Hiking in Lesotho

Lesotho is a hiker’s paradise. The country has no organised hiking trails – it doesn’t need any since the entire country is criss-crossed by a network of bridle and foot paths. People walk in Lesotho as a means of getting from A to B. There are no fences in the mountains; there is thus total freedom of access. In other words, you can hike anywhere you like in Lesotho. And, since the whole country is mountainous, wherever you choose will have its own beauty.

If you plan to do some serious hiking, it is recommended that you have hiking experience and good map reading abilities. You should not attempt any hike without the relevant 1:50 000 maps, available from the map office
in Maseru. Many of the Lodges listed will be able to provide maps of their own areas.

Hiking in the mountains is safe in terms of human factors. It is worth, however, taking certain simple precautions. At night time, ensure that all your belongings (especially your valuables) are inside your tent. If you leave your backpack to climb a peak or some other side trip, hide it so that it is not so clearly apparent to all who may pass by. If you are friendly and respectful to the shepherds that you meet deep in the mountains, they are far less likely to return in the middle of the night to rip you off.

A few pointers in terms of your safety from the elements.
The weather in the mountains can change rapidly and severely at any time of the year, so you should be equipped and prepared for any eventuality. Do not play with your life! Before you set off, be sure someone knows what route you plan to take. You should carry with you the following: sound, worn-in walking shoes/boots, a warm sleeping bag (preferably sub-zero) and warm clothing, rain gear, a hat and sun cream (the sun in the mountains is vicious), sunglasses or eye drops (the wind too can be a problem), a camping stove and sufficient fuel as there is no firewood to be found, and sufficient food supplies (make sure that you have food for at least a day more than you expect your hike to last).

In most Basotho valleys it is possible to rent a hut for the night at about R10/night. To do this, you should seek to locate the village chief and ask his permission. Camping is possible anywhere, and with a tent you can have a temporary home in some of the most beautiful spots!

Water from a stream, is usually pure and safe to drink above the level of human settlement. However, it is worth carrying a water bottle for when your route takes you below this level for any length of time. If staying in or near a village, remember that most villages have a supply of drinking water, be it a spring or a borehole.

You can hike anywhere in Lesotho. The following are but a few possibilities. Hikes can be done in either direction, days given are for reasonable to good level of fitness. Always allow yourself more time if your fitness level is lower. For the less experienced, more simple overnight hikes can be done from Semongkong, Malealea or Sani Lodge – the owners will be happy to help you.

The Drakensberg Escarpment
It is possible to walk along the edge of the eastern escarpment all the way from Mont-aux-sources in the north to Sehlabathebe in the south. The area is very high, mostly over 3000m, with no villages and few shepherds. This is for the more experienced and self-reliant, with hikes of at least five days being recommended. The rewards are high with stunning views into South Africa.

The place to start from is Mahlasela Pass, the first pass beyond Oxbow Lodge on the road to Mokhotlong. From here, head east, following the crest of the ridge across high alpine moorland, reaching the edge of the escarpment north-west of Mont-aux-sources. From here, follow the escarpment edge south for as many days as you like (14-20 days all the way to Sehlabathebe). The walk is undulating, as you keep crossing river valleys running west from the escarpment edge. There is no path – your map reading needs to be good!

The northern section is particularly spectacular, with a series of rock pinnacles and formations having given rise to the Zulu name for the mountains, “Qathlamba” or “Barrier of Spears”. Probably the most breathtaking view is that of the Tugela Falls, tumbling 600m from the escarpment edge in 5 falls, just below Mont-aux-sources. The profusion of rock pinnacles in the Mnweni area is another highlight.

When leaving the escarpment, in the north (as far down as Cathedral Peak), it is best to head west, cross the Khubelu and/or Senqu Rivers and climb up to the Oxbow-Mokhotlong road. Further south, follow a ridge back from the escarpment and it will bring you out in the vicinity of Mokhotlong.

