Hike to Ifidi, Drakensberg - March 2019
In March 2019 I made a 4-night hike into the Drakensberg in South Africa. I went with 2 friends, Rudi and Matt and the main goal of the trip was to explore the Ifidi area. We spent 2 nights camped up at Ifidi, and made good ground across the area, exploring most of it. It was my second time visiting the area, but there were parts I hadn’t explored previously.
Getting to Ifidi can be achieved in two ways. The easiest route is to come from the Sentinel car park via the chain ladders, past Tugela falls and towards the end of the valley to the right of Mount Amery (if looking from Tugela). The second option is to ascend via Ifidi Pass, which is regarded as one of the hardest passes in all of the Drakensberg. Needless to say, we hiked to Ifidi via the chain ladders. I stood at the summit of Ifidi pass, and it looks insanely difficult! I was absolutely amazed by the steepness! Maybe one day I will be brave enough to try and hike that pass. Shooting sunrise looking straight down Ifidi pass was spectacular, the landscape is just magnificent. From the Sentinel car park, it is about a 13km hike to Ifidi.
I really like the Ifidi area! I enjoy the view onto the Devils Tooth and Eastern Buttress, but the area offers spectacular views looking over towards the Mnweni Needles, Mponjwane, the Saddle and the Cathedral ridge as well.
I spent the first part of the first afternoon shooting with a 70-200 onto the distant peaks. The compression of the longer lens brings the peaks closer together, and I enjoyed picking out certain areas to frame up. The image below was my favourite from the afternoon. The soft dappled light worked well accentuating the peaks and valleys, and I love how valley below creates a “u-shape” to frame up the higher peaks.
The conditions this afternoon became very hazy, and once the dappled light lost intensity on the distant peaks, I went over to try photograph the Devils Tooth, but the conditions were not fantastic. Good clouds were about, and we had one good moment of sunlight spilling across the landscape, but not much else happened. I managed to find a bit of order in the chaotic rock formations close to the edge, and framed up a vertical composition.
We waited until sunset, and although the clouds lit up like fire in the distance, nothing above the Devils Tooth materialised unfortunately. It was a great first afternoon at Ifidi however, and we were happy with the images we had captured, and looked forward to the rest of our time there..
Our first sunrise at Ifidi was special. We awoke to a beautiful cloud inversion, and we decided to head out and photograph across the peaks of Mnweni and Cathedral. Standing on the edge of the escarpment, Ifidi pass below us, Ifidi buttress to the right, and the massive valleys below covered in cloud with only the high peaks standing above the cloud was a moment I won’t forget soon. There was a decent covering of high cloud too, and we knew something special was happening. I spent about an hour or so watching the beautiful sunrise play out in front of us, taking as many photos as I could, but not letting my camera distract me too much from enjoying the spectacle.
Our first sunrise was by far the highlight of the trip for me.
During the morning, the cloud inversion drifted way below the escarpment summit for many hours, but it slowly made its way higher, soon engulfing the landscape and forcing us back to camp.
On our full day spent at Ifidi, the inversion from the morning spilled over inland, and we spent the majority of the day in the mist. There is not much that can be accomplished in the heavy mist, but I did walk around and look for some abstract images on the floor. I love looking for these types of images, I like looking for shapes and form and I was happy with what I found. The colour was very flat in these RAW files, so I chose quite a dramatic black and white processing style.
Our second sunset at Ifidi was quite frustrating. We spent most of the day in thick mist, and literally as the sun was setting the cloud opened up, but not quite enough for us to make a good image. We had very brief views of the tips of the Devils Tooth and Eastern buttress, and the sky was flaming all around us, but the inversion just hung around for too long and blocked just enough to not allow any great views. If the cloud had dropped just 100 meters, I would have been smiling!
Our final morning was clear. No inversion, no clouds, just clear skies and hazy air. We explored the area around the Ifidi pinnacle and close to the Ifidi cave. The views were spectacular, but difficult to photograph. The Ifidi pinnacle is massive, but doesn’t quite work so well at sunrise - too much of the foreground would be in shadow. I took a shot anyway before the sun had risen.
To summarise, we had a great stay at Ifidi, I came back with many images I am very happy with and we had great conditions. I would definitely like to return to Ifidi, I would love to photograph a storm over those Mnweni valleys and I would like to explore the Ifidi buttress and possibly camp somewhere up there.
Thanks to Matt and Rudi for an awesome hike! I cant wait to go back to the Drakensberg. Winter is upon us, so I am seriously hoping for some great snow storms soon.
If you have made it this far into this blog post, thank you for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts on the trip or images, so please leave me a comment below.
Until next time - MD