Dragons Wrath 2010

06 Apr 2010 11:22 #1062 by Frosty Ice
Hi, thanks so much for the info guys and the pics Karl.

We had an awesome weekend and completed our route as planned. (Monks Nature Office - Keiths - Champagne - Keiths - Cowl Neck - Cowl Fork - Monks Nature Office) Grays pass was really good and will be a lot of fun in winter. The views from the top of Champagne were breathtaking looking down the valley and accross at Cathkin and the Monk. Bit of a story bellow for those keen to read.

The climb up to Monks neck was great, 2.5 hours to the neck. The slope down to Cowl Fork was a lot more challenging. We did it in 5 hours whilst being very conservative. The initial scree slope has its obvious dangers but lower down when the gully becomes a series of waterfalls, a few potentially dangerous situations resulted. At one point a number of waterfalls that require rope work presented themselves. Simply from the sound it was apparent that we needed to traverse the steep grass slope on the left. Should one not have realised this we could easily have become stuck with not option but down. We then traversed on a fairly steep grass slope around. This was one of the best days I have ever done in the mountains! Spectacular and technically challenging.

When we got back to the nature conservation office we spoke to a ranger that told us that he had just picked up a lady who had broken her ankle deep in the cowl gully which we had decended the day before. We then chatted to the couple who had been rescued. (This may be Hermann from a post above?) It transpired that the incident occured at about 11:00 on Sunday and that she was forced to spend the night alone while her partner went for help. We would have passed her at about 15:00, but didnt make contact, probably due to the cloud and noise from the watefalls. We then slept bellow her point and noticed the chopper flying overhead the next day.

The trail is marked as difficult on the map, however there is no trail. The ranger who assisted in the rescue said he will close the route. I would aggree with him, it should be a mountaineering route rather than a hiking route as the technical difficulty of the route is above that of a hiking route. Apparently a number of people have been injured. There is also a serious risk of flash flooding. Myself and another member of our group have a lot of kloofing, rock climbing and hiking experience which allowed us to do the route safely. I think everyday hikers are very likely to end up in trouble doing this route.


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06 Apr 2010 14:36 #1065 by kliktrak
Replied by kliktrak on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
Interesting and have to agree.

I was hiking in Monks Cowl area on the March long weekend, and passed some very American/canadian sounding hikers, who were coming up the Sphinx path , just below the sphinx at about 10am . They matter-of-factly stated that they were heading to Cowl Cave - looking at them they were kitted out only for a day hike and the pace up the path suggested they were not fit experienced mountaineers. [ie 10am below the sphinx - I could not see them making it to Cowl cave before nightfall considering their pace and the ominous weather conditions]

I believe they either did not have a contour map or did not know how to read a contour map as in further chatting with them they did not seem to fully comprehend what they were suggesting to undertake [altitude and gradient wise].

I advised them as best I could to paint a clearer picture for them , and i think they would of battled with fitness and with the heavy cloud cover already forming over cathkin, sterkhorn etc they would have probably made it to blind man's corner contour path and then turned back [hopefully!].

Monks Cowl is a popular place due in main I think to the good road condition and the large number of hotels and accomodation in the area. I know there are warning signs and the Rangers at the bottom were much more stringent with checking what routes hikers were doing and getting the hike register filled in than I have seen previously. But its easy to get past those checks, and of course the routes are open from Injasuthi and Cathedral sides.

I wonder how EKZNW will manage in the future - perhaps soon hikers will have to get a type of certification [even a type of "license"?] to present to access certain routes? although managing that would be highly complex/costly.

Or maybe there might be restrictions that certain hikes can only be done with a qualified leader who vouches for the members of the hiking party?

The berg seems to be gaining in popularity and increased hiking traffic, especially as they continue to promote and grow the international tourism market for adventure sports, will be interesting to see how they manage this, and hope that we locals dont lose out!

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06 Apr 2010 15:33 #1066 by BergAttie
Replied by BergAttie on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
And so we will lose the true spirit of the mountains as a Wildernis area. It becomes blurry when you have to protect people against themselves. I was faced with a related situation this weekend when I did the responsible thing and filled out the mountain register for a solo hike in Cathedral area. On hearing that I would be going solo I was told that it is not allowed. After some arguing and signing an indemnity form and getting approval from the Ranger I was allowed to pay for access. Had the not given me permission I would have left the office and sneaked in anyway.

