Giant Cups Trail

We are doing the Giant’s Cup Trail in December. Who has done it recently, and can advise on the facilities and which huts have electricity or not…?

We’d really appreciate some feedback.

Pholela Hut and Swiman Hut have electricity and hot water, the others don’t. Swiman Hut also has firewood provided, but you need to bring your own matches and collect leaves and twigs to start the fire (although not really needed in December - unless you want to make a braai). Make sure you have the door combination for Wintershoek Hut before you set out. Also be aware that Mzimkhulwana Hut doesn’t have mattresses.

Re Mzimkhulwana Hut - some groups fail to find the ablutions for the hut, you have to walk past all the rooms and through the trees for a short distance to find this.

Wintershoek Hut is very close to Castleburn Lake. You can also walk from Swiman Hut to Drakensberg Gardens (although this might be a bit far for some). So if you want to get a nice warm meal those days, this can be convenient. Eland Trading Store is a bit of a walk from either (much easier if you hitch a ride with one of the many cars you’ll see on that road), but can be handy if you have shortages of supplies - or want an ice cream.

Seeing as you are there in summer - you’ll want the rock pools along the way.
Day 1: Ngenwa Pool is directly on the trail about 5km in, and is the best pool on the route. There will be good rock pools on the Pholela River near Cobham as well.
Day 2: There’s a rock pool at the hut.
Day 3: On your way down Bamboo Mountain (after Crane Tarn), there’s a really nice rock pool to your left. It is down from the main trail, but there is a faint trail leading to it. It is in the shade for part of the day, but is fortunately out of the wind.
Day 4: Peppermint Pool is a 300m walk from Swiman Hut. Follow the trail towards the tar road and you’ll find the turnoff from there. Note that you are on a ridge all day, make sure you carry enough water as you won’t be able to collect any before the hut.
Day 5: There’s a good rock pool by the waterfall at the border post. If you look around a bit you’ll find decent pools on the Mzimude River as well - although the best pool on the Mzimude River is by Puffadder Rock in the Hidden Valley and requires a 5km detour, so not really practical.

Enjoy! The Giants Cup Trail is awesome, I’ve done it 6 times, as well as using those huts outside of doing the trail many times. Probably spent over 20 nights in Swiman Hut.

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Thanks, Jonathan!

That is VERY helpful.

With regards to the Wintershoek Hut, where do we get this?

I’ve recently also seen a post that says the days are LONG, as in 6-7 hours a day and very technical, where as other posts I’ve seen say it’s not that bad for a relatively fit person…

Your thoughts?

Thanks for the Drakensburg Gardens tip, and the rock pools!

Really depends on the team. The days also aren’t equal. The entire route is 60km with 2km elevation gain and loss. Compared to most Drakensberg routes of similar distance, that’s practically flat - but it is more elevation gain than a Comrades uprun in two-thirds of the distance. Also in summer it can get really hot, and afternoon thunderstorms are common - so I would suggest an early start each day. You will probably have at least one full day in thick mist, so be prepared for that as well.

Nothing technical about it - day 1 has two places with very easy scrambling (one is the crossing by Ngenwa Pool and the other is before you drop from the ridge near the end of the day). Day 3 has two places where you can easily lose the trail, the first is an unmarked split near the bottom of Bamboo Mountain (on the way down the other side), where you have to go left but the first white footprint is only about 100m later to confirm you are in the right place, and the other is leaving the road section (look for the white footprints by the Castleburn Lake turnoff sign, there’s a windmill on a hill behind it).

Day 1: You will usually start a bit later due to the logistics of getting to the start, which means its hot before you get going. Because this day includes two hills, it can feel a bit harder. The road is tarred past the start of the trail now, which helps. I recommend the higher start on the Sani Road, but there is an alternative start further down.
Day 2: By far the easiest day of the route, it is the shortest and has the least elevation gain.
Day 3: the second hardest day. The hill is right at the start, so at least you get to do it when you are fresh. The day includes 2km on a road, which is largely steep downhill (an absolute pain if you do the route backwards). You go over a small hill by a windmill, this hill always feels bigger than it is.
Day 4: one of the easier days, starts with the steepest section of the route, but is easy thereafter. Great views, just often hot and there’s no water or shade all day.
Day 5: The hardest and longest day. It starts off with a very easy 4km stretch before dropping to the Mzimude River. Then you get the never-ending hill (incidentally the high point on this ridge is the highest non-basalt summit in South Africa, at 2634m, although that summit is about 6km away from where you’ll be).

Here’s my writeup from when I did the trail solo twice in 36h14 back in 2018. That was a surprisingly hard one!