9 Peaks details

In late December, Daniel Barnard and George Louw set a new 9 Peaks group record when they reached the highest point in each of South Africa’s nine Provinces in a time of four days 18 hours. This is how their adventure unfolded…

Murch Point

They settled on the idea of doing the nine peaks during their annual hike up Thabana Ntlenyana in July 2012. With busy schedules and committments, they were left with the December festive season for this adventure, which comes with its own hazards; thunder storms in the north, high temperatures in the south and crazy holiday traffic.

They began their adventure on the 21 December 2012, driving from Jo’burg to Limpopo Province. Travelling in Daniel’s fuel-thirsty Jeep they stuck to 100km/hr travel.

Although they’d planned to begin their summit of Limpopo Province’s Iron Crown peak at midnight, they woke up 30 minutes after to wind and fog. “We had to use the GPS on the barely visible footpath to find our way to the top. The round trip took us less than 30 minutes and we were back in the car on route to Die Berg, which was the second peak on our trip and the highest mountain in the Mpumulanga province,” George says.

The road to Lydenburg was slow as it passes through small settlements on below-average roads.  They stopped next to the road, roughly three kilometres from Die Berg summit and approached it straight up the steep side, bashing through the rough thicket on the way to top. The round trip took them just less than an hour. They’d predicted two hours.

Next their route took them on back roads towards Middelburg and then on to the N4 to the Buffelspoort off-ramp, just before Rustenburg. The pair had originally planned to access Nooitgedacht peak from Ingwe Bush Lodge, but after speaking to the land owner they had to make alternative arrangements.  ”This route would have taken us very close to the peak by car, making the turnaround trip on foot less than 30 minutes,” George explains.

Instead they approached access the peak from Mountain Sanctuary Park, which lies to the west of the peak and makes this leg a 14km round trip. They caught the midday heat.

We arrived at the Mountain Sanctuary at 10h30 and were hoping for a quick two-hour trail run up to the peak and back.  It ended up taking us two hours 30 minutes and left us with battered bodies,” says George.

A bit behind schedule, they had only three hours to get to their 4th peak, Toringkop in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, South of Jo’burg. “Visitors aren’t allowed in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve after 16h00 and we had three hours to cover the approximately 120km, over a rutted out Breedtsnek, along the winding Hekpoort roads, through the city at 14th avenue and onto the N1 south, N12 and finally the N3,” George explains.

They made it to the northern gate with 25 minutes to spare. Toringkop is an easy hike of a few hundred metres from the road but as car traffic is only allowed to travel in one direction it’s a long drive to the southern gate. They crawled into Heidelberg to fill up with fuel.

Already on the N3 and heading South, the duo took turns napping on the drive to Harrismith, where they refueled and stocked up on food and drinks. “Rain, lightning and thunder were evident everywhere and that dampened our spirits somewhat as the Drakensberg is not a place you want to wander around in such conditions,” George adds.

From Harrismith they took the N5 towards Phuthaditjhaba and up Witsieshoek towards the Sentinel car park.  They arrived just after 21h00 on Saturday 22 December seeing evidence of proof of heavy rains everywhere.

And then they were off for Namahadi, the highest peak in the Free State province and the first of the Drakensberg peaks. Preparing for heavy weather they packed all the gear necessary for the conditions including hiking boots and trekking poles.

It took them an hour, in the pitch black of night to reach Namahadi via the chain ladders and following GPS coordinates. Not knowing the best route and out there in the dark they used contours and ended up ascending the steepest sections. “The last few kilometres of the 13-kilometre, one-way hike got tough, mentally and physically with an increase in rolling hills, fatiguing bodies and sleep-deprived minds.  We had been awake for most of the last 24 hours at this stage, with only an hour or two sleep for both of us,” George remembers.

Feeling sleepy on the descent they napped for 45 minutes wearing all of their warm clothing. They returned to their car just before 08h00 (Sunday, 23 December). Next, another Drakensberg summit and the highest in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province AND South Africa, Mafadi.

They took the via Bergville and Winterton towards Injisuthi. Fortunately the lightning and heavy clouds had cleared by the time they set off for Injisuthi at 13h00. They took 2.5 hours to reach Marble Baths (where they had lunch and a swim) and then a big effort to get to the top of Leslie’s Pass. Tired and “broken” they took a nap for an hour… And again on the way back from the summit, in the same place, to wake them up sufficiently for the technical descent. They completed the round-trip hike in a bit over 20 hours.

