By Christopher Dos Santos
Last year I was invited on a hike by my friend Ross Van Schalkwyk. Little did we know, we would have the experience of a lifetime. Hougard Malan, a landscape photographer, had organised this trip to the top of Sentinel Peak in the Northern Drakensburg quite a while in advance, so we were lucky enough to tag along.
With the build up to the hike we were all watching the weather forecasts, and it was for snow! Its not often South Africans get to experience this much snow, and I am by no means a professional landscape photographer, but I was very excited for this opportunity to practice my skills.
Myself and Ross left Joburg, and about 3 hours later arrived at Witsieshoek Resort. There we slowly started to meet up with the other hikers/photographers we would be spending the next week with. Our group was mostly made up of people from Cape Town, all of whom seemed a lot more prepared.
The next morning we were repacking our bags when Hougard and company walked in. They weren't impressed. Ross and I had packed too much food. Our tent was too big. And we were in jeans. Thankfully they lent us a more suitable tent, and helped us repack with stuff we actually needed to survive.
Once ready we left Witsieshoek and drove up to the Sentinel Peak car park. We took a group photo and then started the trek. It was misty and there was a slight drizzle for the majority of the hike. It took us a few hours but we eventually reached the infamous chain ladders. Fighting some strong winds we climbed up and made our way to the Tugela Falls where we set up our campsite.
I've explored parts of the Drakensburg before, and even though it was incredibly misty, this place was still breathtaking. We were quite literally in the clouds. We set up our tents on a snowless spot next to the Tugela River, had a walk around, waited to see if the clouds would clear up, then climbed into our tents. The night was spent making noodles and talking kak, with the sounds of wind and rain in the background.
We woke up the next morning to a much lower temperature, opened up our tent and were blinded. Everything was white. The rocks and plants were all gone. We slowly made our way out of our tent and walked to the edge of the cliff but it was still too overcast to see the view. We returned to our tents and waited for better weather, but every chance we got we were out taking photos.
The next morning the mist had cleared but we woke up to a new challenge, which was frozen shoes and tripods. The ponds of water around us were all frozen too.
The weather was tough on our gear, and I expected my Nikon batteries to struggle in the cold but was pleasantly surprised that they lasted. My cell phone battery however was another story. I shot a bit of film too, some Infrared which I haven't developed yet and some Kodak Tri-x. I had the Tri-x in a Nikon F100, which I accidentally opened and exposed half way through the roll.
Over the next few days we watched the snow slowly fade and the Tugela waterfall become much stronger. Other hikers were slowly starting to make it up to the top again, not realizing the epic snowfall they had just missed.
Then came the time to hike back down. This time the sun was out, but the rocks and chain ladder were still very slippery, however it was a chilled hike down compared to the hike up.
We eventually got back to Witsieshoek, each had an amazing shower, and said our goodbyes. On the way back to Joburg, Ross and I stopped at Harrismith for what was probably the greatest Nandos meal of my life. Especially after living off 2 minute noodles for a whole week.
Needless to say I am crossing my fingers and hoping to have the same luck with the berg and the snow later this year!