The Drakensberg – FAF Chapter 3

The Drakensberg stands as a testament to nature’s grandeur and the climber’s spirit of resilience. Known as the Barrier of Spears, it is a realm of extreme beauty and challenge, a place where the earth meets the sky in a dramatic display of craggy peaks and rolling hills. The landscape, with its palette of green and gold, unfolds like a living tapestry, telling stories of ancient civilizations, daring explorers, and the continuous dialogue between climber and mountain.

Out of the Frying Pan...

From the outset, the Drakensberg demands respect. The weather, capricious and fierce, mirrors the rugged terrain. Climbers face the mountain’s tests, grappling with crumbly basalt and anchoring to sturdy grass tufts that, surprisingly, can support significant weight. The terrain is a mosaic of natural challenges, where protection is rare and the thrill of the ascent is punctuated by moments of intense vulnerability.

The journey into the Drakensberg is not merely a physical traverse but a historical pilgrimage. The land, sacred and storied, has been home to the Bushmen, who felt the footsteps of the first classical mountaineers in the 1880s. These pioneers, venturing into the unknown, marked the beginning of a mountaineering legacy that would shape the region’s future.

Walking in the Footsteps of Giants

The climbing community owes much to the early ascents of peaks like Cathkin and Sterkhorn, which laid the groundwork for the rich climbing culture that followed. The establishment of the Natal Mountain Club in 1919 marked a significant chapter in this history, promoting not only the sport but a philosophy of cooperation and mutual respect. This ethos, emphasizing community over competition, has ensured a legacy of safety and shared joy in the challenges of the berg.

The narrative of climbing in the Drakensberg is also one of inclusivity and progress. Women and men, side by side, have scaled these heights, challenging not just the physical landscape but societal norms. The Angus-Leppan route, pioneered by a husband-wife team, symbolizes this spirit of partnership and adventure that defines the berg’s climbing scene.

As the history of the Drakensberg unfolds, it reveals a chronicle of evolution, from the attire of early climbers to the modern gear that adorns today’s adventurers. This evolution is not just in the physical tools of the trade but in the spirit and approach to mountaineering. The berg has seen the transition from hemp ropes to nylon, from isolation to community, reflecting broader changes in the world of climbing.

Engaging with the Drakensberg is to engage with history itself, a continuous thread connecting past, present, and future climbers. The mountains stand as silent witnesses to the enduring human desire to explore, conquer, and ultimately coexist with the natural world. This connection, this eternal conversation between man and mountain, is what makes the Drakensberg not just a place of physical challenge but a journey of the soul.

(c) Dave Taylor

Join us at FA’s FAF Chapter 3 as we delve into the essence of the Drakensberg, exploring its majestic landscape and the narratives woven into its peaks and valleys. Through the lens of history and personal experience, we understand that climbing here is more than a sport; it is a pilgrimage into the heart of nature and a reflection of our innermost selves.

This exploration of the Drakensberg, with its rich tapestry of history, challenge, and community, is not just a recounting of past exploits but an invitation. It beckons to those who seek not only the thrill of ascent but the deeper connection that comes from facing the berg’s towering peaks and the stories they hold. The Drakensberg calls to the heart of every climber, promising a journey of discovery that transcends the physical realm.

In capturing the essence of the Drakensberg, we not only pay homage to the legacy of those who came before us but also lay the groundwork for future generations of climbers. Chapter 3 of the FAF is a tribute to this enduring legacy, a narrative that intertwines the history of the berg with the personal journeys of those who dare to scale its heights. It is here, in the dance between man and mountain, that the true spirit of the Drakensberg is revealed—a spirit of adventure, reverence, and continuous exploration.

As we stand on the shoulders of the giants who have shaped the history of the Drakensberg, we are reminded that the journey is far from over. The mountain continues to evolve, and with each ascent, we add our chapter to its storied past. The Drakensberg is not just a place of natural beauty but a living history, a canvas on which the human spirit continues to paint its legacy of courage, curiosity, and camaraderie.

In the end, the FAF Chapter 3 is more than a recount of historical events; it is a celebration of the enduring bond between climbers and the Drakensberg. It is a story of how, through the act of climbing, we come to know not only the mountain but ourselves. As we gear up for the next chapter, the berg awaits, its peaks and valleys ready to test our mettle, challenge our perceptions, and enrich our understanding of what it means to be truly alive in the embrace of the mighty Barrier of Spears.

Martin Swart and Kat Odendaal

Dirtbag Highliner and Professional Gumby

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