Berg Alert 2023
This is the place for all updates, incidents and observations relating to security issues in the Drakensberg in 2023.
The kind of thing which should be reported here:
* new incidents of theft, mugging or any kind of verbal or physical intimidation (whether it is experienced first-hand, seen in the media, or heard through the grape vine).
* new observations of the activities of shepherds, smugglers and other parties, especially as it concerns the safety of visitors to the Berg.
The purpose of this thread is to maintain a true picture of what is happening in the Berg, to keep a concerned Berg community informed, and to create a healthy awareness of security issues which will help others avoid problems. It is not the intention to create a media hype or undue negative publicity for the Berg, nor to harm tourism the area, and definitely not to create prejudice against the Basotho and other locals living in the area. The traits that lead to crime and other security- related incidents in the Berg are traits that are common to human nature in general and are not tied to a specific culture or nation.
We advise visitors to the Berg to take the security issues seriously - but rather than being alarmed and avoiding going there, we want people to be informed on what the issues are exactly and how they occur - and to make decisions accordingly. We want people to keep hiking in the Berg.
We also encourage people to appreciate the cultures of the local people that can be encountered in the Berg and even to learn some local words and phrases. Wherever possible let your encounters with the locals be friendly and interactive. Many encounters can be very rewarding. If you do find yourself in a tense situation, do your utmost to maintain respect and stay calm. Some helpful notes on Basotho culture have been written for hikers and travellers .
* Berg Alert 2008
* Berg Alert 2010
* Berg Alert 2011
* Berg Alert 2012
* Berg Alert 2013
* Berg Alert 2014
* Berg Alert 2015
* Berg Alert 2016
* Berg Alert 2017
* Berg Alert 2018
* Berg Alert 2019
* Berg Alert 2020
* Berg Alert 2021
* Berg Alert 2022
Known, relevant issues during recent years:
Amphitheatre and Khubedu Valley: Raiding of tents at the Tugela Falls and surrounds in an old issue which is ongoing. Intimidation for handouts also occurs in the area, including the Chain Ladders, which has been known to result in stone-throwing. There was a nasty incident in the Khubedu Valley during 2016 which received a lot of publicity - the details of this incident can be read on this thread this thread . There have been reports of hikers encountering individuals from the Lesotho Defence Force in the area, who sometimes ask to see passports, and there have also been cases where the hikers were harassed by them. The last reported incident of this nature was around 2019. Hikers venturing onto the escarpment may want to carry their passports on them.
Mbundini area: tented camps have been attacked and raided at night, particularly at the unmarked pass overlooking Madonna And Her Worshippers, near Rat Hole Cave. The last reported incident occurred in 2018. Hopefully this trend will quieten down, but we are leaving this warning here for some time still because of the serious nature of these incidents which could still happen again. Security problems in the Berg can persist in a specific area over a very long period of time, albeit at a low incidence rate.
Ntonjelana Pass: during the December 2018-January 2019 period two different hiking groups encountered a group of 3 armed individuals claiming to be from the Lesotho Defence Force in the general escarpment area near the top of Ntonjelana Pass.
Rhino Peak / Mashai Pass / Bollard Pass: Periodically we hear reports of intimidation and rock throwing by shepherds. The most recent incident was reported in 2021.
Giants Pass (Giants Castle): In 2021 a group was chased from their tents by gunshot and their tents were raided. This area went through a troubling period between ~2004-2008 and had been relatively quiet until this recent incident.
Road to Injisuthi: Youths on the side of the road may beg for handouts. Road blockages may sometimes be set up in order to compel motorists to stop, at which they may be harassed for handouts. This seems to occur particularly at the cattle grid. These are long standing issues which are ongoing. Incidents were reported in 2022. There have been reports of stones being thrown at cars when handouts are not received - these specific incidents appear to be rare.
For more information read through General Security Precautions , and also read this post on the security issues around the Amphitheatre as well as the Mbundini area - included is a map indicating where the problems are occurring.
Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
You have to be cautious. Some of the incidents were reported just a few years ago.
I think the security issue should always be considered in route planning and while actually being on route. But this isn't difficult nor does it need to dampen your enjoyment of being out there. I would say there are very definite patterns relating to the incidents which means many of them are not by chance.
The Berg has a relatively low incidence rate of crime targeting hikers. Long periods of time may elapse between incidents in a given problem area. But when they do happen it can be fairly unpleasant or traumatic for the victims and it is also unsettling for the hiking community.
