Sentinel Peak Hike South Africa
Distance: 6 miles RT
Fear Factor: Moderate
Fun Factor: Cool Ladder climb
When we looked into hiking Sentinel Peak from our home in Wisconsin before our South Africa trip.. I thought we might be able to do this hike quickly one day and then go on to do another hike in the Drakensberg the same day. This is definitely not the case, as the Sentinel Peak hike turns into an all-day affair (in a good way). Probably the most nail-biting aspect of this hike is the off-road-drive to the Sentinel Peak parking lot. The road ('road' defined loosely) to the car-park is about 4 miles long, and is comprised of boulders, jagged rocks, and deep pot-holes. It takes at least 20-30 minutes of very careful driving to get through this road in a mid-size SUV (we had a rented, "opel grandland X"). I personally wouldn't take a personally-owned-vehicle on this path as you are very likely to damage your car. I'm almost positive this route would be impossible in a standard car (think Honda Civic). You would probably get stuck and be marooned on this road indefinitely.
Once you get to the parking lot, there is a parking lot attendant. I believe he watches-over the cars. There is also a gate. The attendant said the gate remains open at all times. This was good for us because we returned from our hike late at night around 10 PM (22:00).
The first bit of hiking is easy, on a clear path. Eventually the hike gets more vertical and the path disappears. As you hike through the cliffs, you get to 2 or 3, 30-50-foot ladders that scale up a cliff-face. This was a really fun part of the hike and why we were drawn to hiking Sentinel Peak in the first place. If you're afraid of heights, these ladders might spook you out a bit. Luckily for me, I don't really have fears (I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing...)
After the ladders you are nearing the top and there is no trail at all, just open wilderness. From here you can choose which peaks you want to climb/hike and where you want to explore. There are some very cool canyons and cliffs in all directions. Unfortunately for us, we started the hike so late in the day that the sun went down exactly as we made it to the top. This unfortunate event turned into a major blessing. As it got darker and darker we realized this was the most beautiful place on planet Earth to see the stars. There was virtually no Moon and no major city for 400 kilometers. We could see the Milky-Way in all it's glory and more stars than I have ever seen from any other location before. I didn't bring my tripod but I managed to get some pretty good star-photos by resting my camera on some rocks and holding it against my backpack while trying to remain motionless.
Coming down at night proved to be a bit of a struggle. We had a difficult time finding the ladders again and got lost several times. Eventually we made it back to the bottom and had to drive the horrendous rocky-road at night. If you do this hike at night make sure to bring some head-lamps (we had 3) as it would be very hard to find the ladders or the trails without them. Cheers! -Kevin