Security precautionary measures.
ghaznavid wrote: @Tiska: you make some good points there. But please provide an example of a decent spot to pitch a tent that has only one entrance way. I doubt you will find a relatively flat spot on top that fits that condition. On the south slopes of Leqooa Ridge there are very flats spots with a cliff next to them, but attackers could simply stand on top of the cliff and throw rocks down at you.
Admittedly it's not straightforward Ghaz. But someday, someone's life might depend on the good choice of tent site. Only a bit of luck has meant that hikers have walked away from recent attacks given how rocks have been flying in the dark. With that perspective, the inconvenience of tent site optimisation is something worth hassling about in my mind.
Two generic places come to mind - one where the tent site is surrounded by rough rocks or gullies on 3 sides and a smoother, grass approach on the 4th. Attackers are more likely to approach from the grassy side which would then have security lines across it. The second would be just off the escarpment top, on the SA side, where there are plenty of very shallow rock overhangs with reasonably flat bases. The shallow overhangs are not sufficient protection from the weather on their own but they would be protected from rocks unleashed above. The rock layer reduces the approach possibilities by at least 180 degrees.
We all have a tendency to select tent sites on the basis of aesthetics first and then things like access to water. Security tends not to feature at the same level in the decisions. I'm suggesting it should.
Another alternative to tents and caves is for each person to carry a bivvy bag. There is huge flexibility bound up in finding a bivvy spot because each place only needs to be flat and comfortable enough for one person. The difficult thing is finding a place for a tent which is flat enough for 2 or 3 people. That is what takes us out in the open.
The thing about tents is that they provide a false sense of security in the form of a protectionless layer about 1mm thick whilst obscuring all visibility. The attackers could scarcely design a better device in which to maximise the vulnerability of the hikers. We volunteer that vulnerability every time we get inside one on the escarpment.
tiska wrote: Two generic places come to mind - one where the tent site is surrounded by rough rocks or gullies on 3 sides and a smoother, grass approach on the 4th. Attackers are more likely to approach from the grassy side which would then have security lines across it. The second would be just off the escarpment top, on the SA side, where there are plenty of very shallow rock overhangs with reasonably flat bases. The shallow overhangs are not sufficient protection from the weather on their own but they would be protected from rocks unleashed above. The rock layer reduces the approach possibilities by at least 180 degrees.
Attack isn't the only risk, and camping on top of a small outcrop means exposure to wind. A mountaineer recently died when their tent was picked up in a gust and thrown off a cliff - so this is a real risk. Even if not something as extreme, some of your gear might get blown away, or your tent might suffer in the wind.
Just down on the SA side makes sense in certain areas - that's exactly what Mike and I did when we bivied about 200m off the Mnweni Cutback Highway on the first night of our bailed GT. However this isn't always an option, and where it is, isn't always helpful (e.g. the only places at Giants Castle where you could do this would be on highway trails). I have spent a night in a tent on 3 different passes (Gypaetus, Bollard and Namahadi Corner) - and all three nights included gravity consistently pushing the person uphill into the person who was downhill. None resulted in a good nights sleep.
Re the importance of picking a good camping spot: surely everyone does this already? Aesthetics doesn't matter when there is a layer or two of fabric between you and the view. In a cave I can wake up in the middle of the night, admire the view and then go back to sleep - I can't do this in a tent. Most of my camping spots are selected for 3 criteria:
1) well hidden (from any nearby trails, kraals etc)
2) fairly close to water
Admittedly I slept in a fairly dodgy spot when I did Tsepeng a few weeks ago, but I had had a friendly chat with all the nearby shepherds, so I doubted they would give me any trouble. There also wasn't anything particularly great in that area, there are so many kraals on the north side of the Leqooa Ridge that you will always be in sight of at least one.
tiska wrote: Another alternative to tents and caves is for each person to carry a bivvy bag. There is huge flexibility bound up in finding a bivvy spot because each place only needs to be flat and comfortable enough for one person. The difficult thing is finding a place for a tent which is flat enough for 2 or 3 people. That is what takes us out in the open.