On VE we are trying to give everyone an insight into what these patterns are. An awareness of these goes a long way in lessening the chance of it happening to you. Please have a read through the material already available in the security category on this forum as well as the articles posted under the blog section, and feel free to ask more specific question.
Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Hi, I also have to try April. Can I join ?
Press Release On Saturday the 15th April a joint MCSA/Ezemvelo team responded to assist a couple that had been attacked by Basotho shepherds on Walker’s Peak near Bushman’s Nek.The two hikers were on their last day of a ten-day Grand Traverse when they were attacked with stones near the top of Walker’s pass. The man sustained multiple injuries but the couple managed to make their escape and triggered a Garmin In-reach SOS signal. The signal was relayed by the International Emergency Response Coordination Centre to the ARCC who in turn alerted MCSA MSAR KZN. Due to the lateness of the day and the unavailability of NVG equipped helicopters, the decision was made to send in a MCSA MSAR ground team accompanied by armed Ezemvelo rangers in an attempt to reach the hikers that night.The team, including a MCSA medic, hiked in through the night but were unable to reach the two hikers before sunrise. As a result the team chose a suitable landing zone and at dawn on Sunday a Bell Jetranger helicopter flew in to airlift the medic to the two hikers who had overnighted in their tent at 3200m. Whilst the medic stabilised the seriously injured hiker on scene, the helicopter flew his wife and the rest of rescue team to Bushman’s Nek in relays. The injured hiker and medic were then flown directly to an awaiting ambulance at Underberg and the patient was transferred to hospital by road ambulance.A case of assault has lodged with the SAPS and the Lesotho police have launched an investigation into the incident. The chief and residents of Thamatu village and surrounds are also assisting authorities in this investigation.
I’m a fairly new member of this wonderful site and I regret that my first post falls under the “Berg Alert” banner and that it details an unusually violent, but unfortunately not unprecedented, attack in the Drakensberg. It's the same attack that Edwin128 drew attention to above.
In addition to recounting the assault itself, I’ve taken the liberty of broaching some issues undermining the current rescue process. This is a fairly long post, so I’ll render the most relevant passages in bold, for those interested in getting straight to the point. That should allow for easy skimming.
I. A DETAILED ACCOUNT OF THE ATTACK
On the tenth and final full day of our Grand Traverse, Saturday, the 15th of April 2023, at around 15:00, my wife and I were accosted by two young Basotho shepherds, shortly after cutting through Mashai Saddle and descending into the valley below. At this point, we had hiked just over 200 kilometers and had, despite the mountains’ promise of isolation, crossed paths with many shepherds, with nary one day without seeing a living soul – all without an incident worthy of note. Until now.
We estimate the shepherds we met on this fateful day to be between 16 and 18 years old. For the most part, their appearance was not out of the ordinary: they wore traditional Basotho blankets, sticks and gumboots. One of them, however, stood out: he had a thin beard and had propped three large white and brown bird feathers on his blanket behind his head. He also wore a large round silver-colored earring on his right ear. His face was uncovered. On the contrary, most of the other shepherd’s facial features were hidden beneath a traditional mask, and there was nothing particularly distinctive about him, to the best of our recollection.
In their company were at least three dogs that we remember clearly – and likely one or two more that we cannot currently picture with precision, which would bring the total to four or five dogs. One of the dogs had medium-length straight white fur, another one was light brown, and the youngest-looking of the pack was black.
When we first saw these shepherds, they were running at full tilt down the lower slopes of Mzimude mountain to meet us. We were first intercepted in an area just southwest of that mountain. It was here that, respecting the customary pleasantries, we greeted the boys with broad smiles and a couple of words from our limited Sesotho vocabulary. They then proceeded to ask us for sweets. We politely declined and apologized for not being able to give them anything.
They were not deterred and continued walking parallel to us, nearly at arm’s length, but a step or two behind so we could not clearly see them without craning our necks. While they talked amongst themselves, I briefly confirmed the route on my wife’s phone and then we continued southwards in the general direction of Walker's Saddle, the spot where we wanted to cross the ridge. They followed us. We kept calm, as nothing out of the ordinary had yet happened, and my wife, always tactful and friendly, complimented the beauty of their dogs, which they seemed to appreciate.
A few moments later, they demanded money: they had now raised their voices and were on the verge of shouting. Apologetically and respectfully, we declined this second command. We maintained a friendly tone of voice.
