SENTINEL PEAK TRAIL, Drakensberg
Start: Sentinel car park (almost 3 000 metres above sea level)
Finish: Sentinel car park
Duration: a whole day
Fitness: fit (the hike may be shortened, but it is a slog nonetheless)
Our tip: if you suffer from vertigo, the vertical ascent up the cliff face might be a challenge
The Sentinel Peak trail in the Drakensberg is also known as the ‘chain ladders’ hike.
What would usually be a rather tough and arduous multi-day slog from the Mahai campsite in the Royal Natal National Park is converted into a day’s hike. The difference: a drive across the border into the Free State, to start the walk from the Sentinel car park.
In this way, the hike is shortened to about seven hours – if you allow yourself enough time for a break at the top for lunch and to gasp at the views.
One should not venture up the mountain without being prepared (food, water, clothes and even a tent, in case a storm arises).
The initial walk (the trail is self-guided and well marked but if you are in the least inexperienced, best to do this with a guide) is on a good, but steep, path that skirts in a series of zig zags (pause at the top to take in the views) to the base of the Sentinel where you reach the chain ladders.
These are high enough up the mountain to immediately scale the vertical face of the Mont-Aux-Sources massif.
The chain ladders will more than test your metal – if you are even slightly frightened of heights, then don’t look down.
There is the alternative of hiking up the steep gully to the top of the Beacon Buttress (it is only fair to warn you that it is pretty steep).
Once up the escarpment the scenery now flattens out. It is a half hour walk to the edge of the Amphitheater where the Tugela falls over its edge (provided it has rained).
You can now either head back down the way you have come, or you can return via the Beacon Buttress gully.