A few months before leaving the States, a friend told me, “I think you'll love the Drakensberg - it's a lot like Colorado." Well, no offense to Colorado, but when it comes to mountain views, the Drakensberg is even more dramatic and spectacular. Driving up to the range, you feel as small as an ant. And once you’re at the summit, you share the view only with birds.
We knew right away that we had to hike to the summit of Sentinel Peak. We lucked out with a sunny day and we were off. There’s a trailhead at 2,800m that you can reach by car, so you only have to climb 900m to reach the summit. (I know, right, “only!”)
The hike was broken into three phases: switchbacks (which our guide called “zig zags”), rondavels (which wrap around the mountain’s natural curves, gradually sloping upward) and then a 75m rock scramble to the top.
The rock scramble was the hardest part, by far. Luckily, we had plenty of time there to rest, eat lunch and walk around taking in the incredible views at the top. Walking up to the edge was something else - there was nothing separating you from a 1,000+m plummet to your death.
We walked along the top to the Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world. However, due to the drought that's currently plaguing much of South Africa, it was the driest second highest waterfall in the world while we were there. Besides some murky brown water full of tadpoles sitting in the holes, the waterfall was not flowing at all. Not even a trickle. It’s a shame, because a local told us that when it’s flowing, you can swim at the top.
On the way back down from the summit, we encountered the chain ladders. (Insert “dun, dun, dunnn” noise here.) At 20 and 40 meters long respectively, they’re basically rope ladders made of metal poles and chains bolted into the vertical rock face. While we heard some guides will provide safety straps, ours simply said, “go ahead!” and down we went. While it would be difficult to fall off as long as you maintained three points of contact, we were still freaked out (we’re both spooked by heights) and quite relieved to make it to the bottom. But, why are we on this trip if not to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, right?
It was smooth sailing from there and, after a total of 5 hours hiking, we were back at the car, ready for a much deserved cold beer.