Gavin Raubenheimer

Much has been written about how to deal with emergencies when out in the wilds, far from help, but I have found much of what is written is based on limited knowledge of how things actually go down. In my many years of mountain rescue, I have picked up some common problems that occur time and again when people are dealing with a situation in the mountains. Here are some tips to help get you through the situation.

It takes time
For rescues in remote areas of mountains or other wilderness areas, it will take some time until help can get to you. In the case of a low-key operation near to civilisation this may be less than an hour. In the case when a large powerful helicopter is needed, at least two or more hours or longer will go past before help arrives. If the weather is bad, this can be even longer as a rescue team has to drive to road-head and then hike to the scene. The time from when a call for help is made, until some help arrives, can be a very frustrating time for the people involved and the people left with a patient need to keep themselves occupied during this time. Rescue teams seldom can simply leave straight away, as planning needs to be done, equipment collected and teams briefed. Mountain rescues need to be planned well and rushing decisions does not help the patients well being. Contrary to how it is shown in Hollywood movies, helicopter crews are not standing about just waiting for a call. Before aircraft can get airborne, there is usually paperwork and planning that takes place and this takes time.

Understand there are usually two types of situations
You have to realise that in most incidents in the mountains, a patient falls into one of two situations. Firstly, they are either in an extremely serious situation where immediate intervention is needed. Or secondly, they may have a serious injury but are unlikely to die from it in the next few hours. If they are in the first type of situation, so they have either stopped breathing, have no pulse (or both) or they are pouring blood from a major artery, in theses cases do not phone for help immediately. The patient’s survival rests on them being attended to right there and then and basic first aid skills are needed. Once they are out of immediate danger (pulse and breathing restored or bleeding stopped) then think about how to sort out a rescue. If their injury is serious, but the patient is not likely to die in the next a few hours, then take time to do First Aid to the best of one’s ability and then plan how to go about getting help.

Do it once
Make the call for rescue and once one is happy that mountain rescue has been contacted, realise the “wheels have started to turn”. Do not then make more calls to other agencies in the hope that more is better. Having multiple rescue agencies trying to do the same operation is wasteful and time consuming. Secondly, do not allow other members of the party to contact friends, relatives and other rescue agencies. Friends and relatives then also start phoning for rescue, which just compounds the muddle up as multiple rescues start to take place.

Calling it in
To identify where you are located, a verbal description is usually better than a set of GPS co-ordinates. The reason being is that the verbal description tells a rescue team about the terrain and paints a better picture of what is going on. For example, “the patient is approximately 700m upstream of Tseke hut and in the river boulders” says a lot more than a set of numbers. The GPS co-ordinates are sometimes wrong or given in a version that then needs to be changed into a different format for an aircraft’s navigation system. In that conversion mistakes are frequently made and aircraft are dispatched to the wrong place. Just 300m out and it can end up in the wrong valley!

Show yourself
When an aircraft is inbound to a rescue scene, people on the ground are actually very hard to see and appear very small in a huge landscape. Making your location known is very important with bright colours of clothing and tents etc. But the two best ways of showing yourself is when the aircraft is visible and heading in the general direction, use the flash of a camera or cell phone to show the position. Aircrew can easily see a camera flash from considerable distances, especially in low light or shadowy areas. A small fire with lots of smoke is also a good indicator and is seen easily and gives the aircrew valuable information of wind direction and speed.

Cleft Peak to Cathedral Peak

This is a 3-4 day trek, depending on the trek, and starts from the Ezemvelo/ KZN Wildlife Didima Camp in the Cathedral Peak wilderness area. It is a circular route that goes through large mountains.

There are several variations to this route and it can be changed to suit the client. The starting point is at an altitude of 1400m with a short 3 hour climb to Ribbon Falls. The next stage takes one on top of the Drakensberg via Camel Pass and then through the ‘eye’, which brings one into Windy Gap and the top section of a second pass called Organ Pipes. The night will be spent in tents or a cave. The next day the trek goes over Cleft Peak (3281m), then to Mlambonja Pass summit and on to the overnight stop at Twins Cave. Here there are beautiful views of the northern range. On the final day one traverses past all the major peaks of the Cathedral ridge then summits Cathedral Peak (3004m) via a short “C” grade scramble.

The hike is best suited to to people who have a good fitness level and are accustomed to carrying a full backpack.
The entire area is a proclaimed wilderness area and is also now a World Heritage Site.

Guidebooks & Maps For Sale

Peak High Mountaineering stocks the following guidebooks and maps of South Africa and Namibia. Including Drakensberg Select by Gavin Raubenheimer. A 350 page definitive guide to trekking, rock, snow and ice in the Drakensberg. Also includes colour pictures and high resolution topo guides, list of cave information, history and stories.

Drakensberg Select R390
Courier within South Africa R120
Airmail to Europe & UK R420
Courier to Europe & UK R750
(prices may vary for multiple copies)

A Climbers Guide to Kwa-Zulu Natal Rock by Roger Nattrass. A comprehensive guide to the rock climbs of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. R250

Courier within South Africa R120
Airmail to Europe & UK R420
Courier to Europe & UK R750
(Prices may vary for multiple copies)

Rock Climbing at Eagle Mountain by Gavin Peckham. An A6 pocket-size guide to the sport climbs of Eagle Rock/ Mount Everest Resort in the Free-State province of South Africa. R150

Postage within South Africa R50

To order, please email gavin@peakhigh.co.za with your name, book or map name and quantity.



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.

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…

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

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!

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.
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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.
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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

Client feedback: Conrad Mtshali

“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.

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Conrad Mtshali abseiling with a back up

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.

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Conrad Mtshali rock climbing with Peak High Mountaineering

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”

Trip Report : The S Route on Rhino Peak 2-3 January 2015

Here at Peak High we started the year off with a major rock climb on Rhino Peak, namely the S Route.

Rhino S Route and Eastern Ridge TOPO
Rhino S Route and Eastern Ridge TOPO

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.

Rhino S Route: Knife Edge
Rhino S Route: Knife Edge

After a comfortable bivvy in Pillar Cave we set out at 5am under blue skies.

Rhino S Route Crux
Rhino S Route Crux

The climbing went off perfectly and we did the 6 pitches in good time and we on the summit of Rhino by 11am.

Gavin Raubenheimer