Drakensberg, South Africa
The Amphitheatre in the Northern Drakensberg does not only offer views so beautiful that it will change your life, it is also a spiritual place. Going up once is not enough. It will keep pulling you back and each visit will be different from the last.
I phoned Fritz up and he did not even need time to think about taking on the 2 night trip with me.
We set off on Saturday morning at around nine. The hike starts at the Sentinel car park which you reach via Phuthaditjhaba. The hike to the top can be done in around 3-4 hours depending on your level of fitness. You start off with the Zig Zag. This is very draining due to the fact that it is a steep uphill climb. After this you follow the contour along the base of a line of sheer basalt cliffs. Here you already start to feel the magic around this place. If you have a fear of heights this is definitely going to test you.
By the time you get to the chain ladders you feel relaxed and really excited about getting to the top. The chain ladders can be challenging when cold and/or windy, but if you do not look down and take it easy you will be at the top before you know it. From here you have the last stretch before you reach the Tugela waterfall. This is where things change completely. The surroundings in April is like something from Lord of the Rings, the views are jaw dropping and they are everywhere.
After a quick visit to the waterfall we decided to move on a bit further to the east where we would set up camp for the night. The weather on the way up was really good, sunny with a few beautiful clouds that occasionally helped to cool things down as they blocked the sun.
I am sure you have heard the stories of how quickly the weather can change in big mountains and keeping true to this a powerful thunderstorm rolled up out of nowhere. Luckily the weather gods where kind to us and the storm passed us on our right, we had a few rain drops, but more importantly we had a front row seat to the lightning show. This all came together and setup a sunset that I will remember for a long time to come (I will also remember the cold that set in as soon as the sun had set).
We finished off the day with some red wine and warm food. All and all a day to remember.
The Drakensberg really does not stop giving. The views do not end, this is also true for the wind and the cold. We woke up with the wind howling and trying to blow us right off the top of the mountain, the temperature had dropped significantly from the previous day, but this was not going to stop us from hiking to the Eastern Buttress. This was my first time exploring the top further than the waterfall and I have to tell you that I am addicted to it now. Fritz was in his happy place, although his cellphone’s battery ran out and he could not take any more photos, we made the most of the day hiking all along the edge and taking in view after view. Fortunately the wind also eventually calmed down and the day just kept getting better.
We did a bit of a round trip and ended up on the hill close to the Tugela Falls again where we set up camp for the night. Again a hot meal was the order of the day and Fritz made the sunset even more pleasant when he poured us a whiskey.
Life could not get any better than this, or so I thought…
During the night the wind had completely disappeared. I woke up at around five to see that the earth below us was covered with clouds. The sunrise was something really special. When you stand up there and look down you do not only realize how small you are, but it really grabs your soul. A calm feeling of clarity and humility is something that is inexplicable.
Hiking down took just more than 2 hours, although we were both tired, we were on a high.
On these outdoor ‘adventure’ workshops your gear will play a big part. You must be sure that you are comfortable with what you are carrying. If hiking into any mountain area, there is always the possibility of sudden changes in the weather. For this reason you need to be well prepared when Mother Nature throws her nasty side at you.
You are obviously going to be carrying your photography gear with you. There are some great hiking and outdoor photography bags on the market. I carry a First Accent 60l bag, mainly a hiking back pack, but it easily fits all of my photography gear, one man tent, camping mattress, food and of course a really nice and cozy sleeping bag. After walking, climbing and scrambling the entire day a good nights sleep is all you need.
Make sure not to be cheap when it comes to boots and socks, you do not want to sit with blisters when you know that have to still hike all the way down a mountain.
These adventures really do produce unique image making opportunities and you need to be ready to grab these. I prefer to have my camp set up a couple of hours before sunset, this way you have time to scout for the images you want and plan ahead for the shoot. It is important to try and get things right in the field as far as you possibly can. There are many techniques that can be used out in the field. The use of a good tripod and even filters will make your life a lot easier when you are trying to make beautiful images.
I like to shoot 3 exposures of each scene. Most DSLR cameras will have this function built in as a function setting. These three images can then easily be blended together using masks in Photoshop. It is also recommended that you shoot in RAW, this way you keep a lot of information such as shadow detail and you can bring these back into your scene using simple techniques in Lightroom or Photoshop.
When shooting a landscape scene it is often difficult to capture everything that you want in one shot. Thanks to today’s technology this can easily be overcome. By using a steady tripod and overlapping parts of the shots that you take, you can create beautiful panoramic images that will print out nice and big. I will be doing a write up on this pretty soon.
Like many other photographers I am setting up a post-processing area on my website where I will be giving you tips on things like exposure blending, painting in light, dodging and burning and also sharpening your images for web or print.
If you would like to purchase any of my Drakensberg prints please click through to my shop page. These limited edition prints are numbered and hand signed by me.
I also offer guided photography workshops up to the top. Not as a hiking guide, but to help you find the best spots to capture the Drakensberg.
These workshops and tours are for beginners to experienced photographers. How much instruction you receive is entirely up to you. We cover everything, from the basics for the beginners to more advanced techniques and editing.
We believe in proper planning and preparation. Upon registering, you will receive regular e-mails with complete details on itinerary, proper clothing, essential camera gear, etc. If you have any questions any time before the start of our workshop, we are here to ensure you are properly prepared.
We do offer hiking and camping gear if needed and it is possible to book porters to help you carry your gear up and down the mountain.
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Till next time,