On the 6th of April 2021 our Multi-Activity Adventure Instructors in Training along with Ruan and Renske, our Warriors Adventure Experts, took on the Dragon, also known as the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. This nine day epic hiking adventure was one for the books and challenged every single one of us both physically and mentally.
Rene Viljoen, our Multi-Activity Instructor Program Director, pushed and orchestrated the Drakensberg Grand traverse hike with Ruan and Renske. This idea was born after Rene completed the five day Mini Traverse hike in 2020 and saw the immense value this hiking experience had on all the Warriors who took on this challenge. The Grand Traverse would be the perfect training ground for the MAI’s of 2021 and would provide a once-in-a-lifetime training experience for this group of future adventure instructors.
At 5:30am on the 6th of April we left for Witsieshoek to start one of the worlds toughest hikes. The 220-240km of unmarked hiking terrain would take us through unimaginable landscapes, rivers and to the peaks of some of the highest mountains in South Africa.
To complete the Drakensberg Grand Traverse, you have to summit 6 specific peaks:
- Mont Aux Sources 3282m
- Cleft Peak 3277m
- Champagne Castle 3377m
- Mafadi 3450m (highest peak in RSA)
- Giants Castle 3315m
- Thabana Ntleyana 3482m
There are many ways to complete the Drakensberg Grand Traverse with the most popular option being a 14 day hike with a re-supply stop along the way. The MAI’s of 2021 decided to do the hike 100% unsupported, which meant carrying everything they needed themselves. There are no shops, buildings or support on the mountain, it is just you and the natural elements in extreme forms. The sun is hotter, the wind is colder, the lightning hits harder and you must be prepared.
The MAI’s took on this hike as part of their WGLG Walking Group Leader Guide training, and took on “the slaying of the Dragon” as a final test before their assessments.
Our MAI’s have been working towards this, preparing and harnessing their map work and navigation skills. To conquer this mountain range, they would need to navigate with a map and compass, using all the skills they have learnt over the past 6 months. This requires keeping time, calculating speed, measuring altitude, pathfinding, contouring and using a compass bearing for direction.
We thought we were ready for the hike but nothing could prepare us for what lay ahead. In the end it was more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge for us all.
And just like that we were off. We ascended the chain ladders, and from there the hiking altitude remained between 2600m – 3400m for the rest of the hike. Battling the altitude was a tough start for many of us but we pushed on. Each morning we woke up at 2:30am to start hiking at 3:30am after packing up our icy-wet tents. The sunrise used to warm our cheeks and brought with it new energy to take on the day ahead.
There are no paths or direction boards up there and for most of the hike we were traversing over grasslands, shrubs, rocks, marshlands and the occasional sheep track along the contours. It was a constant battle of self-preservation, as your feet twist and turn in your boots. Duct tape becomes your best friend, and two pairs of socks is a must.
Day 1, 2 and 3 had many of the MAI’s struggling with injuries and battling to stay strong especially knowing how tough the terrain that lay ahead was. What made it better was the incredible views and the landscape which is unparalleded and incompariable to anything that we had ever seen.
Eventually, we found our rhythm, relying on each other for support and a push when we needed it. When you are travelling between 25km to 30km every day you are sore, your feet hurt, your legs ache, and it is tough physically, mentally and emotionally. There were moments where we weren’t sure if we were going to finish in time or if we could even carry on, but those are the moments when you need to dig deep and rely on all of your training, ability and self-belief. That is exactly what we all did.
In the end we slayed the dragon, met our goal of finishing the hike in 9 days unassisted and learnt valuable lessons along the way. It was an experience of a lifetime and one that we will be doing again.
We pushed ourselves harder than we ever had before and came out the other side better and stronger for it. We are so incredibly proud of the team and how they pushed past the pain, fear and their own self-limiting thoughts. It truly was an experience of a lifetime.
After the hike Rene had booked an amazing house with every amenity possible for us to relax in and do our final prep work for the next set of assessments which were to follow over the next few days. We were spoilt with excellent cooked meals and beverages, hot pools and massages to help relax and heal our overworked bodies.
There is no rest for the determined and from there we went straight into completing our MDT (Mountain Development Trust), Abseil Supervisor Award Course and Walking Group Leader Guide training with the renowned Gavin Raubenheimer and Paul Roth.
In a blink of an eye, so much was achieved, and we are so thankful for all the support along the way.
For a first hand account of this incredible experience, take a look at this incredible video, which perfectly captures the highs and lows of our Drakensberg Grand Traverse experience.
Our MAI’s have also put their experience into their own words, click on the links below to read more of how each of them “slayed the dragon”.