Gavin’s long awaited guidebook of the Drakensberg. All the best rock, ice, snow and hiking routes.
OUT IN JULY!!!
Ice Report #1
31st May 2017
After three consecutive years of bad ice conditions, things seem about to change. On the weekend of 13th-14th May, heavy snow fell on the Drakensberg from Sani Pass to the Mweni. However, south of Sani it was not heavy. Two weeks later there is still thick snow on Giant’s Castle south face and also above the Sani ice falls.
This all points to good conditions for ice already at Giant’s Castle. Remember that the “Main Lotheni Coulier” was opened on 31st May 1985. Sani Pass should start forming up soon to climable ice.
The ABSEIL SUPERVISOR AWARD or ASA is a qualification offered by The Mountain Development Trust (MDT). Peak High is an approved provider of all MDT courses and assessments. The award is primarily for people who supervise individuals or groups in abseiling situations.
The course is mostly practical in nature and covers a broad spectrum. It includes rope and equipment care, the use of natural protection points, rope management, belaying, self-rescue, buddy rescues, group control, conservation and releasable abseils.
In all of these areas, candidates are specifically shown methods of good and safe practice when dealing with beginners and groups, as this is in essence what an Abseil Supervisor will be required to do.
Take a read of this before you book your long awaited Kili expedition and realise how sick the system is that you and I have contributed to.
Climbing Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, must be the most perverted mountain experience on the continent and perhaps in the world. The system and the experience are rotten and it starts from the top with the Tanzanian authorities, both the Kilimanjaro National Park and their government bosses. It works like this; tourists, hikers and climbers started to visit the mountain, with increasing numbers since the early 1990s causing the fees to go up, all in US Dollars. The authorities have just kept pushing up the fees to staggering amounts per day. When all told, between park fees, camping fees and rescue levies, it costs about US $136 per day, per person, or US $820 for 6 days. If one looks at the prices the guiding companies charge, you will notice that a 6-day trip will cost about US $1300, meaning more than half the cost is spent on the park fees. This leaves about US $400 for the guiding company and is then presumably split between the owners, guide and porters.
It begs the question, where are those Dollars going, of the approximately 25,000 people who visit the mountain annually? One can only guess, as the maintenance of the park itself is certainly not getting the benefit. Basics in conservation, anti poaching, stopping of illegal tree felling are not carried out. What is also disturbing is that the actual park fee costs are very hard to find on the Internet. Customers with guiding companies seldom actually see the money handed over at the park entrances and if they do, it is difficult to work out exactly what is being paid for by the company. But the porters are paid desperately low wages, around US $5 a day. Guides are paid more but still below the poverty line, if judging by the equipment they use and the clothes they wear.
There are some guiding companies charging far higher prices for a 6 or 7-day trip, as much as US $6000 per person. This fee is not going into paying porters and guides better, its going into things like bottled water, portable showers, chairs and tables, which are carried on the backs of desperately low paid porters.
Then there is the other factor of climbing this peak, which is just a few metres shy of 6000 metres. No experienced mountaineer climbs a peak of this height anywhere else in the world in just 5 or 6 days to the summit. If one does, the debilitating and often fatal effects of altitude sickness are very real dangers. So why on Kili are clients being sent up so fast? Probably for three reasons: First and foremost the cost per day is just so high, people cannot afford to sit around acclimatising. Secondly the tour companies have a faster turn around time and lastly they probably don’t know any better.
That lack of knowledge about acclimatization is borne out when one finds out about Kilimanjaro guide training. It entails some years working as a porter and then as an assistant guide. But when an aspirant guide wants to get a license he under goes just two weeks of training. One week of that is mostly getting to know the park rules. Two weeks training! Guides elsewhere take years and many courses before qualifying, but that guide on Kili has just a few days training before being allowed to guide clients.
Lastly, let me point out that a lot of the problems also lie with the clients who come to climb the mountain. Clients are willing to pay the exorbitant prices for a peak, which in world terms is not amazing either from a climbing, floral or geographical point of view. It is only because it is the highest that clients flock there in their thousands. This has resulted in a dirty and disgusting mountain with litter and campsites devoid of vegetation and human waste scattered around the peripheries of most habited areas.
In summary, to climb Kilimanjaro is an expensive undertaking, to climb with guides who rush you up far faster than is usually safe, in an environment, which is overcrowded and dirty and the money is going somewhere and its not into the park nor the porters and guides who work there.
A Recce hike in the Tugela Gorge with two members of the Nestle retirement club.