As an expereinced hiker with 15 years of knowledge in the Berg I know damn well how easily and quickly things can go pear shape. I am not comfortable hiking alone and try to avoid it as far as possible BUT if I am not given the choice of taking responsibility for my own actions (that includes death and paying for medivac) then I get annoyed. Pressure like I experienced will force people to bypass the relatively good control systems that are in place - i.e. if people are not allowed in through the formal channels, they will get in - it is impossible to control access to the berg.

This is a dificult topic that can be debated logically from many opposing angles - perhaps we should look at world best practise in this regard - any body have some info?

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06 Apr 2010 16:47 #1067 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
On solo hiking at Cathedral Peak - last year I signed in at the register and tried to buy a single permit for a 2 night hike. The head ranger would not allow it and I went through the business of trying to explain that I knew the area well, could walk in from Mnweni on my own if I felt like it and so on. He eventually put me through to someone else (couldn't establish quite where) on the phone. It was clear this person didn't know the Berg at all, and so I gave in. Then I offered to buy two permits. This, it turned out, was fine with them as I had satisfied their conditions. The cost of an additional permit is negligible. Next time I'll simply buy two permits at the outset.

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06 Apr 2010 19:33 #1069 by BergAttie
Replied by BergAttie on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
Ridiculous logic. You don't even have to hike in from Mweni - just drive off to the hotel parking area and set off - how will they stop you - even know you are around?

It is quite sad that nowadays one more often than not encounter staff at EKZNW that has no idea about the Berg - has not even set foot on top.

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07 Apr 2010 01:24 - 07 Apr 2010 01:25 #1072 by domsmooth
Replied by domsmooth on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
While The points you make are valid, I think we need to remember that the staff at EKZNW are only following instructions, as most of you would if your boss (client) were to give them to you. Try and bear in mind that most of the staff at EKZNW are only trying to alleviate the scenario which played out this weekend (the only report I can find so far is the Witness which requires a subscription), but basically some woman spent 21 hours on a ledge waiting for rescuers to save her.

The snippet does not indicate any injuries, only that the storm experienced in KZN (and we had fairly sizeable hailstones in PMB) caused a delay in the rescue team getting to her. While there is apparently insurance for these things, one needs to also bear in mind that EKZNW (as with other Govt departments and especially conservation agencies in SA) are facing massive budget cuts. One of the first things to be investigated when budget is cut is why the big expense to insurance excesses. The stats suggest that single and inexperienced hikers are more prone to needing emergency help than others. The staff at EKZNW are only doing the job they have been trained to do to try and minimize the risk of accidents and fatalities. And, yes, they have been punting the UDP to overseas visitors, particularly for 2010, and my question is why not. It is a stunning landscape, one worthy of a World Heritage Site. That is going to attract visitors, and while it may ruin the wilderness experience for some, the rampant development adjacent to the park is what is ruining my experience. The lights and dogs etc is what bugs me. Trust me, though, EKZNW are trying to keep the development within limits and I personally attend the buffer technical committee meetings to discuss developments adjacent to the Berg, as does Bergwatch, and we are doing what we can to protect the wilderness areas from intrusion by developers intent on just making a quick buck, and potentially losing the sense of place of the values of the WHS!

Visitors are better than lights every night, in my opinion. Visitors pay to maintain the park as it is, developers pay nothing towards the Park.

Ps, if anyone can find more info on the stranded lady, I would appreciate the posting here.

Lets all help maintain the values for which the Berg was proclaimed a World Heritage Site
Last edit: 07 Apr 2010 01:25 by domsmooth.

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07 Apr 2010 07:48 #1075 by Frosty Ice
Replied by Frosty Ice on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
I spoke to the stranded lady and her partner as well as the EKZNW official just as we got back, so I will give all the information I recieved from them.

Our groups met each other at Keiths bush camp on the Friday night. They said that they were going to sleep up at the neck Saturday night and then at cowl fork on Sunday night. We told them that we would climb Champagne Summit on Saturday and then go up and down the neck on the Sunday and meet them at the cowl fork campsite on Sunday evening. Their route seems from the map like a nice slow paced circular route.