Still, they soon shouted a third command, more hostile than the previous one. We asked them to stop, as we had nothing to give them. They laughed and seemed pleased with our discomfort, which one of them sought to accentuate by shouting and kicking his feet high in the air. They would not cease following us, but we kept hiking in silence, wishing not to provoke them.
Shortly thereafter, they picked up their pace and overtook us. Our paths started to veer apart: they drifted southwest, and we continued hiking southwards.
Still ahead of us, they spotted a wild cat and sent their dogs in pursuit. We saw the pack dash up a hill after the cat and then the sloping ground blocked our line of sight. We’re not sure whether the cat was caught. The shepherds soon joined their dogs. While looking down in my direction, one of them shouted at the dogs: “Kill him”. A final rude taunt, I thought.
We kept walking, still headed up Walker’s Saddle, and the shepherds soon receded from view. The encounter seemed to have come to an end.
Yet, they soon reemerged a few meters above us, standing atop a small mound. From this vantage point, they started, without speaking or further hesitation, to throw large, heavy rocks at us, completely without provocation. The rock-throwing was no mere intimidation tactic, and the rocks themselves were no lightweight pebbles. From the very beginning, they were clearly aiming at our heads, with complete disregard for our lives. They had set out to cause injuries, to harm us, to maim us.
We interrupted our ascent and deviated westwards, heading roughly in the direction of the escarpment edge, doing our best to dodge the rocks. I walked upright, trying to make myself a bigger and more appealing target than my wife. It worked for the most part, given that they started focusing their efforts on me. They kept taking aim at my head, and I avoided taking several rocks to my face by ducking at the very last moment. My wife stayed a few paces behind me, often using her backpack as a shield against the occasional rock that still went her way.
All the while, neither of us offended them or sought to further aggravate the situation, but they still showed no hesitation, made no demand, uttered not a single word.
Between the two of them, they were somehow able to keep a steady rate of about a rock per second. Their movements were precise, and they did not waste time fumbling around for projectiles. They would crouch quickly, pick up a rock without seeming to even look at the ground, get up again just as quickly and throw it as hard as they could. It was not a short attack, so they managed to throw dozens of rocks, and with every rock thrown their aim improved.
The rocks were soon whizzing just a few centimeters left and right of my head. My wife continuously begged them to stop, reminding them that they might well kill us. I, in turn, begged my wife to duck and stay out of sight, but it was hopeless: our assailants had chosen the terrain wisely and there was nothing there to afford us cover.
As I spoke to my wife, slightly turning my back to the attackers and momentarily neglecting to dodge the rocks, they managed to hit my backpack twice and snap my sturdy Black Diamond trekking poles, made of reinforced aluminum.
It was clear they would not stop and that we were in a desperate situation. To make matters worse, my wife soon became a coveted target again, and her backpack also absorbed the impact of a few rocks aimed at her.
It was then that I took a few steps in their direction, hoping to scare them away. They were still far away from me, but they left the scene at once and disappeared from sight. I had the distinct impression that they were strategically retreating, rather than fleeing. I did not pursue them, as we were only interested in escaping unharmed. I told my wife that we had to finish climbing up to Walker’s Saddle as fast as we could and while we still could, trying to make the best of their absence, which felt temporary.
We had been hiking uphill with our heavy backpacks for two or three minutes when they reappeared. This time, they were higher up and could take even greater advantage of gravity than before. They promptly resumed throwing rocks, once again silently, without hesitation, with no regard for our lives. In desperation, my wife once again reminded them they could kill us and implored them to stop, to no avail. More rocks hit her backpack, narrowly missing her body.
It was now impossible to reach Walker’s Saddle in safety; the best we could do was to retreat. I told my wife to go back down the slope. As she turned, a rock struck her calf. The prospect that she would soon be severely injured dramatically increased. Using her backpack to shield herself was no longer a viable tactic, especially when facing away from the shepherds.
In desperation, I dropped my backpack and struggled uphill straight at our attackers, clutching handfuls of grass to advance on the steep terrain. Hoping to intimidate them, I shouted and growled, but this time they didn’t run away. They didn’t even take a step back.
I was an easy target. Before I was remotely close to them, a rock smashed my hand, fracturing my wrist. Another rock hit my left eye and I staggered backwards. It had opened a wide gash along my eyebrow, and only my sunglasses saved my eye. Blood poured all over my face. More rocks struck me, and I was soon on the ground, utterly defenseless.
