From 4th to 20th May 2012 eleven members of D (Rifles) Company, 5RRF and OCdt Tim Bird from Yorkshire OTR went on an expedition to Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.
The first night the group stayed with the Light Horse Regiment, about half an hour from OR Tambo airport. Early the next day we headed off for KZN and a night with the Durban Light Infantry, which allowed us to pack our kit for trekking and buy rations. An important aspect of the trip was to give expedition members the opportunity of visiting South African Reserve Force units, not least the Durban Light Infantry with whom we have regimental affiliation.
After a few hours of packing, a couple of beers with our hosts and a night’s sleep we set off for Giant’s Castle in the Central Drakensberg Mountains. We climbed to the contour path at 2300m and spent the night in Bannerman’s Hut before splitting into the groups for four days of trekking. The novices headed off onto the High Berg (3200m) under the instruction of Tim to conduct the Summer Mountaineering Foundation while the others including Maj Marc Gill, Capt Ben Clare, WO2 Dylan Thompson, CSjt Mark Munt and Cpl Dale Donnison spent the time exploring the plateau and the interconnecting valleys coming off the escarpment. The Central Drakensberg is well known for its scenery and cave art and provides a tremendous setting for summer mountaineering, especially for acclimatisation prior to higher altitude trekking.
On the Friday of the first week the group moved from the mountains to Ladysmith to experience some of the culture of the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands and meet up with a group from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment who were over to receive the Freedom of Ladysmith. The parade was an excellent event and is evidence of the continued strong links between South Africa and the UK. We also took the opportunity to squeeze in a trip to Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift before buying stores and packing our kit for the main event of the trip, the Northern Drakensberg Traverse.
After a morning’s drive, culminating with a climb up a rather treacherous road, we arrived at the Sentinel Car Park in the Royal Natal National Park (where they actually filmed the movie Zulu). Both groups set off up the escarpment with the highlight of the day being the climb up the famous chain ladders which certainly tested the vertigo tolerance of everyone in the group. For the next five days the group traversed the escarpment crossing in and out of Lesotho taking in the sights of the mountains and navigating around the high features on the plateau. What really sets this apart from other popular trekking mountains was the fact that in the five days we spent traversing the Northern Drakensberg, and all the famous scenery we visited such as the Mweni Cutback, we never seen a single other person on the mountains. This truly is a wilderness area of outstanding natural beauty. On the final day we descended from the escarpment to the Cathedral Peak Hotel for pick up by our transport. By the end of the descent involving a 1800m height drop through extremely rugged terrain the group were pleased to get back to Durban for some rest and a delicious steak dinner.
This was an excellent expedition made possible by the support of the Ulysses Trust. Thank you.