The retirement club is planning on doing a 4-day hike with Peak High in November 2017 to visit Monte-aux-Sources and Royal Natal National Park. We will be guiding them up the Tugela Gorge, chain ladders and also spend a day at Cathedral Peak.
The Figure 8 knot
This is the most widely used knot for attaching rope. It comes in two forms. It is either made “on the bight” if clipping to a karabiner or “re-threaded” if when tying into a harness.
The Double Fisherman’s knot
This is used to join ropes together. It can be used with ropes of different diameters.
Abseil technique for beginners
Connect the abseil device to the harness. A safety rope is also usually attached by the instructor, so that the abseiler can be belayed down the descent.
One hand must grasp the rope below the abseil device and pull the rope behind the back. This is then the hand that controls the descent by slowly releasing the rope. The legs should be set apart and be almost straight, lean back at about 80 degrees to the rock face.
ABSEIL SAFETY BACK-UPS
Continue reading THE BASICS OF ABSEILING
Mini Traverse Mweni cutback at sunset
I was recently in an aircraft accident caused by very bad pilot error. The pilot had a minimal number of flying hours and owned the helicopter himself. He used it just for playing around in and sometimes to go to work. It was in effect a very expensive toy of a rich man. In speaking to a friend and aviation instructor, he said that in that industry there is a saying and it goes like this: beware of pilots with thick wallets and thin log books.
There is a similar phenomenon in the world of climbing. Continue reading Pitfalls of South African Climbing Expeditions
Drakensberg Weather patterns
The Drakensberg lies in the summer rainfall area of Southern Africa (October to March). During this time thunderstorms, accompanied by sleet and hail, can occur several days in succession. They are normally preceded by a small fluffy cloud build-up at high altitude by mid-morning (orographic). By midday, the storm is usually fully developed and lasts until mid-afternoon. This weather pattern makes early starts very important for the mountain walker. During November through to February it is normally possible to begin walking before 6 a.m. Continue reading Weather Patterns of South Africa
Climbing and abseil ropes are very complex items with very specific specifications. All proper climbing equipment, including ropes and other nylon and metal gear has its specifications lay down by the international mountaineering body (U.I.A.A). Use only equipment that carries the U.I.A.A. mark on them. Products made or sold in Europe also carry a quality certification mark shown as an “EN” i.e. European Norm. Continue reading Rope Types for Rock and Ice climbers
The highlands of Lesotho are a remarkable area of huge rolling mountains, part of which forms the border between South Africa and the mountain Kingdom. Along this eastern boundary of the two countries is an area only visited by hikers and climbers who enter the region over High Mountain passes on the Drakensberg. To the west of the border, Basutho shepherds are the only inhabitants of the region. They live a semi-nomadic life style while tending sheep, goats and sometimes cattle. For the average shepherd, life is about hardship, hunger and cold and a life of basically boredom. Many hardly see the inside of a school classroom and are committed to a life of poverty in the high mountains of the Moluti Mountains. Continue reading Encounter with the Mamakhorong in Lesotho
A belay is the term used for an anchor point. Belays should consist of at least three separate points attached to different parts of the mountain or crag. I.e. separate rock spikes in the rock or trees etc. The belays must meet at a single point near the cliff edge and either a rope or sling can be used for joining the belay points. Continue reading Belays set-ups for climbers and abseil points
There are two main types: (1) Sit-harness (2) Full-body type.
The first type is the most common and can be used in most situations. The Full-body type is more useful and comfortable when having to sit for long periods at a time, hanging on the rope. They also eliminate any danger of the wearer slipping out, if they turn head down while descending. Continue reading Harnesses and how to tie into them.
In the extreme north of the range near Mont-aux-Sources are approximately 140kms of purpose built tracks in the foothills of the main Drakensberg range. The whole range of paths are located in the same valley as the Cavern Hotel and Sungubala camp. There are breath-taking views of the Mont-aux-Sources and Amphitheatre area to the west and to the south one can see as far as Champagne Castle and Cathedral Peak.
The mountain bike trails consist of various courses from easy and gentle as well as a 30km loop with short technical sections and short steep hills between an altitude of 1200m and 1400m.
There is plenty of accommodation available nearby including the two establishments already mentioned. Peak High can arrange a guided ride on any of these routes, including full-suspension bikes hire and helmets for hire.
In late May, I had the privilege of spending 5 days rock climbing and mountaineering with Simon Laker from the United Kingdom.
Simon was in southern Africa on business, and being a keen climber of more than 30 years, he contacted Peak High to see what could be offered. Continue reading Sentinel Peak and Eagle Rock- Guiding Simon Laker from the UK.
