KZN Wildlife Grand Traverse of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Mountains, in celebration of International Year of the Mountains 2002
On the 19th October 2002 a group of 8 people met at Highmoor Nature Reserve to pack and get the last minute planning done for the Grand Traverse across the KwaZulu Natal Drakensberg Escarpment. The trip started at the Sentinel car park at Witsieshoek in the North, and ended at Bushmans Nek police border post in the South.
The Grand Traverse for mountain hikers, can be equated to what the Comrades Marathon is for roadrunners, as contrary to popular belief, the top of the mountains is not flat, but a series of high peaks and low valleys. The hikers covered a distance (as per GPS) of 222 kilometers, climbing 13 kilometers, and descending 13 kilometers. A total walking distance of 249 kilometers, in only 12 days.
The whole team made up of Gavin & Debbie Shaw, Mark & Alex Brassell, Graham & Nora Keets (The above are KZN Wildlife staff) & Dave Sclanders (KZN Wildlife Honorary Officer), with Gavin, Mark, Graham & Dave being the hikers and the ladies being the support team. Dave Sclanders became the oldest man to have completed this incredible feat of hiking the grand traverse. Dave is also the owner of Bergfree Guided Adventures, which specialises in walking safaris in the uKhahlamba Drakensberg mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
All equipment for survival in a harsh and unpredictable environment was carried, with the added difficulty of extra weight of food which had to be carried for the first 7 days, before a re-supply party could get to the hiking group. The hiking gear included clothing and tents for all weather conditions, from very hot days through to sudden snowstorms, sleet and rain. The 4 hikers in the 12 days experienced all these weather conditions and challenges of the berg including, snow, ice, rain, wind, mist, heat and water shortage.
A very high level of body fitness and mental strength was required, with the extra pressure of knowing help could be days away, when communication reception could not be guaranteed in many isolated parts of the mountains.
Due to bad weather at Sani Pass, where a day was lost out of the planned schedule, the hikers had to do the last leg of the hike which should of taken 3 days, in 2 days, covering a distance of 55 kilometers. The hike finished officially at 15h00 on the 1st of November at the Bushmans Nek border post.
Some low and high points of this traverse:
Poor weather conditions
for much of the way hiding many of the superb views one would expect
to see from being on top of the berg.
Most evenings a
cold bath in a river to wash the dust away, and invigorate the body.
To sum up; A long, tough hike, over very rough terrain, with very few paths and in almost total isolation being fully self-sufficient within the hiker group, this trip is not for the faint hearted.
The group raised R20, 000.00 for the KZN Wildlife Conservation Trust, which was handed to the trust by the team at a function in Durban recently.