Fancy a hike in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg? This mountain range should definitely be on any hiker’s to-do list. Although Joanne Hain, her husband and dad’s first attempt to complete the daunting Grey’s Pass hiking trail proved unsuccessful, they tried again. And with sweet success second time round.   

Having relocated to KwaZulu-Natal for a year, Joanne Hain and husband Shaun are fortunate enough to wake up every morning to the sounds and surrounds of the beautiful uKhahlamba-Drakensberg. Shaun is a currently completing his community service year as a doctor at the Emmaus Provincial Hospital close to Champagne Valley.

Joanne writes:

My husband and I are spending a year living in the Drakensberg – the mountains stare down at us and dare us to come and wander in their shadows every day. We have made many day trips into the reserve and in June this year we made our first attempt to get to the top of the escarpment, an overnight hike.

We decided to try Grey’s Pass – one we can see from our kitchen window! The trail starts at Monks Cowl, going past the Sphinx and up to the contour path. This is an amazing hike with cool forests and stunning views of the mountains and valley below.

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Blind Man’s Corner – a very intimidating sign. Pictures supplied by Joanne Hain

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Million dollar view: Keith’s Bush Camp valley.

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Shaun standing under Monks Cowl.

Having done this hike a few times before, we began to feel the difference of hiking with a heavy pack as we trudged up the initial steep climb to the top of the little berg. Once on the contour path it is flat as you wind through the skirts of the mountain to the secluded valley that holds Keith’s Bush Camp – the base of Grey’s Pass.

This first day is a 14 kilometre stretch and we arrived at camp exhausted but amazed at our surrounds. The valley is surrounded by the most incredible peaks – Sterkhorn, Monks Cowl, Cathkin Peak and Dragon’s Back. It must be one of the most beautiful valleys in the country. The mountains turned pink at sunset, we pitched our tents and began a very fitful night of sleep.

The next morning was to be a big lesson. Tired after very little sleep and legs stiff from the day before, we started up the pass. According to our map it’s three kilometres to the top. Easy right? No! With a 15kg pack, no water on the pass and altitude it was very slow going. The views were amazing but the mountain eventually beat us.

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The view half way up Grey’s Pass.

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Joanne’s dad, Rowan Stranack, drinking from the river before Keith’s Bush Camp.

We ran out of water a quarter of the way up and dehydration set in. We decided to turn around. The disappointment was soon forgotten as we spent another amazing night in the mountains. In the Drakensberg the journey is just as rewarding as the destination.

We have since made it to the top with lessons learned from this trip: always take more water than you need, a guide is always worth it and never underestimate the value of a good night’s rest. Inflatable mattresses and good sleeping bags are a must.

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Rowan, Joanne and Shaun on the pass with Dragon’s Back in the background.

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Joanne and Shaun at Keith’s Bush Camp with Monks Cowl behind them.

Keep in mind, says Joanne

  • The total distance to the top of the pass and back is 34 kilometres, and 28 kilometres to Keith’s Bush Camp and back.
  • No fires or littering is allowed.
  • Do not hike alone or be unprepared for extreme weather changes. Make use of a local guide as they have lots of great info and insight about the mountains. Remember to sign the mountain register and keep the mountain rescue number handy.
  • Fill your water bottles at every opportunity and pack food with high energy to weight ratios.
  • The trail starts and finishes at Monks Cowl Reserve’s car park.
  • Don’t sleep at the top if you’re not extremely fit.
  • Pack light: The heavier your pack, the tougher the hike.