Drakensberg Grand Traverse December 2021

Hi guys,

New here and keen to do the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. I pretty new to hiking was wondering is there anybody going out in December to do this hike. I would like to join in, I guess my only concern is getting back to my vehicle after it all.

Welcome to the forum

I have heard that when people do the DGT they pair up with a good friend and that you are a ‘couple’ for that entire hike meaning you look after each other and rely on each other.

This way if you break an ankle for example your partner and you will leave the hiking group and make your way back out together safely instead of hindering the entire group.

Something to consider maybe, other than that I do have a friend here in Strand that has been prepping for a few years to do the DGT now in December with some mates, I wanted to tag along as well but they are full at 8 members going and don’t want the group any larger than that.

Good Luck, I hope you get lucky and find a nice group to go with, also check out Roughing it with Ruth on YouTube, she has plenty videos of hiking in those mountains @Ruth

hey there! I was looking at a November trip for the DGT, but December could work too. I am a bit intimated by the transportation logistics as well (travelling from the U.S. here).

Hi David,

I’m pretty new to hiking so I can’t confidently say whether we would be okay or not. I once did a Skyrun many years back. Not entirely sure what we would all need and logistics wise also gps will be crucial as far as I know. I just imagine packing all we need in our bags and carrying ourselves to death. I would imagine if we knew where we were going to finish we could have a vehicle parked at the end and have a shuttle drop us off at the start. Just a few thoughts from my inexprienced mind.

I’m crazy enough to do it and I want to do it. It would be so amazing and unfortunately I can only do it over December. Maybe we could get more to join, those who have done it before just to instill some confidence.

Are you looking to do the full 10 days or less?

If you’re still keen after reading this email then lets talk.

Thank you Ruth for that bit of information, I’m not so experienced in hiking but seems simple enough, carry all you need but I would prefer tagging along with someone experienced and familiar with the terrain and not to mention the need to have gadgets .

I use to run a lot of trail and lately just mountain bike and do the odd Adventure Race when I got time so I don’t doubt my abilities and fitness.

To be clear on one thing - a Drakensberg Grand Traverse is not simple. It is a route that many experienced hikers attempt without success. An experienced French climber had to be rescued from the route a few years ago and his writeup on the hike was titled “Africa is not for sissies”.

Planning the route requires a lot of work - if you are doing it supported, you need to arrange your resupplies. Logistics between the start and finish (with backups if you have to bail) is also important. For the hike itself, you have to choose from various route options - and know the shortcuts you can use if you are behind schedule.

For the hike itself, in December you will likely experience a thunderstorm per 2 to 3 days of hiking, and will probably have mist for at least 25% of the hike. You are going to experience vicious territorial dogs on more than one occasion. You will need to know how to get over certain ridges. This is not a simple hike that you just do.

Please don’t take the DGT lightly!

For context, I have attempted 8 DGTs and completed 6. Here’s a summary of mine:

  1. April 2012: I made some stupid mistakes on day 1 and ended up with hypothermia. Day 3 it snowed. Day 4 my gloves went missing. Day 5 was so windy that we could barely stand up. The person I was sharing my tent with lost her half of it on day 6. We ended up finishing in 11 days despite planning to finish in 12 days.
  2. December 2014: it rained and was misty almost solidly from day 2 to day 9. We couldn’t arrange a hiker resupply and thus had to go from the start to Sani with heavier packs. We had issues with dogs in the Yodeler’s Cascades. We did finish in the target of 13 days. We were also caught on a summit in a thunderstorm on day 10.
  3. October 2015: my first speed traverse. Best weather I’ve ever had on a GT, but there was a drought and we kept on being unable to find water. We had close encounters with dogs on all 5 days. Target was 4 days, but we finished in 5.
  4. December 2015: target was 15 days, we finished in 14 days. My team mate had hypothermia on day 4. We had a few issues with dogs along the way. We had to boil stagnant water on days 3 and 4 due to being unable to find flowing water (also during drought time). Day 5 it rained and was misty all day. We reached our resupply point a day early. Our stashed food for day 3 was taken by someone before we got there. My team mater ran out of food the day before the Sani resupply.
  5. December 2016, the first half of my back-to-back DGT: we missed our target for days 1 and 2 by a fair margin, although we still finished in 6 days as planned. Ran into dog issues basically every day. Got caught on the summit of Giants Castle in a thunderstorm. Got harassed by Lesotho military along the way as well, who called us “snakes”.
  6. January 2016, the return half of the double DGT: target was 4 days, we finished in 6 days. Got told we weren’t allowed to be there by Lesotho military (who were 2km into SA at the time). Later ran into more Lesotho military who didn’t understand why our hiking permits were from so far away from where we were. More dog issues. Day 4 we got caught in the worst storm I have ever been caught in, and ended up spending 2 nights at Sani waiting for the weather to calm down.
  7. May 2018 - attempted sub 100 hours, but bailed just after Cleft as my teammate was very sick.
  8. April 2019 - attempted sub 100 hours, but bailed at Gray’s Pass as my teammate was very sick.

The DGT is an amazing hike and I highly recommend it, but you need an experienced team and you have to take the route very seriously.

If you want more information on the hike, check out the website Vertical Endeavour - detailed writeups on all 6 of my completed DGTs, plus the 2 bailed ones, are there. Along with tips and advice from various other people who have attempted or completed the route - including Stijn (first person to complete a sub-100h DGT) and AndrewP (solo speed record holder at 45h08).

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What’s your tactic, if any, when dealing with these critters?

We had a small pack more or less “coming for us” on the Trojan Wall, lots of teeth, no wagging tails. I shortened my one pole and kept the other long and at the ready. Standing shoulder to shoulder. Last second some Basotho boys whistled and hailed them down. I would be lying if I said my blood wasn’t pumping with adrenaline. Partner had pepper spray but we where downwind and it was blowing.

The dogs are generally fine when the shepherds are with them, but when they aren’t - the dogs can be very dangerous.

My tactic is to pick up a few rocks and throw them at the dogs. That often causes them to back off, although make sure you pick up 2 or 3 before the dogs get close - so you don’t have to lean down and offer your throat to the dog while picking it up! Usually threatening to throw the rock is enough, you don’t usually actually have to throw it. I think I’ve only ever had to throw 2 or 3 times, and probably only actually hit a dog once. The time I remember hitting the dog, I had missed my first throw and it had kept on getting closer. When I hit it, it backed off.

Notably the reason this works is that the shepherds throw rocks at their dogs when the misbehave, so they associate this with not being in charge of the situation. Interestingly - if you encounter dogs south of Walkers Peak, this doesn’t work, as the shepherds lower down use sticks instead of rocks (probably because there are actually trees below 2500m, as opposed to the main escarpment). Lower down, a trekking pole can be used to chase dogs away with good effect.

Worst Drakensberg experience I’ve had with dogs was just north of Hlathimba Cave. I had a cliff behind me, dogs approaching me on every other side, and no nearby rocks to grab. More than 10 dogs in total. I shouted very loud a few times, which stopped their advance, and then their shepherds showed up and they backed off.

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