Hiking in a wilderness area is hard. The main reason for this is that there are almost no established paths or roads. In order to successfully navigate through a wilderness area a map, compass (or GPS) and some experience is needed.
Whenever we hike in the remote parts of the Drakensberg I’m always amazed at the variation of roads travelled to get there. It starts out on one of the busiest highways in South Africa (N3). One hundred kilometers from the Drakensberg one turns from the highway onto country roads; some of them are really beat-up with a lot of potholes. After one turns from these roads onto dirt roads you know that you’re close.
The hike usually starts with well-established hiking trails. These trails are typically used by day hikers and are well marked on the maps and they even have signage on them! At the contour path level, one leaves these commercial paths (the contour path dissects the Drakensberg at an altitude of 1800 – 2200m above sea level). At some places in the Drakensberg hikers are even warned about the Dangers of hiking on – and above the contour path.
Above the contour level the path becomes really sketchy and it is really easy to get lost, especially in some of the passes. Once you’ve reached the escarpment almost all semblances of paths are lost.
A hike in the Drakensberg can therefore be characterized as moving from well-traveled roads to the roads-less-traveled.
On our most recent hike we also experienced this movement towards the lesser-traveled roads.
On our second day I told the group that there was a chance that we could pick up a Basotho trail on the escarpment. This specific trail is on one of the highest ridges in Africa.
After almost two days of wilderness hiking on no roads our ankles and knees were taking the strain of walking on uneven terrain. All of us were looking forward to the possibility of being on a path of sorts. Thankfully we found the path and started to walk on the Basotho’s trail. The Basotho’s are the mountain people of Southern Africa. Some of them are shepherds in this rugged area and some of them are smugglers. They are the experts of the Drakensberg. They live in this area and have learnt how to navigate it without maps, compasses and GPS instruments. The land is a part of who they are. Routes are passed on in person. Following their parents and great-parents these routes have become habitually ingrained in the fiber of who they are.
Our friend Kutluono, who is a Sotho, immediately took over the lead when we discovered this particular path. With excitement and fervor he lead us onto this road left by his ancestry. His feet touched the roots of where he came from. For several kilometers we followed this path and I couldn’t shake the thought that people created this path. It started with a person. A Basotho.
Here we were hiking it. A Sotho, a Venda, Afrikaners and an English-speaking South African. The path was perfectly cut into the contours of the mountain. When we walked on it we experienced the relief of being on an even surface. We benefited from the experience and knowledge of a person (and his followers) who knew the lay of the land. This way we were on have been the way in this area for hundreds of years.
Jesus once said that he is the truth, the way and the life. Walking on that Basotho path connected me deeply with this saying attributed to Him. Being on that path was truth, it was the true way to navigate most effectively through the mountain, it was the way and being on that way in a truthful manner was life giving to us.