Treverton College Students Complete the 250 km Drakensberg Grand Traverse

Shaun Robertson / 07.05.2023
The Treverton team on the Drakensberg
The Treverton team on the Drakensberg / © Shaun Ivan Robertson

Generally, there is a sense of satisfaction when a task or a job is completed. In one sense, Treverton College students finishing the Grand Traverse again this year is no different. Two female students (Karijn Kooy and Georgina Thompson), three male students (Alexander Giokos, Konstantino Giokos, and Daniel Jonck), our Headmaster (Kean Broom), and three other staff members (Derek Brown, Channelle Oosthuizen, and Shaun Robertson) completed the Traverse.  As far as we know, these are the first two school girls to complete the 250km traverse of the Drakensberg as a part of a school team.

In another, there is a profound sense of sadness. As a team, we have looked forward to it, planned for it, and trained our bodies for it. On the trip, we were immersed in a world of big mountains, deep valleys, fresh crystal clear water, inclement weather, constant companionship, and the satisfaction of completing the day's walk before settling down into our tents for the night. Wide open spaces, physical effort, and the simplicity of living in this foreign environment have a magnetic effect on the hearts of those who choose to wander into them.

When the experience is over, we want more. I speak for the whole team when I say that we all feel this way. The journey is more wonderful, more memorable, and more enthralling than simply completing the task or ticking the event off a bucket list. A piece of our affection remains embedded in that place, and it is in us.

Generally, the weather was good. There was a cold wind that prevailed from the interior of Lesotho for most of the trip. This helped to keep the escarpment edge clear of mist for the most part. We only had a mist problem on the day we submitted Giants Castle (Day 8) and yet, even here, the mist cleared as we reached the summit to reveal the most beautiful late afternoon views over the Midlands. We experienced an incredible storm that brought sleet and hail as we headed for Thabana Ntleyana.

After the storm, the winds on the summit ridge were incredibly strong nearly knocking us off of our feet at times. While the experience left us cold and wet, it was exciting to experience such high winds and such an interesting mixture of sleet and hail. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t spend long on this summit and headed for cover from the wind soon afterward. A similar storm hit us during the night and the following day we walked to the Sani Pub on the frozen, hail-littered ground. Other than that, we had incredible views of the escarpment, the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, and the interior of Lesotho, a notable highlight for Georgina.

Each team member faced their own personal challenges, which were also a cause for concern to the group at various points. Daniel burnt his foot with hot water after knocking his coffee over while reaching for something in his tent. The second and third-degree burns on the top of his foot were an immediate threat to the progress of the group. However, the first aid kits supplied by Tecmed Pharma proved invaluable and Mr. Brown patched Daniel’s foot with a burn shield, gauze, and a bandage. Daniel was also able to work through the pain and constant friction of the shoe and sock on the wound. He earned the nickname “Dan the Man” for his strength and perseverance. He admits that he spent many long hours wondering if he could continue with his wound.

Alexander battled with diarrhoea for two nights, which left him feeling weak and uncertain. One of the enduring memories of the trip is Mr. Brown lighting a fire at the top of Leslie’s pass using a handful of dead twigs from a small ground-level protea bush at a tea break. The ash was then mixed with water to make a black carbon-rich ashen drink. The theory, according to Mr. Brown, is that the activated carbon binds with toxins in the gut and is an excellent antidiuretic. Whatever the theory, it worked and Alexander was soon fit and strong again.

Karijn developed a respiratory tract infection and spent many hours coughing during the night. She never once complained or appeared to struggle. However, it caused me some concern as I lay awake wondering if she would be alright to continue. While these troubles may seem somewhat trivial in our modern world, small problems become big problems in the mountains very quickly if not dealt with. The students worked through their individual struggles bravely and finished well.

Ethan Lundy, a film graduate from Cape Town, came along to document the trip. Carrying hiking gear and food for a trip of two weeks is one challenge. Camera equipment is an added complication. A combination of a drone, DSLR camera, GoPro, and a tripod was used for the purpose. This was shared amongst the group so that no one person was overburdened by the weight.

Getting used to the camera posed a challenge for some as people who love and enjoy the solitude of the mountains are not always the best in front of the camera. It took a while for all of us to warm up to the idea of having a camera in our faces from time to time. It was also a challenge for Ethan, who not only needed to walk with us but had the added job of filming along the way. He did his work well and we now look forward to the release of the documentary being put together by Barry Smit. The expected release date for this is the middle of May 2023.  

On the whole, the group moved incredibly well. It was expected that the trip would take 15 days. However, we managed to complete the trip in 13 days thanks to putting in a few extra kilometers at the end of each day. The hardest day was probably the day from Bannerman’s pass to Giant’s Castle. It involved an ascent of both Mount Durnford and Giants Castle and our total ascent for the day was 1400m. Whilst this wasn’t the day with the most climbing, it just worked out to be a difficult walk and we only made camp after sunset. Konstantinou felt that this was a hard day, but still finished with a smile on his face.

On the whole, the trip was a great success. But this would not be the case if it wasn’t for the perseverance and determination of the students and staff on the trip and I am so pleased with the character that they displayed throughout. I am also so thankful to those who helped and supported us. The resupply teams who brought food up to us at the top of Organ Pipes Pass (Day 5) and at Sani Pass (Day 11) have my sincere gratitude. I am also grateful to the parents and our Headmaster for believing in this trip and allowing their children to participate in it.

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