Monk’s Cowl is one of eleven reserves in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park in South Africa. I spent a few days in the park while travelling through South Africa this April and did three day walks in different parts of the park.
Monk’s Cowl, being right next to our accommodation at Inkosana Lodge, was the first reserve on the list. The walk was meant to be an easy start to a few days of walking (and an opportunity to finally recover from a lingering hangover following a friend’s wedding two days before), but it turned out to be a tough heat test and one of the hardest walks I’ve ever done.
Part 1: Nandi’s Falls
As we were taking things easy, we didn’t arrive at the reserve’s gate until about 11 o’clock. We bought a map of the Drakensberg, paid for entry (R35 a head) and Cees got himself a fetching hat – all that at the gate shop. Off we went, in the midday sun. First to Sterkspruit Falls and then up along the stream to Nandi’s Falls.
The walking was easy. The sun was strong. So we were very happy when, after about 2 hours, we arrived in the forest at Nandi’s Falls. The ice cold waterfall shower was a joy – or well a bit of a shock at first.
Part 2: Keartland’s Pass and the Sphinx
Refreshed and re-energised after the shower and a lunch, we decided it was too early to return. Instead we headed towards Blind Man’s Corner, or at least as far as we could get before we had to turn around to make it back to the gate before 6pm. This is when the grueling part of the walk started for me.
Somehow the afternoon sun seemed to be even stronger than the midday sun. That might have had something to do with the fact that we were no longer walking on a more or less flat terrain. Instead we were heading steep up, first on the approach to Keartland’s Pass and then through the pass. In total it was about 600 m of altitude to cover in just over 2 hours.
Soon, I started running out of water. After a short-lived attempt at rationing, I decided to go with the advice from our lodge and filled up my water bottle in a stream. With the benefit of hindsight, I can confirm that it was drinkable. Although I now had water, it didn’t seem to make my plight much better, particularly as the path became even steeper when we reached Keartland’s Pass. Every step felt like lifting heavy weights and there seemed to be no end to it. But there obviously was. Finally, we reached the plateau leading to Blind Man’s Corner.
By now it was clear we were running late, so with an hour and a half until 6pm, we picked up the pace and enjoyed the views from the grassy plateau as we walked towards the Sphynx. Or rather, the boys enjoyed them, while I was generally spreading a bad mood. The setting sun and return to flat terrain did wonders for me though. In the end we had to adopt a very brisk pace, but made it to the gate at 6pm on the dot.
… and I learnt two things: 1. I need to carry more water, 2. I need to get fit again!
- Day two in the Drakensberg: Cathedral Peak
- A road less traveled: Injisuthi
- Notes on walking in the Drakensberg
PS: Thanks to Cees for the Nandi’s Falls photo.