Via Ferrata route in the Berg

14 Apr 2012 08:27 #53557 by ghaznavid
I was reading Encounters with the Dragon, the chapter on the Icidi Pencil. I notice that they where carrying a drill and permanently inserting equipment into the rocks, are they allowed to do this?

Getting to the top is nothing, the way you do it is everything – Royal Robins

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16 Apr 2012 07:58 #53568 by no4stopper
ghaznavid wrote:

"I was reading Encounters with the Dragon, the chapter on the Icidi Pencil. I notice that they where carrying a drill and permanently inserting equipment into the rocks, are they allowed to do this?"

The short answer is yes. (Please read on if you want some back ground and thanks for asking the question as all berg users, even non climbers, need to understand what the other interest groups do.)

Since the first routes were climbed in the berg pitons (pegs), the only protection at that time, have been used. Most of the time they were removed by the second as he followed the pitch, but often they were left in place, particularly if the piton was very difficult to place or remove. Also banging a peg in and removing it every ascent can damage the rock so it was more environmentally friendly to leave it in place. If they are left behind they become "fixed protection". As modern traditional (trad) gear (hexes, nuts, and cams) developed pegs were used less often as this trad equipment is easier to place and remove, but pitons still form an important part of a berg leader's trad gear, as they are often the only protection one can place. As new routes followed less well defined lines where protection by pegs or trad gear can be impossible, bolts (mechanical expansion or chemical) have been used and by their very nature must be left in situ as fixed protection. Therefore fixed protection has a long standing history in the development of Drakensberg Climbing.

As Ezemvelo developed their Wilderness management plan for the berg, all interested an affected parties were invited to submit comment and the first draft effectively would have prevented all fixed protection from being used and would have therefore stopped the development of adventure climbing in the berg. Since it was also proposed that fixed protection would not be allowed to be replaced, it would also have made existing routes unsafe to climb as points of fixed protection were lost through natural processes. The MCSA KZN Section, through persistent input into the process of finalizing document, were able to change the minds of the authors of the management plan to amend the plan to allow fixed protection, thereby securing existing routes and ensuring the continued development of climbing in the berg. (The UDP WHS Wilderness Management Plan and MCSA KZN bolting policy for the berg are available online)

It is important that fixed protection (bolts or pitons placed sporadically on a route by which the climber protects themself with their own rope) is not confused with Via Ferrata. Via Ferrata are engineering structures providing a permanent continuous steel wire cable (also chains, bridges, ladders, staples forming ladder rungs in the rock, etc etc) from start to finish.

The MCSA KZN is not against Via Ferrata per se, in the berg or else where, however it opposes the development of any such structure without following the proper process and obtaining permission from the land owners and neighbours before commencing construction and should not contravene existing law.

When this Via Ferrata was built without permission, Ezemvelo's knee jerk reaction was that this was a form of "fixed protection" and all the work done over many years in ensuring the opportunity for climbing to continue to exist and develop in the berg could have been undone.

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16 Apr 2012 09:00 #53569 by intrepid
Thanks for the reply no4stopper, I think that explains it well.

The Fixed Protection policy can be downloaded from VE here:
www.vertical-endeavour.com/downloads/viewdownload/6-drakensberg-climbing/121-policy-for-fixed-protection-in-the-drakensberg-policy-for-fixed-protection-in-the-drakensberg.html

I think its a pretty good policy, with a lot of thought and insight.

I saw some video footage of the second ascent of the Pencil and got a visual on where the bolt was placed. It is indeed blank and unprotected at that point and will never be seen by anyone but by the tiny group of interested parties that actually climb this thing. Note that the rest of the route is protected through traditional, removable gear.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.

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16 Apr 2012 09:19 #53570 by ghaznavid
Ok, that makes sense. I love how the group goes all the way to the chain-ladders, walks across the Amphitheater just to get to a place near the top of Icidi Pass - Icidi Pass must be really hard!

Getting to the top is nothing, the way you do it is everything – Royal Robins

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03 Sep 2013 14:04 #58350 by ghaznavid
Ok - I don't necessarily agree with people supporting this, but I think it is important for this to be shared on this thread to show a complete story of what happened in the end.

Off climbZA

Now is the time for for all friends, climbers, mountaineers and people who share Alard’s love of the mountains and want to support him to donate funds – to help him cover lawyers’s fees and expenses of more than R160 000.

Alard says: “In planning the route I consulted the map contained on the Royal Natal National park website. This map indicated that the west face of Beacon Buttress was located entirely in the Free State province and did not encroach into the World Heritage Site at all.”

The original map turned out to be incorrect and the 360-metre cable, secured with steel pegs into the rock face, accidentaly encroached 23m into the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site in KwaZulu Natal.

