My grandfather built a small thatched-roof cottage in the central Drakensberg in 1968. For the last 50 years our extended family has been visiting this same small, thatched-roof cottage. This meant we got to know the Champagne Castle area really well. Whenever we felt the urge to explore a new route, chances were that my father or an uncle had hiked it. There was always someone with a suggestion.
Lately, as we started looking for challenges further afield, our default knowledge pool ran dry. For the first time we had to start searching online for information.
Google ‘Drakensberg hikes’ and you will be the unlucky receiver of 396 000 search results. Many of them anecdotal or with a clear B&B agenda. Thanks Google, but when it comes to advice, there is a clear preference for quality over quantity. One of the sites that has quickly become my go-to bookmark for all things hiking in the Drakensberg is Vertical-endeavor.com.
The first thing that makes this site so handy is that it is a discussion forum. Over the last 8 years an active community of about 1 800 hikers have been contributing their knowledge on a daily basis. The collective knowledge is astounding. You’d be hard pressed to reference a pass or gully that at least one of the community members don't already know. Chances are that a member has walked it recently and can tell you the condition of the path, how much water is available, how long it should take or even help you out with a recent GPS track.
To give a sense of scale, the forum has about 17 000 posts in total. It covers more than 1200 topics in detail; ranging from from members’ trip reports to gear reviews, from news on tourist developments to search and rescue operations, from serious security discussions to hiker banter punctuated with an array of emoticons. Whatever your question, it has more than likely already been answered, just search for it.
What amazed me, aside from the community’s depth and breadth of knowledge, is their willingness to help. Forum members eagerly answer questions because it’s an excuse to keep talking about hiking. These guys get seriously excited about hikes, theirs and yours. It’s very new-comer friendly, once you’ve read the thread on how the forum works, just jump right in.
Next time you’re planning a Drakensberg trip or are looking for some distraction from work, check it out.