Sunrise from Leslie’s Pass on the return from Mafadi

As we prepared to leave for Kwaduma we were stopped by a gentleman who informed us that we made the quickest ascend and descend of Mafadi, doing the roundtrip in 20 hours and 28 minutes. According to him the record was held by Kobus Bresler [FEAT speaker, October 2011] at approximately 27 hours,” George says.

Their route to Kwaduma (Eastern Cape) took them back through Winterton and then through to Howick on the N3 and then from Underberg to Kokstad and finally the Tabase police station to begin the hike. Kwaduma is the highest peak in the Eastern Cape is the third and final of the Drakensberg peaks. The pair lost more than two hours when they missed the turn off in the dark, battling rain and muddy roads.

They finally reached the police station at 23h00 and unsurprisingly the police officers were reluctant to let the pair head out into the dark. “They suggested we start our hike at first light. At that point I welcomed their suggestion, which meant catching up on some much needed sleep. We slept in the car and it was the best sleep ever, although only for five hours,” George says.

They set off from the car at 05h18 on Christmas day. A lift from the police to the start of the hiking trail would have shortened the trip by four kilometres… the guys had to hike it instead. Cattle trails took them on the shortest and easiest route to the escarpment where they were welcomed by heavy rain and a strong head wind.

Kwaduma ended up being one of the nicest and most beautiful hikes of the entire trip. The last few kilometres on the way back were painful, especially as our feet started to complain profusely. We fortunately got a lift from one of the locals for the last four kilometres, which at that point seemed like the highlight of the trip.  We ended up doing the 36km hike in just over 11 hours.

Kwaduma

From Mount Fletcher they headed through Maclare and Elliot before driving via Barkly East to Aliwal North.  Here they picked up George’s girlfriend, who understood that she could not interfere with their trip; she was not allowed to drive, navigate or assist with any part of the remaining hikes.

Next up was Middelburg in the Western Cape Province and the Murch Point peak. Murch Point lies a distance from Middelburg, towards the town of New Beteshda. Negotiating the muddy and slippery gravel road got them to their start point in the early hours of Monday, 26 December.

We started off just before 05h00 and struggled through thick Karoo shrubs and muddy undergrowth,” George describes. “It was cloudy and cool and as we approach the summit a thick fog covered us, which required the use of the GPS for our final approach.  We completed the round trip in three hours.”

The gravel road to Graaf Reinet was rough and muddy and the travellers were forced to turn back to follow a detour towards the N1 and on to Laingsburg and then to Ladismith and their final peak, Seweweekspoort.

“We knew that this last peak was going to take every bit of energy out of us.  From the contour map we knew it was steep, with no trail and the midday heat to contend. Our lower legs were very swollen due to water retention from the non-stop hiking of the last few days, but nothing was going to stop us now,” George says.

They left the car just after 16h00 and set off into terrain covered by thick fynbos, loose rocks and massive boulders.

“We summited Seweweekspoort exactly 4 days, 18 hours and 38 minutes from the moment the trip officially started. We were both relieved and very proud of our efforts.  9 Peaks in the bag, the highest in every Province.”

Seweweekspoort

Total hiking: 146km on foot in 54 hours

Total hiking ascent: just short of the height of Everest.

Average hiking speed: 2.7km/hr

Total driving: 3500km, from the first to the last peak with approximately 60 hours en-route between peaks.

Hiking record set: round trip to Mafadi from Injisuthi camp site in 20 hours 28 minutes (around 6 hours faster than Kobus Bresler’s previous record time)

Province Peak Date Start  Time Duration Distance Average Speed Ascent Travel Time
Limpopo Iron Crown 22/12/2012 00:33 00:21:08 1.54 4.4 100 04:32
Mpumalanga Die Berg 22/12/2012 05:27 00:56:14 4.58 4.9 318 04:15
North West Nooitgedacht 22/12/2012 10:39 02:35:20 14.7 5.7 508 02:45
Gauteng Toringkop 22/12/2012 16:00 00:06:15 0.53 5.1 17 05:56
Free State Namahadi 22/12/2012 22:03 09:37:03 26.6 2.8 1227 05:19
Kwazulu Natal Mafadi 23/12/2012 13:00 20:28:00 43.3 2.1 2727 19:50
Eastern Cape Kwaduma 25/12/2012 05:18 11:19:00 36.8 3.3 1872 12:02
Northern Cape Murch Point 26/12/2012 04:39 03:02:04 9.42 3.1 454 08:22
Western Cape Seweweekspoort 26/12/2012 16:04 05:14:48 8.74 1.7 1146 00:00
Total 53:39:52 146.21 2.73 8369 63:05:56