Why Kilimanjaro is sick

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.

Gavin Raubenheimer.
April 2017.

Tugela Gorge Hike

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.



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.


How to hike the Mini Traverse…

mini-traverse-mweni-cutback-at-sunset                             Mini Traverse Mweni cutback at sunset

The Mini Traverse is the hike from Mont-aux-Sources to Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg mountain range of South Africa. This distance is approximately 80kms. It is so named the Mini Traverse, as it is the short version of the much longer Grand Traverse, which goes all the way to Bushman’s Nek in the south. Hikers see the Tugela Falls, Monte-aux-Sources and the ever-famous Cathedral Peak. There are also views of Champagne Castle and Giant’s Castle to the south.
Fitness and experience

Continue reading How to hike the Mini Traverse…


10th – 12th October 2016

For leading groups of hikers in easy
mountain terrain

The Walking Group Leader Award or WGLA is designed for people who want to lead groups in hills and mountainous areas, on non-technical terrain. With a strong focus on navigation, the award provides the leadership skills required to feel confident about taking people out walking. The award also includes expedition organization skills for multi-day trips.map-reading-and-compass

Pitfalls of South African Climbing Expeditions

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

Weather Patterns of South Africa

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

Rope Types for Rock and Ice climbers

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

Encounter with the Mamakhorong in Lesotho

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

Belays set-ups for climbers and abseil points

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

Harnesses and how to tie into them.

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.

Guided Mountain Biking in the northern Drakensberg

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.Sungubaba ride 5 Caro Sungubala riding 2


Mountain Leader Course Report
29 April – 2 May 2016 

This is part of the MDT set of courses and is in-line with the British ML Award.

The course was conducted partly in Hilton, and the Cedara forests were used for the basic navigation section. Thereafter, the instructor and the three candidates spend time in the Garden Castle area of the southern Drakensberg. A total of 2 nights were spent in the mountains, including night navigation, river crossing skills and basic rope work.

Garden Castle panarama Cesar

On the day of arrival it was snowing lightly, which added to the enjoyment of the course and was a major boost in dealing with cold weather conditions and bad visibility.

Rock climbing rope types:

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.

Plaquette these things are useful!

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. Reverso Plaquette Continue reading Plaquette these things are useful!

Trek to the summit of Giant’s Castle

Date: 1-3 June 2016

Cost: R3 500 per person

Giant’s Castle is a large rock massif and is located in the central Natal Drakensberg. It is undoubtedly one of the major peaks of the entire range and also one of the highest, standing at 3314 meters. The area surrounding it is a game reserve with many species of animals, birds and plants.

Giants Castle hike
It is possible to trek to the main summit via Giant’s Pass. The start of the trip is from Giant’s Castle Main Camp. It is a strenuous hike and requires hiking steep, broken ground on the pass. The summit affords magnificent views of the Northern and Southern ranges as well as Lesotho and Champagne Castle.

Apply to: gavin@peakhigh.co.za


MDT Walking Group Leader Award (WGLA)

Date: 10th – 12th October 2016 and 12th – 15th December 2016

Price: R3400

Venue: Hilton KZN and the southern Drakensberg

A must do course for hikers wanting the skills to lead groups in mountain and wilderness areas of South Africa.


The Walking Group Leader award is designed for people who want to lead groups in hill and mountainous areas, on non-technical terrain. There is a strong focus on navigation and the award provides the leadership skills required to feel confident about taking people out hiking. The award also includes expedition organization skills for multi-day trips, emergencies, campsite selection, group leadership and much, more..

Entry requirements:

  • Candidates must be at least 18 years old
  • At least 20 quality walking days on appropriate terrain must be recorded in a log book

Apply to: gavin@peakhigh.co.za

MDT Mountain Leader Course: 12th-16th December 2016

The Mountain Leader Award provides training and assessment in the technical and group management skills required by those who wish to lead groups in the mountains, hills and wilderness areas of southern Africa. Mountain Leaders are equipped to lead others in all mountainous regions in South Africa in both summer and winter conditions. This course takes place in Hilton KZN, followed by a further 3 days in the northern Drakensberg where considerable time will be spent learning the fine art of navigation, negotiating steep ground, river crossing, rescue procedures and much, much more.

Prior to the course candidates must possess the following skills:

Candidates should have at least 1 year’s mountain walking experience. This experience should include some:

  • Hiking in the High Drakensberg to provide aspects of altitude.
  • A minimum of 20 quality Mountain days should be recorded in a logbook with at least 5 Mountain days in winter conditions.

Cost: R4600

Apply to: gavin@peakhigh.co.za

The Drakensberg – is it dangerous?

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?

Ice and Snow Report #2 (28 July 2015)

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)

GPS in the mountains – the myth exposed

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

Where am I?

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.

PHIn most cases in mountains you will be on a known natural line anyway, such as a river or ridge. Just one resection line crossing the natural line will usually be sufficient to see where you are.

Gavin Raubenheimer

Soft-shells: Let’s understand them

Alps Grimsel Gavin (Large)
Gavin Raubenheimer, wearing his first Ascent Soft-Shell

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

Navigation – The magnetic compass

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.

Cleft Peak to Cathedral Peak

This trip involved guiding a German couple up Camel Pass to Roland’s Cave. The hike up to the top via Ribbon Falls and Windy Gap is a fairly long day, but they both did very well and we were in the Cave at about 5.30pm.
20150106_054123 (Large)
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.
20150107_070010 (Large) (2)
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.
20150106_092824 (Large)

Gavin Raubenheimer

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: gavin@peakhigh.co.za