The Drakensberg Chain Ladder Walk/Climb

Grade: ***** An outing NOT to be missed!

Time in Hours Outward: All Day

Time in Hours total: All Day

The Drakensberg Chain Ladder is one of the most scenic and rewarding of all hikes accessible to day visitors anywhere along the escarpment of the Drakensberg. It is recommended you use suitable walking/hiking footwear; carry an item of long-sleeved protective clothing/jacket plus a hat/cap; at least one litre of non-alcoholic refreshment per person in your party; light foodstuffs, such as fruit or a ready supply of glucose sweets (Super-C are very good); sun block, and a fully charged mobile phone (only to be used in case of need!). It is not entirely necessary to be a marathon-fit athlete, but discretion is advised: the lesser fit should allow a full eight hours to complete the return journey, which commences at 2560m and rises to 2987m at the crest of the Ladder.

There are some remarkable views along the 6 kilometre route to the Sentinel Car Park, where one is required to complete a register. A nominal entry fee is levied. Expect a continual upward ascent for the first hour, by which time one is beneath the northern face of the Sentinel (3165m). After this, the path generally levels out, leading to a gradual yet gentle ascent amidst breathtaking scenery as the trail winds beneath towering peaks and giddying drops below. Keep an eye out for the large birds of prey that frequent these lofty and ancient citadels. Encountering a reptile of the legless variety on any path in the mountains is very rare, albeit possible, so it might be an idea for the lead person in your group to use a walking stick. Generally speaking, snakes detect ground vibrations from approaching pedestrians/animals well in advance of their arrival and so they move away.

There are two sections of chain ladder, each of approximately 50 rungs apiece. There is also a choice of ladder; one without large “grabbing handles” (the left-hand one) and one with (on the right). All that is required is a calm nerve, the slow deliberate placing of a foot onto each rung and a quiet, unhurried pace. It is said that it is best to avoid looking down, just to concentrate on the task in hand. However, each of us is different from the other; there is no shame in electing not to climb the ladder, preferring to remain behind. The views on the walk itself are remarkable in themselves. But, you came this far…?!

Once at the top, one’s immediate response is a sense of anti-climax as the flat plateau is vast and quite fearless. Once having gained your bearings, the realization that you are now “not inside…on top!” of the mountains, dawns. Look for traces of the Tugela River below the Mountain Hut (1 kilometre southeast of you) and follow the path east which converges with the river/stream cutting. Twenty five minutes later, you will find yourself standing at the edge of the Amphitheatre, at 2926m, gazing down into the Tugela Gorge a full thousand metres beneath you. Here, we recommend you check the time elapsed since you left the Sentinel Car Park that morning, add half an hour (for those tired legs) and plan your arrival back to the Car Park for prior to nightfall.

All hikes are available to be done with or without a guide. Guides are available on request.

Upon completion, kindly ensure that you sign-out at the register.

View a write-up of the Chain Ladder hike by Louise de Waal