Northern Drakensberg – Mdedelelo Wilderness Area
It’s hard to leave the path you’re on, even if it’s the wrong one.
The Drakensberg is an intimidating beast of a mountain range. Temperamental to its core, it is as unreasonable as it is beautiful. Relative to the age of this dragon, we are fragile, transient, a speck in time. That is the wonder of the berg. It will forever be bigger, better and more important than you.
We start our two-day hike from the front lawn of the family cottage, where we have been keeping watch over the mountain for the last few days. Heading up the stubborn Mankulumani path and onto the official Monk’s Cowl hiking route, we are happy to reach the first of many summits. The dramatic heights of the Drakensberg provide flawless views and perspective. We hike steadily from view to view. You seem to think more clearly with the land lying mapped out below you. It’s the kind of clarity you wish you could wrap up like a treasure and sneak back off the mountain with you in your rucksack, but which unflinchingly devotes itself to this place and its perspective.
Our first day’s hiking delivers us tired and sweaty to the uplifting cool of Stable Cave. This massive overhang used to serve as stables for farmers trekking stock across the veld in days gone by, and is a sheltered space with many comfortable sleeping and cooking spots. Camping under the vast overhang is eerie with only one another and a myriad of unseen animals for company. We are pleased to have the steady rain as a more familiar companion. Our hard rock beds make it easy to get up early in the morning. The cold air turns our coffee into a genuine treat.
The hike back from Stable Cave is meant to be the easier of the two days, but the weather has changed and a thick wet mist has settled in. It hangs heavily in the air, gathering into droplets on Eras’ beard, on branches of scrub and the bright yellow petals of Hottentots Tea. A quick jab at the stem of the flower moves it swiftly out of the way, revealing the exoskeleton of water that hangs in the air for just a fraction of a second before falling in a sheet to the already soaking wet ground.
We are happy to be wet up to our bums in the long grass. We are happy to be hiking. We are happy to be headed home for a hot shower and a cup of tea. We are happy to be enveloped in a beautiful grey mist. We are not happy to be lost.
We are on a path that has taken a turn in the wrong direction. Having stuck with it for a while in the hopes of it intersecting another trail, we realise that continuing on this trajectory could turn our modest two-day hike into a much longer one. It isn’t a question of what to do so much as gaining the courage to do it. We need to get onto the right route, but there simply is no other path in sight.
Sometimes you have to leave the path you’re on, even though it is clear and strong and has dutifully delivered you to the spot you now stand. You have to forsake its hospitality and venture out into the long wet grass with uncertain footing and large uneven sod set to trip you up as you tentatively steal forward. A metre or two into the thick mist and you have to ignore the old path’s call and its promise to take you back. For surely that old path leads somewhere, to a place that many feet have travelled, even if that somewhere is the wrongwhere.
The beautiful realisation is waiting only a few steps further as the landscape takes on a whole new perspective. And there, neatly carved into the hillside, you find a new path, as clear and strong as the one you gave up on. It welcomes you to its smooth and solid surface as it snakes its way in the right direction, to the right place.
This is the path we follow all the way home.
Trail Head Location (WGS84)
S29º 01’ 44.4” E29º 23’ 43.3”
– OR –
S29º 02’ 56.1” E29º 24’ 21.5”
Monk’s Cowl Forest Station – Alternative trail head adding 6km to the total distance.
Other Trails At Destination
Network of trails starting and ending at the Monk’s Cowl Forest Station.
Crystal Falls, The Sphinx, Sterkspruit Falls and Keartlands Pass are all popular day hikes.
Total Distance : 23,6km
Distance Day 1 : 11,8km
Distance Day 2 : 11,8km
Trail Type : Return
Trail Markings : Not good. A good map is a must.
Starting Altitude : 1485
Summit Altitude : 2045
Lowest Altitude :1380
Difficulty Rating : 6 / 10
Dustbins : N
Water points : Ample during summer – Check with Monks Cowl Forest Station prior to departure during dryer months.
Toilets : N
How To Book
Monk’s Cowl Forest Station
+27 36 468 1103
Permits need to be obtained prior to overnight hikes and the mountain registry need to be signed.
Hiked 28 Dec & 9 Aug