Month ago, I started hiking with the Mountain Club of South Africa. This was my first overnight hike ever : a true overnight hike with a tent in the middle of nowhere, a new kind of adventure for me.
The mountains and the dragons ?
The name “Drakensberg” comes from the first Dutch settlers (“drakensbergen”), which means “dragon mountains” … Why ? It still remains a great mystery although several theories exist. The skyline of mountains that reminds the shape of the back of a dragon is one of them. Another explains that these early explorers would probably have found dinosaur fossils … which would have made them rather confused. Then there are the old stories that say that the dragons once reigned over these mountains …
In Zulu, it’s quite different. Thet call the escarpments “Ukhahlamba”, which means “barrier of spears” and which appeal to the once impassable nature of these mountains.
Middle earth ?
This is my geeky minute. We can not talk about the Drakensberg Mountains without mentioning Middle-earth and Tolkien’s work. And not only because I’m a huge fan! First, I think everyone will agree that we still feel like we’re frolicking in the Shire or the Gondor when we roam in the mountains of Drakensberg, or the Berg if we want to call them like the locals.
When you talk about the Berg with a local and you talk about Tolkien innocently, there’s always a little glimmer of pride: “And you know that Tolkien was born in South Africa?” That’s right, this dear Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein! Unfortunately, he did not spend much time in his home country and probably never visited the Drakensberg escarpment. Still, I love to believe it and especially like to believe that the mountains have inspired Middle-earth. Besides, everyone is always very disappointed when I say “But you know, in fact, Tolkien only lived the first few years of his life in South Africa without ever going back there after?” That’s how you break a heart … We can pretend, right?
My first hike in pictures
We start in Kamberg, well equipped for hot, cold and rain. The weather can change very quickly here. We start at the pretty cottage which houses the research center where I would soon have the chance to spend the night as part of my job.
With me, the bare necessities: my new tent that has not yet been used, my sleeping bag, my little self-gonglant mattress, my camera (essential), a sweater, pajamas, a spare t-shirt and underwears, and food for 2 days. All in a bag of 30L +: it was a bit of a challenge!
In the mountains, there is no need to bother and worry about water reserves: the water of the rivers is clean and limpid (and very fresh!).
The aim of the hike?
Initiate beginners, certainly. But above all, a nice dip (cold, very cold) in the “Roman Baths” about 5 km from our starting point.
We set camp and enjoy ourselves! We will then try a small exploration to a cave with rock paintings of the San people … that we will never find!
You must know that there is little or no way in these mountains (outside of the beaten track, I mean) It is therefore sometime difficult to walk in unexplored areas. The valleys are sometimes deep, the relief is not always easy and the maps are not always obvious to read. An estimated distance of 2 km can quickly turn into a great adventure … which lead us to turn around – I admit, we left not too prepared for this small exploration !
We finally arrive at the parking lot, completely soaked. But happy! Landscape, weather, dipping, new friends and especially the experience!