Drakensberg-Mafadi Peak

 via Corner and Leslies pass

author : Marco Glastra

With a height of 3450m above sea level, the Mafadi is the highest mountain in South Africa. It tops at only 32m less than the highest peak South of the Kilimanjaro, which is the Thabana Ntlenyana (3482m) in Lesotho. The summit of the Mafadi is shared with Lesotho in the Central region of the Drakensberg and is most easily accessed from the Injisuthi Base Camp. This camp, equipped with chalets, campsites and a small shop, is approximately at a 5 hours drive from Johannesburg and brings you relatively close to the escarpment.

We achieved this 4-day hike during the last weekend of winter 2003 (end of August). Luckily the weather behaved more like the first weekend of spring: clear skies, only some light frost on the escarpment and temperatures in the valleys up to 25 įC! The group consisted of people with different fitness levels but all had experience with backpacking in similar mountain ranges.

Day 1 - Injisuthi Camp (~1500m) to Centenary Hut (~2200m)


Since the first day was "only" a 10km walk and a 700m ascent, we arrived late in the morning and started our hike around noon. The first 600m we followed the road in the direction we had just arrived from. The actual trail starts from the bridge and continues very pleasantly along the Njesuthi River. There where plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy some fresh water.


During a late lunch stop a solo detour of 1,5km to the rock art cave was made. The cave wasn't much more than a huge overhang with an ugly fence surrounding it. Art was nowhere to be found. The most rewarding part of the detour was the valley, which was much greener than the ones that lead to Centenary Hut.


After 6km we left the water to follow a clear and steep path in the open grassland up a ridge, taking almost a perfectly straight route to the Centenary Hut. The first section was challenging due to the fact that we found ourselves scattered over at least 200m of the trail. Nevertheless it brought us 400m higher. Everybody passed this first fitness test quite well, so we could continue on our way in full confidence.


After a short stop where we were entertained by some Elands, we finished the rest of the gentle ascent around 5pm. The hut on top of the saddle point could only be seen in the last 100m. It was much more basic than in earlier times. Because of vandalism the water supply and mattresses where missing. Fortunately, we found a water pipe at only 100m from the hut (direction of the Corner Pass). It was used intensively the next morning. We experienced a spectacular night thanks to several big bush fires closer to Monk's Cowl and a very strong North Western wind.

Day 2 - Centenary Hut (~2200m) to upper Injisuthi cave (~3300m)


The contour path could be clearly seen from the hut. It is a steep climb to contour level but it only required an early morning exercise of 5 minutes. At the contour path we went south to head for Corner Pass. The group was silent and concentrated. Was it because of the steep pass that was waiting for us or because of the strong wind that tried to pull us in the direction of the steep grass slopes?


Corner pass was found after several bends at approximately 2km from the Centenary hut. From the bottom you can almost oversee the rocky climb from begin to end. After trying the grassy slopes we decided that the easiest way was straight through the gully, stepping from one rock to the next with here and there some help of our hands. The serious part was where the gully started to narrow between the high rising walls of the escarpment. On a few difficult passages, which required some form of climbing, we helped each other with a hand, a rope or encouragement. Not everybody needed help. The joint efforts where mainly made to make life easier and safer. How difficult is it really? Well, there are three sections where I would definitely not send my mother up ...


We were happy to find several patches of snow above 2500m. Waiting for the ones that enjoyed a slow ascent, we spend our time having a snowball fight. After this combined cool-down and warm up, a very strong tasting and salty soup was prepared. A few where so kind (and fresh) to make a 10 minutes walk down to the river to refill our water bottles.

Becausese of the toll that the pass had taken, the climb to the Injisuthi Cave scattered the group again into 7 individuals.


 Except for a duo with the only GPS (!) that got lost for half an hour, everybody reached the overnight camp around the same time as the previous day: one hour before sunset. In an unsuccessful attempt by two members of the group to walk to Mafadi and back in the last hour of the day, the "lost boys" (not reported lost yet) where found on top of the ridge exactly above the cave. You could conclude that the GPS coordinates are more accurate than the altitude it measures ... The cave was rated as very comfortable and kept the cold wind well outside.

Day 3 - Injisuthi Cave (~3300) to Marble Baths (~1800m) via Mafadi (3450m)


Our wake up call was magnificent: the sun starting to shine on our sleeping bag's when rising above the thin clouds that covered Natal! Originally it was planned to honour the Mafadi with a visit the day before. Due to the late arrival this plan could not be executed. Fortunately a late-night map-analysis by candlelight made us realise that the easiest route from the cave to the top of Leslies Pass almost crosses the top of the Mafadi. This worked out quite well: At 7:30am we left the cave and only 1,5 hour later everybody was on top of the Mafadi. This time the fittest ones closed the row as they had volunteered to make a detour and do some ice breaking (2-3 cm) in order to collect water from a stream closer to the escarpment.


