (cheapest?)?

  4. I have found a few lists of co-ordinates, as well as a GPX file or two, but I’m not sure about whether they are actually any good, or the best. Does anyone here perhaps have GPX file that they know to be good and detailed? Especially if it’s one with a route and not just a set of GPS markers.

  5. Thermal base layers. Which thermal baselayers would you recommend? Base Layer Bundle Men - Core Merino could be an option, but they are on the thinner (125 g/sm) side, and also quite expensive. I’m mostly interested in the baselayer for sleeping, and not really for hiking in, if I can help it.

  6. Any other advice, remarks welcome!

Kind regards,
Pierre

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Here’s an account of an unprepared newbie (i.e. me back in 2012) attempting their first DGT - with far too much detail on exactly how they did it. I believe the text totals 20 pages, excluding photos.

Re your questions:

  1. Depends how much you are cooking. On my 2nd DGT we shared a cylinder between 3 people and it ran out after about 7 days. But we weren’t cooking a lot.
  2. Eiger cylinders are fine for Drakensberg generally - remember that the Drakensberg is only high altitude compared to everywhere else in Southern Africa. The top of Kili is barely even high altitude. Usually when people say high altitude, it is more like 6000m+. Not sure at what point you need better quality gas, I think it is more to do with the ambient temperature than the air pressure. Either way, I have used Eiger gas on top of the Drakensberg many times without issues.
  3. Wikiloc
  4. Go to downloads on www.vertical-endeavour.com and download the two DGT GPS tracks there. Intrepid’s one has the route variations, while Stijn’s is the speed route. If you fall behind schedule, taking the Mokhotlong from Giants to Sani could save you a full day (or more). Also pay attention to possible bailing routes - you don’t want to try to bail down Hilton Pass if something goes wrong, for example. There is a GPS track on there with co-ordinates of the tops of all the passes, which is very handy, as well as a thread on there with a list of DGT escape routes. There’s also a caves co-ords track, which can come in handy.
  5. Really doesn’t matter, as long as you have a decent lightweight one. In March I don’t usually even bother with thermal inners in the Drakensberg, but if I’m cold I just climb into my sleeping bag.
  6. Have fun, but don’t underestimate a DGT. Be prepared for a few days of bad weather, it is practically guaranteed in a 10 day traverse. Take some motivation food with you - I use fudge - because you might have a few bad days, and knowing you have something nice to eat after supper might be just enough motivation to help you walk past Camel Pass when you can practically smell that burger and chips at the hotel!

Have a look under the Grand Traverse topic on VE, there’s tons of detailed content in there, including numerous writeups.

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Thank you very much!

These answers and sources are very helpful.

Regards,
Pierre

Super exciting!
We are doing the GT in April. My last big hike was Naukluft as well.

I’m very excited myself. Good luck with your GT as well!