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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- May 2018 - attempted sub 100 hours, but bailed just after Cleft as my teammate was very sick.
- 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).