Climbing Thabana Ntlenyana, southern Africa’s highest peak, is certainly not a walk in the park.
Words and images by Fiona McIntosh
The air is thin at nearly 3.5-kilometres above sea level, and you’ll feel the effects of altitude. But if you’re a peak bagger and reasonably fit, this is a worthy goal. Here’s how to knock it off.
Lesotho’s 3 482 metre-high Thabana Ntlenyana, is on many hiker’s bucket lists simply because it’s the highest peak in Africa south of Tanzania’s Mount Meru (which is just south west of Kilimanjaro). Summiting the flat-topped peak is a pleasant enough outing, largely a sustained but gradual climb through grasslands on which you will probably encounter local shepherds, but in truth the “beautiful little mountain” as it is known in the local dialect, is not an apt name: it’s neither particularly attractive, nor is it little.
Many parties include Thabana Ntlenyana as part of a multi-day mountain adventure starting the hike either from a lodge in Lesotho or from the bottom of the Sani Pass. But if you just want to bag the peak, then the easiest starting point is Sani Mountain Lodge, which offers rustic, but comfortable accommodation in een-suiterondavels. It also has a backpacker’s and camping if you’re on a budget.
A round-trip of 32 kilometres, the peak can be done in one long day (9-11 hours) from the lodge, or you can catch a lift to the top of Black Eagle Pass, saving yourself six kilometres each way. Although it’s a straightforward hike with no technical difficulties, I’d strongly recommend taking a guide as there is no marked path, route finding is tricky, and the weather can change rapidly. Don’t underestimate this climb. You’ll feel the effects of the lack of oxygen in the air so you certainly won’t be racing up. Carry plenty of water and be liberal with the sunscreen.
Cost: R500 per person, minimum two people.
What to bring: This is a high mountain environment where the weather is extreme and can change quickly. Waterproof your day pack and take waterproofs, warm clothing, a headlamp and spare batteries.
Tip: If you don’t have a 4×4, no worries. The lodge offer transfers from the bottom of the Sani Pass. Don’t forget your passport.