Drakensberg Grand Traverse - Visa required?

Hi guys, it’s lovely to be part of this community!

I am Polish, I live in Cape Town, and have been exploring Western Cape mountains extensively for the last 3 years now. I have travelled through Southern Africa, spending 4 months on the road, hitchhiking and camping everywhere I can. Just love this part of the world!

Next month, I want to do the Grand Traverse, but I am still waiting for the visa papers to go through, which means I shouldn’t be leaving the country, as without a valid visa I might not be let back in. Is there any obligatory border crossing involved in hiking DGT?

And another question: Would you say DGT is the ultimate Drakensberg hike? We have at least 3+ weeks to spare in the mountains there and would love to explore them well, checking off the most beautiful spots and essential pin points as well as finding the unusual magical places. What would be your suggestion for an extended DGT and more? :slight_smile:

Thanks very much, Irmina

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Hi Irmina,
No border crossing that I’m aware of.
Have a look at this route https://www.hikingsouthafrica.co.za/drakensberg-grand-traverse/
And be sure to check the reports, before you start your hike at https://www.vertical-endeavour.com/forum/2-drakensberg-security/56712-berg-alert-2020.html
Enjoy,
Ian

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You cross the border on a DGT about 100 times (depending on your route), but there isn’t a border post anywhere aside from Sani and the end, neither of which you specifically have to go through, and both are currently closed due to Covid19 anyway.

A DGT is like a buffet of the Drakensberg, you get to sample all the different areas but don’t get a proper taste of any of them. If you pick your line well, you well get some proper gems - Elephant Gully, Didima Gully and Mnweni Cutback etc, you can get some really good value for effort.

But if you want the best the Drakensberg has to offer (and are fit and experienced), go and do pass hiking in a few different areas - up Mnweni Pass down Rockeries Pass, up Cockade Pass down Organ Pipes/Camel Pass, up Corner Pass down Leslies Pass, up Redi Pass down Buttress Pass, up Masubasuba Pass down Amakehla Pass and up and down Mashai Pass to the top of Rhino Peak (there are great routes to loop it with, but all are fairly difficult). Cathedral Peak and North Sterkhorn are very worthwhile days out.

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Ian, Thanks very much for this!

Jonathan, this is great!! Thanks very much. I’ve been doing a lot of hiking and scrambling in the past years, hiking Table Mountain at least once a week, etc. Hope I’m fit and experienced enough to try. Not much climbing experience with ropes, but can do quite a lot without. Any of these as challenging as that?

No rock climbing on a DGT, you won’t need ropes at all. The only kind of technical bits are:

  1. The chain ladders, which might be a bit intimidating, but aren’t hard
  2. Ntonjelana Gap, if you find the correct gap, you just walk down it. There is a scrambling gap as well.
  3. Durnford Gap, an easy scramble if you find the right spot.
  4. Isicutula Pass is fairly steep, but if you get out of the gully once below the cliff bands, this is just a case of picking the right line. A bad line will be quite tricky.

For the passes I mentioned, Cockade has some very easy scrambling, Camel has some easy scrambling at Windy Gap and Corner has a few scrambles.

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Sounds good! I’m keen for a challenge too. Did Brandberg in Namibia last year via one of the South side ravines (Rietfontein). Not easy, especially when you loose the vague track made by the Damara miners living on the mountain. But really amazing hiking experience. Can’t wait for the Drakensberg. Looking up your suggestions now!

I hope to do that peak some time soon (well, when travel restrictions are lifted). Did you do a writeup on your hike? Would be interested to get more info on it.

It’s an amazing mountain range! Does require quite a preparation, carrying your own water for 3 days, climbing heavy, etc. I have a GPS tracking of what we did but would definitely add a lot of comment to it, as it wasn’t the optimal path. Also, we were dropped at the “wrong” ravine. Gasseb is the most used by locals, and we ended up doing one right from that (it tells you how often they go up and how many people you’re expected to see there…).

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Is Giant’s Cup Trail worth doing at all or is it rather easy walk around?

Hi Irmina
Given your abilities I think Giant’s Cup will be a doddle - not a bad idea if you want to do an easy hike but the Main Menu should definitely be the passess and escarpment.
Agreeing with Jonathan - the DGT is a phenomenal hiking experience and one of the rare places where you can do a 10+ day hike in the wild in SA. However, if you want to experience the best the Drakensberg has to offer I agree that doing 3 or 4 loops of passes is the better option (assuming you want to spend the most of the 3 weeks hiking?) - you should be able to do the loops in 3 or 4 days (or a two days if going fast and light) and have a rest day or two in between. Going from north to south I’d do:
Mnweni circuit - up Mnweni pass and down Rockeries; add some time to go explore the Hanging Valleys area (4 days)
Cathedral peak area - up Cockade Pass and down the Bell Traverse; bagging Cathedral Peak (which is on the Bell traverse). (3 / 4 days)
Injisuthi area - up Corner pass and down Leslies; bagging Mafadi (3 / 4 days).
I don’t know the passes south of Leslies well and would go with Jonathan’s suggestions.

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Hi Irmina

If you decide to go the passes route, please please include the Bell Traverse, up or down’- if the weather allows. Its got to be my favourite “pass” in the 'berg thus far. There are quite a few caves around the top to overnight in as well. Easter Cave is my suggestion for the view, the sunrise from the (unnamed) peak it’s in is really spectacular. Roland’s cave is further along the escarpment and a Drakensberg classic

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Willem, Colan! Thanks very much, I’m getting much better idea of the trails thanks to you. I will report which route I took and how long it took to accomplish. We will definitely try to do as much as possible, with all the loops recommended, having the time and no pressure to come back with all the virus craziness around. Heading up from Cape Town with the end of next week, so I will get back to you within the next month :slight_smile:

Any other favourites, spots not to miss to recommend?

@Jonathan, I’m having trouble locating these passes on the map: Buttress Pass, Masubasuba Pass, Amakehla Pass, Mashai Pass, Isicutula Pass

What map do you use when you’re up there? We have old (1986) quite detailed paper maps (1:50 000) that will copy (haven’t looked at them yet), and MAPS.ME, where I was trying to mark all the pin points you guys have mentioned.

Buttress Pass is at Lotheni, just south of Redi (near the top of map 5). It is very steep and has no trail - so it is one to use if you are experienced with navigation. As long as you find the right gully, navigation isn’t too tricky. And if you go up one gully too early, you will end up doing Redi Pass, which is actually a fairly good route too. My writeup on when I did this pass is at https://jonathantheghaznavid.wordpress.com/2019/01/15/are-you-redi/

Masubasuba is the first pass south of Sani (bottom of map 5). Good trail the entire way to the top. Amakehla is one pass south of it. My writeups on these are at https://jonathantheghaznavid.wordpress.com/2019/10/14/masubasuba-pitsaneng-loop/ and https://jonathantheghaznavid.wordpress.com/2019/09/23/amakehla-and-east-pitsaneng-pass/

Isicutula is just south of Walkers Peak, basically the southern end of the KZN Berg (although the pass is in Lesotho). So middle of map 6. It is on any standard DGT track.

Map numbers referring to the Geoseries maps, but they are the same numbers as the Slingsby maps (which would be around the mid 80s). All are 1:50000

There are GPS tracks for most Berg passes at vertical-endeavour.com and www.berg.co.za