We did it! A light feel of surprise was felt, as we hadnít thought that everybody would make it to the top. 45 hours from base camp to summit, it seemed to be quite normal. Due to the strong wind we enjoyed the top feeling only for half an hour. After a hectic fight with the map in order to learn more about all the beauty surrounding us, we moved on following the top of the ridge to Injisuthi Pass. Stops where mainly made to avoid the tiring wind for some moments and to nibble. From Injisuthi Pass the route followed the escarpment again. Leslies Pass was reached around 11am


The descend was better defined than expected. In fact: it was a clear path. It was the steepness and the length that took the best out of us. Particularly for "our doctor" that faced serious problems with his back due to a step in a hole at the Corner Pass the day before. To make it that day, he had to be helped by the rest of the group. One volunteer offered him a walking stick, another took his sleeping bag and a third one freed him of the backpack that was worsening the pain.


The rest of the descent various techniques where tried in order to bring two backpacks down with one man. Except for a painful slip backwards that made this volunteer almost fade away, all persons and backpacks made it down to the bottom of the pass without any serious problems.

At the bottom of the pass there was only a few km to go to the Marble Baths Cave. Normally there would have been plenty of time to reach the cave before dark, but unfortunately the path was - as confirmed by the map - ill defined. Especially in the beginning where it went everywhere and led to nowhere. After struggling for 2 hours with rocks, bushes and misleading marks we decided to camp on a flat spot close to the river. Not only were our legs tired and the darkness upcoming, but also the fact that we would be able to use our tents for the first time, made us very happy with this alternative camping place.


After dinner, stars where analysed and the few lucky ones who still carried some alcohol with them shared it with the rest of the group. To their own confusion, the early sleepers realised only the next day that they forgot to finish their bottles on this very last night (!)



Day 4 - Marble Baths (~1800m) to Injisuthi Base Camp (~1500m)


After following the slightly better defined path that was winding around the riverbed, we found the Marble Baths after only half an hour. We unanimously agreed with the second part of the name "Marble Baths". Even after a dry period you could probably still be able to take a bath with your whole family. The first part is clearly not good enough. We propose that the nature conservers change Marble Baths to Marvellous Baths! Why? It is probably one of the best rock pools one can find in South Africa.

We especially enjoyed the flat rocks, which are so well positioned that you can easily fall asleep without a mattress. Comparing the cave 60 meter up the mountain with the grassy spot next to the baths, you would definitely prefer a tented camp when staying overnight.


From Marble Baths a short and steep section brings you close to the cave, which is left on the right hand-side. Bending around the corner we could see the Njesuthi Valley again. Another 200m down from the ridge to the river and we could finish off with an easy walk back to the base camp. Knowing the route already from the way up, we increased our speed towards a hot shower. Only a large group of baboons down at the river was able to slow us down a bit. We where back at exactly our estimated arrival time of 12:00am. Shortly after that the first cold beers where opened. We celebrated our safe return in exactly 3x24 hours from the highest summit of South Africa.


Your gentle slopes,

they enlighten me.

Your complex entrance,

let us forget about the rocks.

Your tasty air,

an intoxicating effect.


Your magnificent view,

the world is small again.

Your mysterious name,

some say it means woman?

Marco Glastra


The Mafadi requires high fitness levels and an adventurous attitude. If you make it, the rewards include, magnificent views from one of the highest parts of the escarpment and the opportunity to experience two of the most beautiful passes of The Berg. The described route is probably the easiest way to get to the Mafadi. Although this trip was made as a "half, full, full, half day" hike, you might as well consider to plan it as four full days, depending on the fitness level of the group. Note that water needs to be properly planned, since several parts of the route follow ridges. The "thin air" between 2500m-3500m should be taken into consideration when coming from sea level.

The trail can be booked via KZN Wildlife: www.kznwildlife.com . Feel free to contact Marco Glastra if you have any enquiries about the described trip: m.glastra@hofp.co.za

GPS coordinates were used from a MCSA trail report http://mag.mcsa.org.za/newsletters/02_news06.html  and can be confirmed:

Centenary Hut: S29 11.634 E29 25.655

Corner Pass (bottom): S29 12.920 E29 25.536

Corner Pass (top): S29 12.738 E29 24.486

Injisuthi Cave: S29 11.819 E29 22.307

Mafadi: S29 12.178 E29 21.540

Leslies Pass (top): S29 09.182 E29 20.662

Leslies Pass (bottom): S29 09.402 E29 22.114

Footprint Hiking Club

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