They said that they had no problems up to the neck from Keith Bush but decending towards cowl fork they found the going very difficult in the river and on the scree slope. They decided to traverse on the grass slopes but quickly ended up with a ravine to cross on the far left. The lady then slipped while trying to cross and broke her ankle. This was at 11:00 on Sunday. Her partner then made for help and reached the nature office on the Sunday evening. She had a tent and supplies. Military choppers tried to come from Bloem and JHB but could not make it due to the weather.

The night on the mountain was very wet with thick mist which never really cleared the next morning. A comercial chopper pilot from the area was able to do the lift at about 09:00 on Monday morning as there was a small gap in the weather. The pilot seemed to have problems with the mist trying to land and only had a very small window of opportunity to do the rescue.

The lady seemed to have dealt with it well and was not in shock or anything when we spoke to her. It was a pitty that we didnt see her as we decended about 5 hours later. The rain and mist was quite heavey though. We could have assisted her.

The cause of the incident I believe was that the map clearly shows a path that allows one to do a nice round trip of Cathkin. The fact is that this is not a hiking route. Unless you are exprienced in kloofing etc you are very likely to get into trouble. After finding the going in the river impossible they went left over the grass but went too far and ended up with no option but to do a dangerous move.

The EKZNW official agreed that there was no path and that the route should be closed to hiking because it was too dangerous.

Thats all the info that I have.

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07 Apr 2010 08:14 #1077 by BergAttie
Replied by BergAttie on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
Your arguments are sound. The bigger picture as usual explains the behaviour we encounter with the EKZNW staff. The reaction would scare off the inexperienced hikers which is good. Having said that it would be a sad day if experienced hikers are prohibited from doing hikes that from an outsider's inexperienced point of view looks suicidal but is in fact safer than even a day hike on the lower slopes for some others.

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07 Apr 2010 14:08 - 08 Oct 2010 15:34 #1079 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
This is the place to gather and discuss all accidents and rescues in the Drakensberg for 2010. The most common are hiking related, though they can also result from other activities such as climbing and paragliding. This thread is inspired by the book "Dragons Wrath" by Reg Pearse & James Byrom, and is an endeavour to continue on in that spirit.

The purpose of this is to:
* concatenate all information about these accidents to keep a concerned Drakensberg community informed;
* express solidarity and concern to those involved in the accidents;
* learn from mistakes made and to heed warnings of risks.

The purpose of this is NOT to:
* criticise or embarrass those involved;
* create media hype or a morbid fascination of other peoples accidents;
* create negative publicity for the Berg (regarding safety and security in the Berg, our message is one of "Be informed and prepared when you go", rather than "Don't go" or "There are no problems").

In 2008 there were 5 hiking-related deaths in the Berg:

I have been compiling a list of incidents that occurred in 2009, which I've been intending to publish for a while and I'll have this up as soon as I can.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 08 Oct 2010 15:34 by intrepid. Reason: added James Byrom as co-author

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07 Apr 2010 17:25 #1081 by Hermann
Replied by Hermann on topic Dragons Wrath 2010
Hi All

yip it was me and my hiking partner Anny. She had operation on her left lower leg.Specialist had to put in a plate and seven screws. the bad news is that she wont be hiking for a year. so we'll go camping and chillin... It was an awfull experience for us both,but being experienced and cool headed made a big difference. The run back to Monks Cowl from Shada ridge was just adrenaline pumping.Anny is one hell of a brave woman!! I didnt sleep at all sunday night and it was very frustrating to hear the news of the Oryx turning back twice. The pilot from Dragon Peaks helped us out, and what an awesome relief to see Anny in the chopper smiling and giving me the thumbs up when landing.....man what mixed emotions...

We always talk about ...what if...on our hikes, but when it happens to you ....no words

On sunday morning i had a gut feeling about not going down Cowl Fork,for it looked scary from where we stayed in cowl cave.Was thinking of going back to KBush camp and hike back.
Ive learned a lot what happend,and my appreciation goes out to the mountain rescue guys. thanks to Karl from Ushaka horse trails and to Nick that came all the way from Giants Castle...had flat tyre on the way.

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