Absolutely - but bivy bags don't hold up in bad weather, and once again - attack isn't your only risk. I find whenever you put your sleeping bag in a bivy bag, it is soaked the next morning due to not allowing enough moisture out. I have bivied in the open a few times (two of them were actually planned), but never in bad weather. My most recent bivy ended in me learning that dew can fall in strong wind and that MHW's claim that my sleeping bag is water resistant is actually true. Playing the "leave the tent at home" game is risky - and Mike and I have extensively discussed how we would handle the different aspects of it going wrong, although we have been lucky to have no major incidents in almost 3 years of following this approach (and initially we didn't even carry an emergency bag or bivy bag).
I am not under the illusion that caves are always safe - no past attacks doesn't mean there will be none in the future. Even in caves I always keep important items (GPS, camera, phone, car keys etc) in my sleeping bag, and my other gear goes into my pack and is always near my head (or used as a pillow). Admittedly those of us who don't carry much have an advantage over the others in that we don't have much for them to take, and we don't wear hiking boots. If someone is looking for an easy target, I doubt that a team carrying 33l packs looks very appealing compared to a team with 70l packs. Also - moving faster means that people are less likely to follow you, or to successfully guess where you stopped for the night. As an added bonus - if we do have to put our stuff together in a hurry to move off, it is considerably less to pack up than those who carry heavy packs
Getting to the top is nothing, the way you do it is everything – Royal Robins
ghaznavid wrote: Re the importance of picking a good camping spot: surely everyone does this already? Aesthetics doesn't matter when there is a layer or two of fabric between you and the view.
I quite agree about the aesthetics, esp when dark. But I really do think people pick tent sites because they are nice not because they are hidden or secure. I think that is a key issue.
ghaznavid wrote: I find whenever you put your sleeping bag in a bivy bag, it is soaked the next morning due to not allowing enough moisture out. I have bivied in the open a few times (two of them were actually planned), but never in bad weather.
Weather in the Berg, at least in winter, is really, really stable and bad weather (really bad weather) is predictable.Get a better bivvy bag Ghaz!
True, just as the fact that the sun rose today does not guarantee it will rise tomorrow. But I'm certainly planning that it will. The statistics overwhelmingly favour caves.
ghaznavid wrote: I am not under the illusion that caves are always safe - no past attacks doesn't mean there will be none in the future.
tiska wrote: True, just as the fact that the sun rose today does not guarantee it will rise tomorrow. But I'm certainly planning that it will. The statistics overwhelmingly favour caves.
On 15 June 1945, no nuclear bomb had ever been successfully detonated. On 23 February 2010, no batsman had ever scored a double hundred in an ODI (although, a woman already had). On 23 February 1868, no US President had ever been impeached.
My point being that I agree that caves are definitely safer (not to mention better in almost every aspect) - but it is unwise to ignore safety just because it has never been a problem in the past.
Getting to the top is nothing, the way you do it is everything – Royal Robins
The tripwires need more testing, but I really believe they could be a useful security layer. I agree @tiska that they may be better employed as single lines placed across likely access points. This is how I tested them - setting up 3 separate lines with 2 pegs each. I found that I could get the lines nice and taut and that rocks and grass did not affect them. If set up with some common sense they will work.
I guess one of the main points of my first post was to say that when you overnight on the escarpment, at least HAVE A PLAN. Don't be a sitting duck.
My personal plan for over-nighting on the escarpment at present:
1) Aim to stay in caves wherever possible, as noted by @ghaznavid. Tenting is now a last resort for me. I will now use tripwires across cave approaches as well, as you just never know.
2) Avoid tenting in hotspots, heads of passes and any other high-traffic areas. Choose a site with limited approach angles, if possible.
3) Perhaps only consider tenting in Winter when there is less activity on the escarpment.
4) Pitch camp later, even in the dark when you are sure no-one has seen the location of your camp.
5) There is certainly merit in using bivvy bags rather than tents when the weather allows, as noted by @tiska. Tents make you blind. In a bivvy you can sit up and shine your torch in a flash at a noise and see whats going on. You can also pitch camp faster and break camp faster. You can pitch camp easily in the dark. You are more obscured. You can choose more inaccessible places.
