Blyde River Canyon

What is The Grand Traverse?

The Drakensberg Mountains, meaning ‘Dragon Mountains’ in Afrikaans, are the highest mountains in South Africa, ranging up to 3,482 m (11,422 ft) in height.

The Drakensberg Grand Traverse(DGT) is the ultimate adventure. The longest hike in South Africa. It spans between 220-240km of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, a spectacular mountain range in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province. 

The Grand Traverse is a intense physical challenge that is undertaken by only the most hardcore of hikers.The route starts at Sentinel Car Park, in the northern region of the berg and traverses south along almost the entire length of the mountain range ending in Bushman’s Neck. Along the way hikers have to hit 8 checkpoints , throughout the berg, in order for the route to be considered official.

It takes the average hiker between 10-14 days to complete but ultra trail runners generally can make it happen in half that time. The fastest time is currently sitting at a mere 41hrs and 49mins. 41hrs for 200km!!! It was set by South Africans Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel. Check out the redbull video on that insane record.

The Grand Traverse Route

The Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT) starts at the Sentinel Car Park and finishes at the Bushman’s Neck Border Post, requiring one to summit Mont Aux Sources, Cleft Peak, Champagne Castle, Mafadi, Giant’s Castle and Thabana Ntlenyana in between. The route between these points is not predefined, but various record attempts through the years have settled on the fastest route which is approximately 205km long when “straight lining” along the most efficient route. In reality, your average hiker will follow contours and river beds on the same route, which should yield a route of between 220km and 240km (excluding any side trips).

The route can be done both North to South and South to North but most people do the North-South route. South to North can be a little tougher, as you start from a much lower altitude, then climb up to the top of the Drakensberg at Bushman’s Nek. The ridge over Walker’s Pass is also a major climb from the south side, and is usually done on the first day. From the North side, however, the hiking starts from the Sentinel car park, which is at a much higher altitude, thereby saving much energy.

 

Re-supply Points:

The Grand Traverse is usually supplied twice. Once at Bannerman’s Pass and again at Sani Pass.

The Bannerman’s Pass drop (or perhaps Langilebele Pass) requires a hiking party to come up on a two-day-one-night hike (at least). Good co-ordination between the DGT party and the re-supply group is essential and a exact meeting place must be arranged that is easy to find, even in bad weather. It is also prudent for the re-supply team to be a bit flexible in their timings in case the DGT group are delayed dor some reason. And it is a good idea for the DGT group to have a short hike day on the re-supply day, to allow for any time delays that may occur.

At Sani Pass, it will require a 4×4 and valid passports for the re-supply group to get to Sani Top. It is also a good plan for this re-supply team to include a clean set of clothes and socks etc.

Speed Records For The Drakensberg Grand Traverse

Since 1999 various people and teams have pitted themselves against the Grand Traverse, with the challenge of doing it in the fastest possible time. If you sign up for this gruelling ‘race’, the DGT follows a very definate route with set criteria.

Gavin Raubenheimer and his brother Lawrie Raubenheimer set these standards in 1999, when they first set out to see how fast the DGT could be done. Check out Gavin’s first hand account of that adventure here.

 

The Criteria for the Grand Traverse Race are as follows:

  • Start at Sentinel car park
  • Summit the following peaks: Monte-aux-Sources Peak, Cleft Peak, Champagne Castle, Mafadi, Giant’s Castle, Thabana Ntlenyana
  • Descend via Thamathu Pass
  • End at the first gate at Bushman’s Nek border post

There is no seconding or re-supplys allowed during record attempts.

 

Records:

The orginal record was set at 105 hours 39 mins (4 days, 9 hours) by Gavin Raubenheimer and his brother Lawrie Raubenheimer. This record stood for less than 10 years. It has since been broken several times and at the time of writing, the men’s record stands at a staggering 41 hors 49 minutes. This was achieved by Ryno Griesel and Ryan Sands in March 2014. The mixed record stands at 63 hours 33 minutes held by Ryno Griesel and Linda Doke since March 2015.

(Note* : This information was accurate as of 2017 when my source wrote it. If the record has  since been broken, let me know in the comments below and I’ll update this info.)

Drakensberg Mini Traverse

If the Grand Traverse seems a bit intimadating to you (or if your fitness level is not up to parr) you can do the Drakensberg Mini Traverse (DMT). The Northern Drakensberg Traverse has earned its acclaim, securing a spot among the top 10 best hikes globally according to National Geographic, and for good reason – it’s simply outstanding.

Often referred to as the Mini Traverse, it encompasses the initial five days of the esteemed Grand Traverse, showcasing iconic Drakensberg landmarks such as the Amphitheatre, Tugela Waterfall, and Madonna and Her Worshippers. Undoubtedly, this route is a quintessential Drakensberg adventure.

Best Time of Year to do The Grand Traverse

The best time to attempt the Grand Traverse is during the months of April or May, as this period usually has the most stable weather in the Drakensberg. Doing it in July or August is possible, but it can get very cold, and snowfalls and deep snow on the ground could hinder progress. 

The Drakensberg Mini Traverse is also good to do during April or May but because it so much shorter and less committin, it can be done at any time of the year.

Doing The Grand Traverse is one of the big adventures I want to complete in the next year or two. It’s not an easy undertaking by any means but what an experience it will be, to see the whole Drakensberg Mountains in one sweeping glorious adventure.

Hopefully this blog has convinced you to set the Traverse as one of your own bucketlist hikes in South Africa. If you have any advice, tips or resources about the Traverse, or if you are one of few hardcore badasses that have actaully done the Traverse, let me and everyone know about your adventure in the comments below. Let’s here your stories!

 

– Chase The Adventure –

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