Ha Lejone to Oxbow
This is a 3-4 day hike. From Ha Lejone   head north up the road to Pelaneng. Here, continue on upstream along the road. Keep on the left bank of the upper reaches of the Katse Dam, until it becomes the Malibamatso River again. Cross the Malibamatso river with the track to the Kao diamond diggings. Soon after crossing the river, leave the track and head up the right bank of the Malibamatso at the village level. Drop down again to cross the major Motete tributary, and thereafter head up the spur between the Malibamatso and Motete rivers (to the north-east) past the old Lemphane diamond diggings. Once at the top, after a stiff climb, follow the ridge north-east, veering north towards the end and descending to Oxbow Lodge. You will require 1:50 000 maps, numbers 16 and 26.
(from the Lesotho Map Catalogue numbering. These numbers will assist you when at the map office).

Mokhotlong – Thahana Ntlenyana – Sani Top
This is a 3-4 day hike. From Mokhotlong, head out south-east on the road towards Malefiloane village. Somewhere along the road, you should ascend the ridge to the south and keep following it south-east. You then head south, cross the Sakeng river near it’s source and head for the base of the highest point in southern Africa, Thabana Ntlenyana at 3482m. It is not a very striking peak, only a small rocky crown to distinguish it. You’ll probably need map reading skills to locate it. From Thabana Ntlenyana, a bridle path heads south, eventually going down the Manguang river valley and coming out on the Sam Flats. You’ll need map numbers 38/9 and bits of 48/9.

Sani Top to Seblabathebe
This is a 3 day hike. From Sani Top, head south up the valley behind the border post, taking the right hand fork near the head of the valley. This brings you to the top of Masubasuba Pass. Head over the saddle directly south, and from here, it is possible to ascend the south peak of Hodgson’s Peaks, 3256m, from the south side. Superb 360 degree views are to be had from here on a clear day. From the saddle, descend, cross the Pitsaneng valley and follow the edge of the escarpment south as far as the headwaters of the Mashai River. Here, one must head west for about 5km until a well- trodden bridle path is met. Follow this path south. After two long, high passes, the path descends into the Thamatu valley. From the village of Ha Motsekinyane there is a choice to either follow the road south to Sehlabathebe village, or head over the pass between Baroa-ba-baroa and Thaba Ntso down to Jonathan’s Lodge in the National Park. You’ll require map numbers 48. 49 and 58.

Semongkong to Malealea
This is a three day hike. From Frasers Semongkong Lodge, head along the path going due west. After 2km, this crosses a road where you’ll see the first luminous orange arrows painted on the rocks. These were for the motorbike section of the Roof of Africa Rally, and you can follow them 90% of the way if you want to take the most direct route. However, the best option is to spend the first night further south, near Ketane Falls. The main bridle path climbs out of the Ketane basin, over Thaba Putsba pass, and drops sharply down to the base of Ribaneng Falls. Head towards the Ribaneng River just before the steep pass down and you’ll get a view from the top. The second night can be spent camping or in the village at the base of the Falls. From here, the path continues down the Ribaneng valley on the north side, eventually coming to a village called Ribaneng. Here, leave the main path (and the arrows) and head northwest through Ha Graffis village and down to the Makhaleng River. Cross it, and a path goes up the other side and on to a hot shower at Malealea Lodge. You will need map numbers 52, 53 and 54.

Maletsunyane Gorge Hike
Brilliant day hikes to large areas of ALOE POLYPHYLLA – more commonly called SPIRAL ALOE
See Fraser’s Semonkong Lodge.

Sehonghong to Sehlabathebe
This is 2 – 3 day hike. The road out of Sehoughong is shocking, and it’s one option to follow it to the Matabeng River. Another alternative is to descend from Sehonghong to the Senqu River, and follow the remains of the old road south along the banks of the river until reaching the Matabeng River. Continue several kilometres up the valley, and where the road climbs up out of the valley on the right, a major tributary, the Patiseng river, comes in from the left. Follow this valley up, past numerous villages. The last one before Makoaneng Pass (over 3000m) is Ha Ramaepho, and from the pass are superb views all around. There is a long descent, eventually reaching the Leqooa river. Follow it downstream to Sehlabathebe village. You will need map numbers 57 and 58.