The trails and footpaths that criss-cross the four regions of the MDR offer a range of hiking options for those who take pleasure in being immersed in the fragile diversity of the natural world. From day hikes and gentle walks to extreme expeditions, the allure of exploring towering peaks and tranquil valleys or taking a moment to swim in a clear mountain stream provides a perfect escape from the bustle of daily life. There are numerous places to find accommodation, as well as the choice of taking a guide along many of the routes, making this one of the best ways to fully experience the splendour of the MDR, at any time of year.
The Drakensberg has an extensive network of well-maintained foot-paths. An exciting development in recent years is that of community-owned trails, which benefit the local rural communities directly. Local guides, food and accommodation are usually part of the package, as well as the opportunity to experience the culture of rural village life.
In Lesotho the villages are connected by a criss-cross of paths, making it easy to get from one point to another with the aid of a good map. Keep in mind that you will be hiking through rural farmland rather than a formally protected area. You are likely to meet shepherds and local villagers. Be friendly and treat them with respect – remember that you are a visitor in their land. You may also encounter dogs which are bred and trained to guard the sheep. Stay well clear of sheep to avoid provoking the dogs’ protective instincts. Tibetan-style trekking, where you carry a minimum of supplies and depend on small villages along the way to buy food and accommodation, is an option for the more adventurous. When seeking accommodation in a village, speak first to the village chief and ask his permission. If you are unsure about tackling such a hike, rather entrust yourself to the care of a good guide. Remember that Lesotho is an independent country. All visitors, including South Africans, must have their passports with them with an entry stamp from a designated entry point.
What is the best time of year for hiking?
Hiking can be enjoyed all year round. Choose times which suit your own preferences and level of experience.
The summer months (October to March) are generally warm to hot in the daytime. This is the rainy season, so expect humid conditions and regular afternoon thunderstorms. The key to hiking at this time of year is to start off as early as possible in the morning. Periods of continuous rain and mist, lasting several days at a time, can also occur in summer. Remember that the rain causes rivers to swell, making them difficult or dangerous to cross. Never camp in a stream bed – hikers have been swept away by flash floods in the past.
The winter months (May to August) tend to be dry with warm, sunny days, but the nights are extremely cold. Snow is likely at higher altitudes. The winters in Lesotho are very harsh.
No matter what the season, always be prepared for sudden weather changes and sub-zero temperatures. The Maloti and Drakensberg ranges have been known to get snow at any time of the year, including mid-summer!
A precious and vulnerable environment
The Maloti and Drakensberg Mountains are home to a great wealth of plants and animals adapted to survive in often harsh conditions – rocky, with thin soil and extremes of temperature. If plants or animals are harmed, or when conditions change because of our intervention, these species become vulnerable to extinction. The mountains contain wealth in other forms – cultural treasures left by
the people who have lived here; and ancient fossils and minerals which unlock for us the mysteries of our origins. These assets belong to us all, to enjoy but not destroy, to respect and protect, and to preserve for all who will follow us in the days and generations that lie ahead.
How can I ensure the safety of myself and my group?
Remember that the wildness which draws us to the mountains also holds many hazards.
When planning a hike, select routes and set a pace according to the abilities of the weakest or youngest members of your group. Always keep the group together.
Inform family or friends of your exact route and your planned starting and return times. Complete the Mountain Rescue Register at your starting point. Stick to your planned route. Have a good map of the area and know how to read it.
Never hike alone – preferably remain in groups of at least three.
Make sure you are properly equipped for all weather conditions, even if the weather forecast is favourable. In case of an emergency, take some extra food and carry a tent and a first aid kit.
It is also wise to have a whistle to help attract attention, as well as a cell-phone and a list of emergency numbers. Cellphone reception is available in some areas.
Never camp in a stream bed – hikers have been swept away by flash floods in the past.
Keep alert for snakes and take care to avoid them. There are three extremely dangerous species in the region – the Puff Adder, the Spitting Cobra or Rinkhals, and the Berg Adder.
In a lightning storm, stay on lower, flat ground, away from water, trees, fences, horses and cattle. Don’t stand up, but don’t lie flat – sit down and draw your knees close to your chest.
If caught in thick mist, stay where you are, if possible, until the mist clears, while keeping as warm and dry as possible. Otherwise carefully follow a path or stream downwards to try to find help.
If trapped by snow, get out of the wind and keep as warm and dry as possible. To attract the attention of an air search, mark your position with as much brightly-coloured material (backpacks, etc.) as possible.
If overtaken by a fast-moving wildfire, get into a grove of live trees if possible. In open country, burn a fire-break around you. As a last resort, face the speeding fire and try to run through it.