All dynamic climbing ropes are made to meet and exceed the minimum specifications set out by the UIAA.
Single-rope: Also called a Full-rope or sometimes a Sport- rope. It is demarcated by a figure 1 on each end of the rope. It can be used in a single strand for the lead climbing.
Double-ropes: Also called Half-ropes or sometimes Trad ropes. They are demarcated by the figure ½ at the end of each rope. The leader must tie into TWO of these ropes. The Second can tie onto the other two ends or in the case of a three person group, each second can tie into just one of these Half-ropes.
Twin-ropes: They are demarcated by two interlocked circles. These ropes are seldom seen in South Africa. The leader and second, tie into both ropes at all times.
Gavin Raubenheimer is the owner of Peak High Mountaineering and the convener of mountain rescue in KZN. He is a MDT Mountaineering Instructor and NQF Mountain Guide and has guided clients all over southern Africa, Mt Kenya, the Alps, Jordan, The Andes and Canadian Rockies.
Yip the thing which we often call a Reverso is in actual fact called a Plaquette. The word means “plate” in French and the first ones to be brought out were the Plaquette Magique or “Magic Plate” made by the New Alp brand. In English speaking countries it was known by this name, but when Petzl brought out their version in the early 2000’s the term Reverso certainly caught on in South Africa and other countries. But to be true, when using it in the auto-locking mode it should be said to be in “plaquette mode”. Black Diamond also soon had their version called the ATC Guide. Other companies such as Singing Rock have also brought out their own versions. Continue reading Plaquette these things are useful!
If you are an avid Berg hiker and have spent time chatting at a dinner parties about your weekend escapades around the Moloti-Drakensberg Park, it would not be unusual to receive some reaction in regards to you either being mad or you are asked: “Isn’t it dangerous?”.
Well, have you ever thought about it? Is the Drakensberg a dangerous mountain range? It’s a fair question. Continue reading The Drakensberg – is it dangerous?
On the weekend of the 25th and 26th there was a wide spread snow fall on the entire Drakensberg range. This has been the first good fall in 2015. At Sani Pass top it was about 40cm-50cm in depth. In most areas it was down to below the 2200m mark. This will help the dismal situation so far this year, but we will soon expect warmer day temperatures, so any fattening of the ice will only be for a few weeks. Gully routes in the south should be good from early to late August. There was also good snow on Champagne Castle, Mafadi and Cathedral Peak.
Continue reading Ice and Snow Report #2 (28 July 2015)
Continue reading Ice and Snow Report #1 (17 July 2015)
Last year I was sitting at my desk working, when a distress call came in from a hiker in the Drakensberg. He reported that he and his wife had been lost for two days in a region of the southern area of the range and they were requesting a rescue. Some 48 hours earlier he had fallen down a small slope and in doing so his Global Positioning System (GPS) had got lost somehow. I went through the standard type questions on the state of the parties health and the weather and so on. What I soon established was that they had a proper map with them but they could not read it, so they could not work out where they were. Nor had they known for two days where they were. Even though the weather was clear the entire time!! More alarming was the fact that they had followed a single, large valley from the ranger’s office up until they lost the GPS, but they still could not find their way back. After a few minutes of questioning I established they were only a few kilometers from their car and I had field rangers sent out and they were soon brought back. Continue reading GPS in the mountains – the myth exposed
Using a compass to find where you are on the map is called cross-bearings or resection.
Step 1. Orientate the map.
Step 2. Find a point on the map that you can positively identify, for example, the top of a well known peak.
Step 3. Sight onto it and take a field bearing.
Step 4. Then subtract the declination (from mag to grid you rid).
Step 5. Put the base plate edge on the known point on the map and keeping it on the point, rotate the entire compass till the orienteering lines on the transparent bottom are parallel with the vertical lines of the map.
Step 6. Draw a line from the point along the edge of the compass base plate. Your position is somewhere along that line.
Step 7. Now find another known point and repeat the exercise. Where the two lines intersect is your location on the map.
A third line can be added which usually forms a triangle. Your position would then be in the triangle. The smaller the triangle the more accurate your position is known.
Soft-shell technology in jackets and trousers came on the market some years back and seemed to be the revolution, or shall we say the perfect marriage, between Hard-shell and technical fleeces. At first glance that would be a correct assumption and some outdoors men predicted that soon Hard-shells would fall by the wayside. Continue reading Soft-shells: Let’s understand them
A Protractor compass as shown below is the most useful type for mountaineers. It is a magnetic compass with a protractor of 360 degrees incorporated into it. To use the traditional prismatic compass in conjunction with a map requires the use of a separate ruler and protractor and is therefore very awkward to use out in the mountains. This is why protractor compasses were introduced.
