Conquering my fear of ladders

Story and photos by Louise de Waal

drakensberg sentinel peak

The Sentinel Peak Chain Ladder hike in the Drakensberg is probably one of the most renowned and popular walks, but the words chain and ladder completely freaked me out. Many eons ago, I found myself on an incredible hike in the Swiss Alps that required climbing some wooden ladders on the side of a glacier. I was fine on my way up, but on my return, I made the classic mistake of looking down – straight into one humongous crevasse in the ice.

It scared the living daylight out of me, so ladders on rock faces are not my favourite obstacles on hikes. However, when I was told at Witsieshoek Lodge that a 3.5 year old and an 83 year old on the other extreme end made it up the ladders, I knew I had to be brave.

drakensberg mountains

The hike is not technically difficult, but coming straight from Cape Town at sea level, walking from the car park at 2,560 m to the viewpoint at 3,015 m altitude, my lungs felt like bursting at times.

We were lucky though to have Samson as our guide, who was excellent at pacing us, making sure we took our time to get to the chain ladders. The first one is the longest ladder with a height of approx. 40 m and the second is about half that size, so not for the fainthearted. “Are you sure you want to do this?”, Samson asked me one last time, when I looked a tad worried up the first ladder. Yes, I had come this far and was not going to give up. My climb up the ladders was slow and deliberate, one foot at the time, pep-talking myself all the way to the top, avoiding looking down.

witsieshoek mountain lodge guide
witsieshoek mountain lodge

Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge is situated in the Northern Drakensberg at the foot of the magnificent Sentinel Peak and looking across to the Drakensberg Mountains Mont-Aux-Sources and Amphitheater, View the endangered bearded vultures soaring overhead while enjoying this beautiful mountainous area, home to a variety of landscapes, rich flora and fauna. The lodge offers comfortable Drakensberg accommodation in chalet, bungalow and hikers cabin options right in the heart of it all. Read More

drakensberg chain ladder hike
drakensberg chain ladder hike

The last section across the plateau is easy, giving the body some respite from the ladder excitement, before reaching the climax of this hike. The Amphitheatre, an indomitable wall of basalt that stood the test time of 140 million years, with the Tugela gorge nearly 1,000 m below it – quite literally breathtakingly beautiful views.

drakensberg amphitheatre
drakensberg amphitheatre

The struggle of simply breathing and the ladder stress quickly vanished. Absorbed by the palpable silence at this altitude. Just the occasional bird call and the slight rustling of the wind. The sheer size of this mountainscape creates an air of insignificance, but defeating my fear of ladders made me feel pretty invincible.

The Sentinel Peak Chain Ladder hike in the Drakensberg Mountains is easily accessible from Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge.