Year in the Wild Blog

Day 4 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – Trail to Sentinel Peak

This morning I met up with conservation manager Stephen Richert, who manages the team at Royal Natal in uKhahlamba-Drakenbserg World Heritage site. I wanted to ask him which his favourite hikes were, because he knows this area better than anyone, having walked every single kilometre of about 350kms of hiking trails. His three favourite are Thukela Gorge, “Crack and Mud Slides” (which is just behind Thendele camp), and the Sentinel Peak walk.

I’d always heard about the walk to the top of Sentinel Peak. This is the huge buttress on the western side of the Amphitheatre. Although it’s just a few kilometres from Thendele, to get to the start of the trail you have to drive for an hour-and-a-half round the back of the Amphitheatre, through the town of Phuthaditjhaba in the Free State province. The reason for this is that the sheer cliffs of the amphitheatre make it difficult to access the start of the trail from the north side where Thendele lies.

I was joined by avid adventurer Rachel Lang from for the hike, because I didn’t want to do the hike to Sentinel alone. It’s in a very exposed part of the Drakensberg, and there are some steep chain ladders to climb up the cliffs to get right on top. As it happened, we started walking too late (around midday), and so we never made it to the chain ladders.

Mostly because the views are just so spectacular on the way up, and I kept stopping to take photos (the photographer’s curse!). There was also a very strong wind blowing, thanks to an incoming cold front from the south-west. Next time I am going to spend two full days doing the trail, and overnight on top of the Amphitheatre. We felt a bit rushed on the trail, and that does a great disservice to the scenery and atmoshphere, which rivals, if not exceeds, that of the Thukela Gorge walk.

Anyway, we got some decent photos – check them out below. Tomorrow, it’s off to Cathedral Peak area, and some more spectacular scenery…and hoping to take some photographs of the special rock paintings there.

The road up to the Sentinel car park is spectacular, one of the prettiest in the country..thanks Bushbound girl for taking the photo!

The Sentinel car park area, where the trail starst, must be one of the prettiest parking lots in the world! That's it in the bottom left corner...

The trail up...Sentinel Peak is the big cliff to the right

The trail winds its way up the backside of the Amphitheatre...

Looking at the Eastern Buttress from the Sentinel Trail viewpoint, about halfway up.

The viewpoint half way up...

The viewpoint on the way up the Sentinel trail, looking west.

The backside of the Amphitheatre...the chain ladders are to the right of this photo, climbing up one of those basalt cliffs

Looking northwest from the trail

Looking northwards from the trail

Bushbound girl looking north-east from the trail...a cold wind was blowing, and eventhough the sun was out, it was a bit on the chilly side!

What views!

The light in winter changes quickly, and it changes the same landscape into a variety of different moods...

Different light, different land...

Blue and white...

Late afternoon...coming down the trail.

A group of hikers descending in the afternoon...

Thendele...early morning light on the camp and mountains.

For more, go to and Check out my Flickr photos at and my Instagram photos at Twitter on

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as EeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.


  • I am enthralled and transported back to my hike in the Bergs from Monks Cowl to Brian’s Camp. Never have I hiked in mountains such as these that touched my soul.

    So far I have been massively impressed with the National Parks I’ve visited in South Africa. SANParks’ system is every bit as good as the USNPS, whom I work for seasonally at Grand Canyon. I count the days until I return for your summer. Until then I’ll follow your journey.

    • Thanks so much Gaelyn. Yes, these mountains are very special. Maybe cos of all the beautiful rock paintings, which add so much to the natural beauty and diversity.

  • This trail does not go to the top of Sentinel Peak, the peak is free standing & you need climbing equipment to climb the Sentinel. It takes you to the escarpment up the chain ladders or up Beacon Buttress Gully

    • Ah yes that is correct! Thanks for pointing that out!

      • Its a common mistake – most people either call it Sentinel or Mont Aux Sources when its neither.

  • Its a truly great hike you did there, which is also beautiful in summer when the rolling green hills are there to meet you. Royal Natal, as for the rest of the Drakensberg, is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW), not SANparks. EKZNW is responsible for conservation in KwaZulu Natal.

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