The base plate of the compass shown below is used as a ruler when joining two points on the map. The red needle points to Magnetic North. Magnetic North is an area which is situated in the upper Hudson Bay area of north America.
There are two types of bearings. A map bearing is a horizontal angle from one point to another in relation to True north. This is called a True Bearing.
The other type of bearing is a Magnetic bearing. This is an angle between two points in relation to Magnetic north. Also sometimes called a Field bearing. The angle between True North and Grid north is called the Magnetic declination.
(Note: there is such a thing as Grid north which lies between True and Magnetic north, but it is not usually a factor that has to be adjusted for when taking a bearing.)
More about magnetic declination
As stated earlier, the needle of a compass points towards the Hudson Bay area of North America. This means that where ever you are situated on the earth the angle between True north and Magnetic north will be different. In the eastern side of the earth the needle always points left or west of True north. In South Africa this is the case and in the Drakensberg it is approximately 23 degrees west of True North. This variation must always be taken into account when using the compass in relation to the map. Here you must remember a rule. Note that the magnetic declination is constantly moving a little each year. In South Africa the declination is getting slightly wider each year and maps will show by how much it moves over a given time.
Day dawned with a sea of clouds below the cave, which stayed in place most of the day. We summitted Cleft Peak (3277m) at around 10am and then were at Twin’s Cave by 3pm. Twins Cave turned out to be fairly damp, as mist and cloud rolled in just after we arrived. The third and last day was perhaps the hardest of all.
Again we set out above a sea of clouds and were at the base of Cathedral Peak by 10am. Only the one client opted to go to the summit with me. Having just one person to take up the roped sections made things easy and fast. After getting down we made good time all the way back to Cathedral Peak Hotel and the car park.
We now sell Peak High Technical T-Shirts for R150. Order your shirt when you book your course, or we can send it to you in South Africa for an extra R20.
Available sizes S M L XL
“I recently had the privilege of attending Gavin’s Basic Mountaineering Course. From the time I first contacted Peak High Mountaineering inquiring about the course, Gavin has been very helpful with his prompt responses and brochures.
As a first timer to rock climbing, I feel that the three day course has adequately prepared me for more complex mountaineering endeavours. Gavin’s calm demeanour, and clarity of instruction made the whole course to be fun and adventurous. Sometimes, I even forgot how perilous rock climbing could be if a person is not careful. Besides, his excellent skills as an instructor, Gavin is a friend. As a functional introvert, I felt welcomed and enjoy the course. His varied knowledge of the rock climbing and mountaineering makes him to be the first choice for anyone wanting to learn about mountaineering. His approach was very hands on and patient as it is to be expected of course. Although I cannot claim to be an expert rock climber after just a few days of doing the course, I am confident that I now possess the basic knowledge and skills to tackle more mountaineering challenges.
Furthermore, with enough practice, I will be able to tackle more complex rock climbing crags. I am planning to work more with Gavin on other activities in the future and would recommend him to anyone wanting instructions on mountaineering or guiding on high altitude mountain climbing. ”
Conrad Mtshali “There is a Zulu on my stance”
Here at Peak High we started the year off with a major rock climb on Rhino Peak, namely the S Route.
Dave Browne, an ex South African living in London, had never climbed in his home country and was eager to check things out. Despite lots of rain on the days leading up to the trip, the actual climb was dry and safe.
After a comfortable bivvy in Pillar Cave we set out at 5am under blue skies.
The climbing went off perfectly and we did the 6 pitches in good time and we on the summit of Rhino by 11am.
Well some years are better than others and this was a really good year. Why you ask? Well I got two international guiding trips. One to guide ice climbs in Canada and the other to Switzerland.
The Swiss trip was with Zach Brooks-Miller and he got me to show him around the Zermatt, Grundelwald and Grimsel Pass areas.
It was a great trip and we used the Swiss train service to get around and did some great climbing over an 8 day period.
Perhaps the real feature was climbing on the perfect granite slabs of Grimsel Pass. This area is not that well known as it is not the highest area of the country. But the climbing quality is very good.
If you would like more information on Hiking in the Drakensberg visit our Hiking Page on the Peak High Website: http://peakhigh.co.za/hiking/guided-hiking/ or send us an email on: firstname.lastname@example.org