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Reisverslag Balancing on the dragon’s teeth
22 augustus 2006
Balancing on the dragon’s teeth
Een beetje laat, maar toch:
Anyone with a love for mountains -and a little sense for adventure- should know that a mere 3-hour drive from Johannesburg, is the spectacular Drakensberg range, as Demian van der Reijden discovered to his great delight.
Balancing on the dragon’s teeth
By Demian van der Reijden
Forget expensive cruises, don’t mention all inclusive resorts, and don’t even think about relaxing in the sun with a cold beer after just having visited another exhilarating museum. Most of all: forget about going to the kingdom of far, far away for your ultimate holiday. Why? Because just next door rests the best destination an active holiday can beg for: the Drakensberg Mountains.
Stunning scenery combined with all the ingredients you need to hike, climb, abseil and camp, what else can an outdoorsman ask for? Exactly: some people to join, a tent, a sleeping bag and a stove, plus the most important piece of equipment: the right shoes.
And maybe a little bit of sun to warm the frozen body in the morning. This last request I put on my list only after the first night we spent in the hut up at the Tugela Fall in the northern berg. Admitted, the winter is not the best period to do this: sleeping –or trying to- at temperatures of minus 5 in a just not suitable sleeping bag does not rest your tired body.
The morning before, we started our five day adventure from the Sentinel car park just outside Phuthaditjhaba in the Free State. The first steps are always the toughest when you put your backpack on, realizing there are a couple of kg’s in it you could have gone without. But when the curling mountain path takes you around the first corner, unfolding the view on the valley below, you forget about the heavy bag you’re hauling.
Just coming from noisy Johannesburg, the silence is striking, only pierced by the shriek of a Cape Vulture soaring over our heads as we ascend the 30 meters of chain ladders up to the plateau.
The Northern Drakensberg area, and especially the uKhahlamba National Park(former Royal Natal Park), is known for its wildlife. Dozens of species of –sometimes endangered– birds, baboons, rock dassies and ice rats live side by side with bushbucks, rhebucks and the infamous Black Spotted mountain snake – only sighted three times and never photographed.
Together with the dramatic views from the escarpment towards the valleys, sometimes a thousand meters below, ‘the bergs’ keep drawing people who love the tranquility and simple beauty of nature.
Tranquility is found on the Tugela plateau, where the river alike has it’s source and the small stream pushes itself over the edge of the Amphitheatre, only regaining it’s gentle flow 850 meters below, making it one of the highest waterfalls in the world.
Again the setting is stunning; from one side the plateau is overlooked by Mont-aux-sources, where three major rivers find their origin: the Orange river, the Elands river and the Tugela river all spring from this 3282 meter high mountain. It is said the water on this plateau is the seventh purest in the world – you could bottle it and sell it in Joburg’s streets. Would make a good living! Actually, a good part of our water comes from the nearby Sterkfontein Dam.
From the other side of the plateau, the highest freestanding peak in the Northern Drakensberg, the Sentinel (3165m), has been looking down for millions of years as water and living creatures passed by.
For some of those living creatures, passing by is not enough. According to the ‘summit journal’, a small notebook tucked away in a metal case under a rock on the top, over a hundred people stood on its highest point and signed the book since 2001.
You have to be familiar with ‘the real mountaineer stuff’ as the use of ropes and harnesses is inevitable in the climb of one of the six ascend routes. We tackled the wall in two 30-meter rope pitches and a good deal of scrambling, called ‘McLeods variation’. “Usually the view should be unbeaten from up there”, promised Lee-Anne Oldacre, one of the guides. But lucky us saw only clouds, as we balanced on the dragon’s teeth, or ‘Ntabamnyama’ – ‘the black one’, as the Zulu name for the Sentinel peak is.
As a first-time rock climber, I had to swallow when the other guide, Garth Oldacre, pointed up the steep, exposed North-West face of the Sentinel when we passed it the first morning: “We’re going up there in a few days.”
Being a real adventure, it is not something for the inexperienced or those with fear of heights. But if you’re fit, like to walk in the mountains, and want something new for a change, the five day adventure offered by GoVertical Mountaineering provides a whole new perspective. The five days include hiking, climbing, abseiling and three nights up in the mountains, both in tents and huts – the fourth night is spent at the nearby Witsieshoek Mountain Inn for a much needed shower and a warm, comfortable bed.
The relatively easy, 5 km walk from the Sentinel car park to the chain ladders can be made by anyone who wants to peek over the edge. Whoever wants to explore the bergs further, and wants to pitch a tent next to a cliff and a waterfall, should consider taking one of the tours offered by several outdoor companies. They vary from half a day to Tugela Fall and back to a full, seven day Drakensberg traverse. And their aim is all the same: to show how easy it is to enjoy the beauty of our own back yard, only 3 hours drive from Johannesburg.
Info: www.govertical.co.za, 082 731 4696
23 augustus 2006 11:42 | Door: Tim de Wit
He Demian! Zitten wij nu gewoon op hetzelfde moment in Zuid-Afrika? Dat is op zich vrij opmerkelijk... als ik het goed begrijp doe je een soort stage/werk bij een krant in Joburg? Gaaf hoor... Ik zit in Cape Town, ben aan de studie daar (exchange programm van mijn master Internationale Betrekkingen) en ik zit hier nog tot december/januari! Laten we contact houden, ik wil zeker nog een keer Joburg bezoeken dus dan kunnen we wellicht even een klein drankje op locatie drinken. Mijn tel.nr is 073 900 1682 en firstname.lastname@example.org is het mailadres. Oh en op timdewit.waarbenjij.nu staan natuurlijk alle Capetonian Adventures..
Maak er een mooie tijd van!