For this Alard was charged with:

- Construction and development in the UKhahlamba Drakensberg park World Heritage Site without written approval of the management authority

- Contravention of section 50(5) read with sections 1 and 89 of the National Environmental Management Protected areas Act No 57 of 2003
- Causing damage to an object of interest and disturbing soil or similar material

In response Alard has completely removed and rehabilitated the entire route, leaving scarcely visible scars on the rock where the pegs have been taken out and the holes filled in with sand.

On 14 August the charges against Alard were dropped and he was ordered to pay R38 000 to cover surveyor costs, do 50 hours service for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and put an apology in SA Mountain Magazine, all of which he will do. His lawyers’ fees amounted to nearly R100 000.

Alard’s intentions were always good, whether you agree with his actions or not! Yes they were controversial but his motive “providing an opportunity for less technically skilled climbers to enjoy the dramatic beauty of this area of the Drakensberg mountains in a safe manner” is faultless.

Any donation will make a difference and every donation will be appreciated, however small. To date his expenses have exceeded R160 000.

COST BREAK DOWN relating to Alard (many other individuals contributed hugely to the Via Ferrata)

hard cost installation (everything else was donated) 8521
hard cost removal 4500
Lawyers fees (at reduced rates) 98000
Ezemvelo surveyor fee ( payable to Ezemvelo) 31920
Natal Mountain guide fee (payable to Ezemvelo) 6299
10 x court appearance in Bergville (petrol, toll) 10000

Total 159240


Getting to the top is nothing, the way you do it is everything – Royal Robins

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03 Sep 2013 14:26 #58352 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Via Ferrata route in the Berg
Is there a fund for supporting the prosecution lawyers too?

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03 Sep 2013 14:45 - 03 Sep 2013 14:47 #58353 by no4stopper

mnt_tiska wrote: Is there a fund for supporting the prosecution lawyers too?


Yes there is. Feel free to make your contribution at www.sars.gov.za . ;~)
Last edit: 03 Sep 2013 14:47 by no4stopper. Reason: correction
The following user(s) said Thank You: mike

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05 Sep 2013 08:01 - 05 Sep 2013 08:28 #58367 by kliktrak

ghaznavid wrote:
Alard says: “In planning the route I consulted the map contained on the Royal Natal National park website. This map indicated that the west face of Beacon Buttress was located entirely in the Free State province and did not encroach into the World Heritage Site at all.”

The original map turned out to be incorrect


Alard’s intentions were always good,


No sympathy!

He [and his partners in this endeavour] wanted to be heroes and must pay the price.

It does not explain the real motives - which IMO are far less charitable than the sickly sweet sympathy inducing tone of their statement.

Is it also possible that their intention was to commercialise this route and take paid for tours up for a certain category of people "“providing an opportunity for less technically skilled climbers to enjoy the dramatic beauty of this area of the Drakensberg mountains in a safe manner” - it wasn't going to be offered for free surely - even if it was just to recoup the cost/s.

Conclusion - their aim was to profit from this.

Why go to that much trouble and expense - is this really being done for these poor unfortunate rock-climbing-challenged people. Somehow I don't think so. :thumbsdown:
Last edit: 05 Sep 2013 08:28 by intrepid.

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05 Sep 2013 08:45 #58369 by hasamatt
I have to agree with you Klik. The manner in which Alard went about this project was not transparent, and he was caught out.

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05 Sep 2013 10:39 #58372 by Stijn
Replied by Stijn on topic Via Ferrata route in the Berg

kliktrak wrote:

ghaznavid wrote:
Alard says: “In planning the route I consulted the map contained on the Royal Natal National park website. This map indicated that the west face of Beacon Buttress was located entirely in the Free State province and did not encroach into the World Heritage Site at all.”

The original map turned out to be incorrect


Alard’s intentions were always good,


No sympathy!

He [and his partners in this endeavour] wanted to be heroes and must pay the price.

It does not explain the real motives - which IMO are far less charitable than the sickly sweet sympathy inducing tone of their statement.

Is it also possible that their intention was to commercialise this route and take paid for tours up for a certain category of people "“providing an opportunity for less technically skilled climbers to enjoy the dramatic beauty of this area of the Drakensberg mountains in a safe manner” - it wasn't going to be offered for free surely - even if it was just to recoup the cost/s.

Conclusion - their aim was to profit from this.

Why go to that much trouble and expense - is this really being done for these poor unfortunate rock-climbing-challenged people. Somehow I don't think so. :thumbsdown:


I don't know about the rest of the group that was involved in the installation, but Alard almost certainly did not stand to benefit financially from the Via Ferrata at all. The people who would have reaped the financial rewards would be the mountain guides who frequently operate in the area. For example Gavin Raubenheimer may have had a few more requests from clients to be taken up the Via Ferrata.

I'm not condoning Alard's actions, just defending his likely intentions.

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