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Sentinel hike

Posted by on October 23, 2013

Our final day in the Drakensberg dawned amazingly clear and we were up at 5:30 preparing to leave. We had tried to do one of the most popular hikes in the park since we arrived, but were foiled each day by the weather. The views from the top of the Sentinel Rock were supposed to be some of the best in the country. Luck was on our side on Sunday and we decided to go for it. We were out of our chalet before 6:30 am because we had a two hour drive to the start of our hike. Although the hike was in the park, we had to exit the park and drive around the mountains to get to the trail head. We followed the directions from the gate attendant and were feeling pretty good about things for a while. Then we drove through a large town and didn’t see any specific signs for a while. Just when it looked like the road was going to end, we saw a sign for the trail head and breathed a sigh of relief.

We reached the park gate in two hours and were eager to get hiking. We still had a ways to drive to the trail head and were told it was a gravel road and to drive carefully. We had no idea what we were in store for.

The road climbed slowly up the mountain and was fine for a while. Then we went over some decent sized rocks. Then the rocks got bigger. Then they were followed immediately by large pot holes. All the while the road was going uphill at quite an angle. It was quite a challenge to keep moving forward and not stall. I drove in first gear but had to give it a lot of gas to make it over the rocks. I have never been on a worse road. The car bottomed out several times and we stopped to reassess the situation. I think Jessica was in favor of turning around, but we also felt like we must be close. We carried on.

Then suddenly the road became paved with bricks and we were at the car park. We had made it!

By this time it was nearly 9 am and the fog was rolling in again. Before we set out, another car came up and we chatted with a German couple who were also considering the hike. While they debated whether or not to attempt it, we set off.

The trail was easy to follow and rose gradually along the mountain side. We had some really nice views into the valleys on both sides of us. There was a troop of baboons stationed on the hill below us and we hurried along the trail to avoid them after our experience in the fog from the other day. After an hour or so we saw two people descending the trail in front of us. They were carrying backpacks and told us that they slept up on the summit plateau the previous night. The views that morning had been amazing.

We hiked along and had a pleasant walk even though we knew that we wouldn’t see much by the time we got to the summit. After an hour and a half we came to a sheer rock face with a chain ladder leading straight up. The wind was strong in the narrow canyon we were standing in and the ladder was moist with mist. We were both getting cold and debated whether it was worth going up since visibility was getting lower by the minute. But we had come all that way and it seemed silly to turn back just then.

I climbed the ladder carefully and was buffeted by even stronger wind at the top. And there was another ladder above me! Jessica came up and joined me and we again discussed turning around. But we were so close so we ascended again. From the top of the second ladder, it was just a short walk to the Sentinel summit where a large rock pile indicated that we had made it. The wind was fierce up there and we couldn’t see more than 20 feet in any direction. We took a few photos then scurried back to the ladders.

Climbing down the ladders seemed a lot longer than going up and the metal rungs were cold and wet. My hands were nearly numb by the time we got down. At the ladder bottom we met the Germans we saw at the trail head and they offered us some hot tea and crackers. We graciously accepted. They decided to skip the ladders after we told them what it was like up there. The four of us hiked down together.

The return was much faster since it was all downhill and we were back at the car in less than an hour from the ladders. The wind was calmer down there and the fog not nearly so bad although the clouds indicated rain was soon to come.

We decided to get a cup of tea at the resort on the way out and we warmed ourselves for a few minutes. We didn’t tarry though because it started to rain while we were inside and we still had a four hour drive back to Pretoria ahead of us.

It rained the entire drive back. It was never very hard but it made the drive less relaxing with the unfamiliar road and the maniac drivers. It was also nearly dark by the time we arrived at my hotel, but we made it safely back.

Overall it was a wonderful long weekend and I can’t wait to return to the Drakensberg when the weather is better for more epic adventures.

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