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Planning your Drakensberg Adventure

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

There are loads of “standard” routes in the Berg. And for good reason! They have usually been designed by an experienced group of hikers to highlight all the attractions of a particular area, while still maintaining a reasonable yet achievable level of difficulty. For years I ventured on plenty of the good old standard routes, and absolutely loved them, but then…

Well, then I realized that my soul was calling for more adventure and my imagination was keen to answer that call. So I grabbed a map and went to work, and oh, what fun it was! I immediately discovered that there were a multitude of route combinations out there, almost exponential to the number landmarks in which I was interested. I started to connect peaks, passes and caves that intrigued me to formulate my own trail network that simply may not have appealed to adventurers before me...

For even amongst a group of nature and mountain lovers, each has their own specific field of interest. That’s why Mountain Abandon allows you to customize your hike or adventure run. But there are a few generic factors to consider which will guide your route planning and ultimately enhance your mountain experience.

What gets you excited?

Firstly and most importantly, try to create a route that excites you by connecting geographical features that inspire you and your family or friends. Are you a “Peak Bagger” intent on summiting Kulu’s? Or a naturalist looking to photograph a rare orchid found solely at a certain altitude? Or maybe an athlete keen for some race specificity in the form of a route-profile-replicating training session? Whatever your passion, there will always be an alternative to the standard “tourist route.” It may just take some time, patience and research. But read up a little and you will be richly rewarded!

Be aware of not only your own limitations, but also those of your group.

It's essential to know the fitness level of every individual in your group. You should also be cognizant of the group’s appetite for risk and level of confidence when it comes to tricky scrambles and heights. You might not find moving along the Bell traverse at all worrying, but some of the exposed sections might be just too much for one of your buddies. Safety, especially if your party consists of small children and few males, is also a key factor in choosing the region of the Berg you wish to visit. Keep an eye on our blog page for an upcoming post on Berg safety and our personal encounters with mountain locals.

Remember that everything in the Drakensberg is

much bigger than it seems on the map!

Finally, now that you have a good idea of what you’re after on your Berg mission, and where to look in terms of safety and terrain, it’s time to grab a map and start plotting. But remember, everything in the Berg is much longer, higher, steeper or wider than what it appears on the map! What you might perceive as a quick scout along the contour path, skipping over a handful of streams, could very easily turn out to be several hours worth of slogging through overgrown grass and gullies. And this before you even begin to ascend the escarpment!

With this in mind I recommend that you err on the conservative side in your route distance initially, and pay particular attention to elevation gain. Once you have a better understanding of the terrain and your own pace while moving in the ‘Berg (which is significantly slower than on your local trails at home) you can start pushing the boundaries to explore further and higher afield.

In future blog posts I’ll be discussing the more practical skills required to turn your own dream route into a fun and exciting but safe adventure in the magical Drakensberg. These skills will include map work and interpretation, on-the-ground navigation and weather considerations, as well as an in-depth post on gear selection, and last but not least - safety protocols. Also look out for my list of resources which will direct you towards some useful reading material and hopefully provide a little extra inspiration! P.

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