6) Set up some kind of early-warning system. It's not foolproof but if it gives you a better chance then it's worth it.
7) Tent closer to the escarpment and ideally on the SA side of the watershed in the few places where this is possible. I know the Basutho may not know that the watershed is the border and not the escarpment, but if in the course of an attack an attacker is 'somehow' killed, at least you could argue in court that you didn't kill them in Lesotho!
8) Tent in larger numbers, if possible.
9) Decide what to do in the case of an attack and make sure everyone in your party is on board. There is and will be varying opinions on this. Stay quiet vs make noise vs run away and leave your stuff vs fight back. Use pepper spray vs trekking poles vs knives vs rocks vs guns.
I have a lightweight (800g incl. pegs) 2-3 man flysheet which pitches with my trekking poles to use as a floorless 'tent' with my bivvy (if the weather turns too bad for the bivvy). I will probably start taking this system on all hikes. So depending on weather and route, my first choice is to use a cave, second choice bivvy bag only, third choice to bivvy under the fly.
Another alternative alarm system that might be a bit easier to set up is a portable infrared alarm system - comes complete with a remote control unit
I have used this many, many years ago at a place where we rented and the cars were parked outside. Had a few false alarms when a cat set off the alarm (I presume it was never the same cat that tripped the alarm as the noise level is such that it could cause a sudden heart attack!!!!!!). Just don't use it in a cave with a low roof - you might just knock yourself out against the roof of the cave as you WILL wake up with a shock
The purpose here is a little different from the main discussion as it is not going to scare away any attackers on the night of the attack.
One thing that we lack is any way of responding after the attacks have happened. All that can really be said is that a bunch of guys in gumboots pitched up in the dark, threw rocks murderously, stole some kit and left. It could be any one of a few hundred guys in gumboots somewhere near the escarpment.
But what if a camera trap took a decent set of photos of the guys? These could later be printed out and distributed with some text on them saying something like: We know who you are - we know what you did.
The attacks are infrequent, so this is really a thought for the long run. It would be some time before someone with a camera trap was 'lucky' enough to get robbed.
Success might even involve setting up a false old/cheap tent next April somewhere enticing near Fangs Pass and sneaking away leaving a light inside that switches off around 9pm -with some well placed camera traps nearby.
Taking into account most of the attacks are usually kicked off by throwing of stones, I would think that using ones pack as a shield to protect the peanut and stay conscious would be advisable maybe even have a climbing helmet to "don" in such an event, in the event of an attack not subsiding escalation of force will be required and only the situation can determine to what extent, but staying in SA side of the map would be beneficial, as mentioned in this thread earlier in your defence if you had to trip somebody's switch.
Then I plan on taking my MSA Sordin Electronic earmuffs used for competitive shooting in my case on the trip, as they amplify sounds tremendously and cut out all sounds past a certain decibel factor when shots are fired, which will help with early identification of noises.
Anyway we can plan for all possible scenarios and then get stuck in something you could never imagine but at least one tried.
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Those look like ET
Just be aware of the chances of false positives, i.e. the sensors being tripped by something other than a human. You'd be surprised at how much non-human movement there is in the Berg at night. We've had cattle, donkeys, dogs and jackal, and possibly buck (although I can't confirm this one) all walk right next to the tent at night. These would set of the alarm and give you and the animals a proper skrik
You could also consider the same type of device, but only with a light that comes on. A friend of mine uses these, and on our last trip to the Berg my wife got "caught" on her way out of the cave for a wee-wee These are also solar powered and weighs literally next to nothing. It would do a couple of things - destroy the would be attackers night vision, alert everyone to his presence and give you the chance to clearly see the attacker.
Using your pack as a shield is a good idea. The biggest problem I've found when thinking about possible scenarios is what to do regarding shoes. My "office feet" are soft and depending on the terrain, it could really hamper my movement if I want to confront the attacker/s. I normally try and clear the area around the tent of obvious stones and pack them at the two ends of my tent, so I could retaliate effectively if needs be.