A Drakensberg Traverse, led by mountain guide and MCSA member, Rob Thomas. Fifteen participants from South Africa, America, UK, Swaziland and some invited privately sponsored ones were introduced to a winter traverse of the magnificent Drakensberg – the challenge: from Witzieshoek to Cathedral Peak Hotel! It was cold!

A substantial sponsorship for this event was received from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and from private donors. Here an account by one of the participants:

Dear Jenny and the Mountain Club.

I would like to say Thank You for the incredible and awe-inspiring week that I spent in the Drakensberg as part of the Global Youth Summit 2011. True friendships are formed when 18 people are together in a beautiful and challenging place..which is exactly what the Drakensberg was.

The bus journey to our destination was uneventful except for one shuddering stop on a steep hill that deposited us at Witsieshoek, place of comfort and luxury!  After a briefing by guides Rob and Sonja we were split into groups of three and tents and food were handed out. It seemed as if there was enough food to last us for months and my group took everything along except the sugar. We even got menus to carry along! Supper in the lodge resembled Christmas as we opened goodie bags stuffed with snacks, hats, scarves, headtorch, poncho and amazing maps. These were really appreciated and stood us in good stead on the trip – Thank You. Our purpose of being there became very real after meeting with Dave Jones, the president of the MCSA and his wife.

The first day from Sentinel and up to the top of the escarpment was magic as we got to know our walking friends and marvelled at all the ice around us. Stalagmites and -tites amused us as the boys told us their naughty rhymes for remembering which was which. Not all boobs hang down Andre… I was poked in the neck with a plucked stalactite as we continued walking up and up towards the chain ladders and the escarpment.  Our group went up the ladders easily while I stayed at the bottom looking at bits of somebody’s splattered camera that had not gone up so easily. Eventually I plucked up the courage and scuttled up. Once up we were told that one of our group had decided to pull out and walk back down the mountain with Jenny.

I have never been so cold before and we spent three nights on the escarpment, two of which had readings of minus 18 degrees celcius! Unforgettable. The cold was such an icebreaker as we snuggled together in our tent gasping for warmth. In the mornings ice coated the inside of our tents from our breath having frozen. The average bedtime was no later than six thirty each night that we were on top! Breakfast was always heavenly with vast quantities of hot oats or muesli rubbing out memories of the night. I don’t think I can put into words how cold it was…Our guides were kind and allowed us to walk down to the Little Berg for some warmth.

Highlights of the trip included our group perching above cliffs that housed vast vulture roosts. These magnificent creatures took to the skies en mass as we arrived and soared so close we heard a whoosh of air above our heads. It gave me goosepimples it was so special. Vultures are really beautiful and elegant birds and it seems unfair that they get lumped with the bad image of blood smeared scavengers! According to our guide the population is doing well feeding on dagga train donkeys that don’t survive the steep passes. We saw the donkey trains twice on the trip, both times marching for the passes with their heavy loads. It made me think a lot seeing these donkeys. A strange deadness settles on living creatures when they are pushed beyond their limits. I bet that many people who smoke would be horrified to think that their pleasure meant crippled donkeys being abandoned and left to die in the cold.

On the high mountains we often met Basotho hunters and shepherds wearing only a blanket and wellington boots. The sheep had bells that tinkled as they walked over the snow and rough terrain.

The last few days were considerably warmer as we descended and slept twice in caves and once in the tents. Now we could play Uno and laugh in the evenings and team spirit soared. I feel like I haven’t laughed so much in years. All too quickly the end came and it was the last night. We reflected on the trip and people said beautiful things about it and talked about all the snow and mountains that we had conquered. Thank you so much to everyone who made this trip so special and also to the MCSA for allowing us to spend time in such a beautiful place.

Please can I come again next year?

Love Melissa