"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in." - John Muir, Mountaineer &Conservationist
The year 2020 brought about a mass introspection and a reassessment of ideals, unlocking a deeper desire in people to connect with the outdoors and invest in their wellbeing. Surveys show that between 30 and 40% of young adults took up new outdoor activities in the year following the pandemic, with running, hill walking, hiking, and sea swimming being the top four.
Multi-day mountain hiking has always attracted a fair share of die-hard fans, a unique breed of adventurous outdoors people. However, it is quickly becoming a more popular, appealing, and accessible aspect of South African life.
The Drakensberg wilderness, which contains 36% of the country's proclaimed wilderness areas and all of its highest peaks, is considered by most to be the ultimate hiking destination in South Africa. Not only is it renowned for its towering basalt escarpment, but also for the pristine nature of its forests, rivers, flora, and fauna.
Since the earliest written records of people encountering the 'Dragon's Back' or the 'Barrier of Spears,' there has been an element of something magically raw that leaves a lasting mark. There's an as-yet-undefined combination of components, with a touch of the supernatural, that make hiking in the 'berg' so pure, refreshing, slightly daunting, and yet always alluring.
"Most people are on the world, not in it… touching but separate. The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness." - John Muir
Long before terms like forest bathing, earthing/grounding, and ice baths entered our vocabulary, hikers would testify to the invigorating connection experienced through days spent moving in remote wilderness.
All of these now proven modern practices are naturally woven into a Drakensberg multi-day hike, along with the magnificent beauty, the freshest air, and sipping crisp water straight from the stream.
Disconnect from the routine, pace, and demands of modern humanity. Leave behind the online world and connect with the timeless rhythm of the peaks. Drift off to sleep just after sunset, accompanied by the soothing sounds of a flowing river, owls on the prowl, or the wind through the crags. Wake up at sunrise to the sweet melody of birds chirping and vultures gliding by on the thermals.
Connect with people by sharing, enduring, and appreciating new experiences together, whether it's with family or newfound friends. Small group hikes will almost always broaden your horizons across cultures and continents, as well as being the best way to progress in the never-ending school of outdoor skills and hike hacks.
"Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action." - John Muir
What is a worthy adventure without some form of hardship or effort? The gear and gadgets may play an important part, but a hike is primarily a physical and mental challenge. It involves covering wilderness terrain, being exposed to the elements, and surviving in an isolated environment, far from the comforts of a modern home, while carrying all you need on your back. It's a group activity, but also a deeply personal pursuit.
As the saying goes, the mountain cannot be brought down, so we can only elevate ourselves.
These words, though mundane in everyday life, evolve into a tangible personal identification somewhere during a journey into the berg.
To fully embrace the wellness benefits of a hike, it's recommended to hike for around five to six hours a day, providing ample time to connect at each break, viewpoint, and wilderness campsite.
Apart from the sense of accomplishment, the spectacular views, and the wellness benefits, it's worth rewarding yourself with the best nourishment.
Wholesome hiking is very much achievable today, with a host of enjoyable, compact, and environmentally-friendly products and brands available. Avoid making the common mistake of buying a whole host of untried, ‘scientific’ (often artificial) mixes the day before a hike. Instead, stick to tasty, natural, and wholefood/superfood solutions, and don't forget the fresh AeroPress coffee!
Remember to leave no trace and respect the environment, the unpredictable weather, the terrain, and your fellow hikers. Your reward and fulfilment are significantly influenced by respecting the physical and practical preparation process.
Speak to people, do your research, understand the risks, and ensure that you have all the right gear. Unless you've gained significant experience, it's advisable to use a qualified guide.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Geoff Brown has had a deep affiliation with the Drakensberg since early childhood and is the founder and lead guide at IntoTheBerg.co.za.