This 4 Day Madonna Hike is a new addition to our list of hikes which should’ve been added a lot sooner as this is one of the most spectacular hikes in the Drakensberg in our opinions, covering a large portion of the Northern Drakensberg.
What is the hike all about?
Well allow us to indulge you. This is an incredible 4 day, moderate in difficulty trek along the Drakensberg Escarpment.
Madonna and Her Worshippers is known as one of Drakensbergs most incredible basalt features and the campsite for this incredible location is regarded as one of the best in terms of views as you look straight onto the Madonna Spires from your tent.
Now that you’re sold on the view, let’s sell you on the Madonna Hike itself and possibly a massage afterwards. The hike covers just under 50km over the 4 day period with about 500 meters of elevation gain each day, easy peasy right? Well it would be if it was pathed. Due to the remoteness of Madonna there are only a few kilometres of the trek which are on a defined trail. Notice the wording “only a few”? This means that part of the hike will include off trail walking on grass slopes, but don’t be scared, it is a moderate walk.
Besides visiting Madonna and Her Worshippers we will also visit Tugela Falls (worlds longest waterfall), Bilanjil Falls, Icidi and The Stimela Ridge as well as a day spent walking through the hills in Lesotho.
How difficult is the hike?
In terms of grading the Madonna Hike against a typical Drakensberg hike we’d say it has a 5/10 difficulty rating. Not all grading systems are the same. I mean, an Everest climb for example would be rated as say a 9/10 in terms of severity. We cannot rate the Drakensberg hikes on the same rating system. There are so many different factors to take into consideration between a kick ass high altitude mountain and the Drakensberg.
Having said that, the Madonna Hike is easily completed for someone with a moderate fitness level, let’s break it down, and I’m not talking demolition. We cover 48km in 4 days,. So that’s say 12km a day on average. And yes you will be hiking with a backpack that weighs about 15kgs unless you opt for a porter. So add that into the mix. Oh and did we mention the 500m of vertical ascent that we will do daily? And let’s not forget that we will be spending all this time above 3000m so altitude is also a factor to consider.
Is this a good choice as a first hiking experience?
If you have never hiked before, let alone in the Drakensberg would we suggest you join the Madonna hike? No can do. And that is not a place near Khathmandu. We suggest maybe starting with a less challenging hike like our 3 day Cathedral Peak hike or even the 2 day Tugela Falls Hike. And if hiking 48km is not your game, then we suggest you order an Aristotle of the most ping pong tiddly in the nuclear sub and get back to your knitting.
What do I need to know about the Madonna Hike?
So basically the Madonna Hike starts and finishes at the same point, Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge. Day 1 sees us ascending up to Bilanjil Falls which will be our campsite for the night. Best part about this campsite is that there are rarely any other groups here. Day 2 will take us through Lesotho and up and over 2 fairly decent sized hills. Our campsite for this night will be at the incredible Madonna Pass where our main attraction is.
Day 3 will take us back over the last hill we ascended the previous day, then over the next hill towards Icidi which is where we’ll stop and have an early lunch. The rest of the day is spent contouring back through a floodplain back towards Bilanjil Falls. Once here we’ll make the decision to camp here again or tackle the next hill and camp at Tugela Falls instead.
Day 4 sees us either descending down the chain ladders or down the gully route but this will be determined by the guide on the day depending on the groups fitness levels. We should be down and back at the lodge by 12pm.
A fully inclusive guided hiking experience in the Drakensberg
Yes you read that right. We supply the guides, equipment such as tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, backpacks and eating utensils and of course some scrumptious food. The only things you really need to bring on this hike are your clothes, some snacks and a supply of bad dad jokes that we can add to our arsenal. And then it’s one foot in front of the other as you willingly follow the guide into these ancient mountains.
Additionally when booking the Madonna Hike or any other hike with us, you’ll also receive a cheeky discount for purchases from Mountain Mail Order and Mama Alles.
Who leads the way?
Our Drakensberg hikes are led by experienced mountain guides. They have an intimate association with the mountain, routes and environment. Not only have they guided on some big ass mountains in the Himalayas, Andes and Russia but have led over 500 hikes into the Drakensberg as well. We not only grew up in the Drakensberg but have been guiding in them for over 20 years. So we have been on the learning curve for a while and like to believe we know what we are doing. The Madonna Hike is no exception.
- Qualified mountain guide and wilderness first responder plus assistants
- Dinners, breakfasts and hot drinks on the mountain which our team will cook and prepare
- Equipment including 4 season tents, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, backpacks and eating utensils
- Dry one liner jokes to motivate you up the mountain
- Dedicated Drakensberg trip planner
- 4 days/3 nights in the mountains during the Madonna Hike
- Local taxes
- shuttle from Witsiesheok Mountain Lodge to Sentinel Car Park
- Transport to Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge (can be arranged at a fee)
- Items of personal nature
- Meals and drinks not specified
- Optional but highly recommended travel and medical insurance
- Snacks and personal medication
- My wife
- Advice on how to get your toaster to play ping pong with your dog
Our meeting point for this 4 day Madonna Hike is located at Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge at 10:30am. This gives you enough time to drive down from let’s say JHB or Durban without having to wake up at 2am. Another option is to stay the night before at Witsiesheok Mountain Lodge. Once at the Lodge we’ll do an introduction then move onto a pack check. We aim to leave the lodge at 11:30am and start hiking by 12:30pm.
Todays hike covers a mere 8km with 500m of vertical ascent. Todays hike also includes the use of the infamous chain ladders. Now don’t let this detour you. They’re honestly not as bad as you are thinking. However if you are still concerned then we can rope you up and put your worries into a harness and belay them up. We’ll stop at Tugela Falls and have a brief lunch before tackling the last kilometre of the trek to our camp at Bilanjil Falls. The views of Tugela Falls from here are impeccable.
Wakeup call is at 6am. Breakfast is served by 7:30am. So that give you 1.5 hours to have a wee and pooh, break down the tents and pack your backpacks ready for the days hike. We aim to make like an elephants penis and hit the road by 8am. This first stretch of todays hike is almost as flat as a castle light and takes us inland into Lesotho. We’ll need to tackle a couple of river crossings then finally shoot us the valley and hit the edge of the escarpment before making our way up and over the Stimela Ridge. Our camp for tonight is Madonna and Her Worshippers. Here you will admire the stunning vistas which this hike is named after.
2 fully clothed Ninjas and 16 red ants will wake us up at 5:30am. Yes, an early wake up I’m afraid. Now why would we be so cruel? Oh yes. Because sunrise at this location is not one to be missed. We also have a 14km day to tackle so an early start is great. We follow the same routine as before and aim to leave by 8am. Our route for today is slightly different. We hike over towards the Stimela Ridge again however unlike the previous day, we continue along the edge of the escarpment and up another hill into Icidi where we’ll have a light lunch before cutting back towards Bilanjil Falls. Now no one likes camping in the same place twice so today we’ll have the option of taking on an extra kilometre and climbing one more hill and camping at Tugela Falls instead.
An early wake up call followed by some whimpering, woe is me souls who shuffle down the mountain in search of enlightenment. Witch is usually found at the 78th rock down on the left. So….we have breakfast by 7am and hit the trip by 7:30am. On average, we are back at the lodge by 10am. We can also take today more leisurely depending on what the group wants to do. Afterwards we say fair well to this incredible 4 Day Madonna Hike and each other unless you want that massage now.