Keen to take aim at me from behind, one of the attackers circled around me, moving past my backpack and ignoring it. The shepherd with the feathers continued throwing rocks from above. They had now surrounded me – not that they needed to, because I posed no kind of threat: prostate and dazed, I was not even able to cover my head. The fact that I couldn’t defend myself in any way was of no consequence to them; in fact, my complete vulnerability seemed to embolden them, and they felt confident enough to get very close. The shepherd behind me was now less than one meter away from me and the shepherd before me just slightly farther away. Instead of just stealing my completely unguarded belongings and calling it a day, they had other plans. They were clearly not content with the injuries they had already inflicted on me: while I lay on the ground, they showered me with rocks from close range and hit my head, their favorite target. As before, they said nothing and showed no mercy, no hesitation, no remorse. It’s no exaggeration to say that their prime objective was killing me.
Death seemed certain. With my last breath, I wanted them to know they were murderers. “You fucking killers! Why!? You fucking killers”, I shouted. The only reply was more rocks.
It was then that my wife, braving death, approached the shepherd wearing the feathers. She pleaded for my life and outstretched her hand, handing him three nutrition bars. He was holding a heavy rock on both his hands, ready to throw it down at her and kill her, but he arrested himself at the last moment. He took the bars nervously and asked for our phone. We had dropped it sometime during the attack – one of the rocks had hit my leg exactly where the phone would be and had probably thrown it out of my pocket –, so we couldn’t hand it over to him. He went past me towards my backpack, from which he removed my water bottle. In the meantime, the other shepherd finally stopped throwing rocks, but showed no interest in inspecting our belongings. They fled thereafter.
It’s hard to understand why they didn’t take one or both of our backpacks – or at least a few easily accessible items: we were both wearing smartwatches, but they paid no attention to those, nor did they care about our orange satellite communicator, dangling invitingly from a strap on my backpack, mere centimeters away from the bottle they took. We were aware of prior violent encounters in the Drakensberg, and – no matter how brutal they were – stealing was the driving motive, the thieves thoroughly rummaging and pillaging the victims’ property. In our case, it was as if robbing us was but an afterthought.
I was now in a sorry state. My face was hidden beneath a thick coating of blood. My wife didn’t know whether my mental faculties were intact. Even mere survival was a question that hovered heavily in the air. I looked half-dead.
II. THE KEY LOCATIONS AT A GLANCE
Below you can find a screenshot from LocusMap, the app we used for navigation during our hike. True north is at the top of the map, and Mashai Peak, Mzimude and Walker's Peak are noted on it. As you can see from the black and the blue lines, we had downloaded two DGT routes available on VE (our thanks to the posters, as they were immensely helpful during planning and navigation).
Here’s a key for my crudely superimposed additions:
i. The green arrow roughly shows the route we took. We traversed Mashai Saddle and Walker's Saddle, passing west of Mashai Peak, east of Mzimude Mountain and west of Walker's Peak and crossing the border in the process.
ii. The orange circle marks the general area where we first saw the attackers. It was from this area on the slopes of Mzimude that they started to run to intercept us.
iii. The yellow circle marks the general area where we were first intercepted by the attackers. It was in this area that they demanded food and money and began to intimidate us.
iv. The red circle marks the general area of the physical attack (i.e., rock throwing), which happened in two bursts over a span of several hundred meters on the lower slopes on the north face of Walker's Peak. It is highly likely that we traversed the border into South Africa while the attack was unfolding.
v. The pink circle marks the general area to where we fled for cover after the assault and where we issued the distress signal and waited for rescue.
III. RESCUE AND AFTERMATH
My wife led me over Walker’s Saddle. In our hurry to flee, we didn’t try to find our missing phone and we also left behind my poles, which had been broken, and my wife’s, which were still intact. We stopped on the higher slopes on the south face of the ridge, out of sight, but still merely a couple of hundred meters away from the site of the attack. Were our attackers to return, they would have easily found us. We would have liked to have gone farther to be safer, but it simply wasn’t feasible to walk much more, given my appalling condition. I was limping and bled from all my limbs – and from the front, back and top of my head. The wounds looked ugly. I hadn’t lost conscience at any point, but I was worryingly confused. I asked my wife: “Are we in Tugella Falls yet? The falls are very beautiful.” She feared the worst.
Fortunately, I soon became lucid and coherent again. My wife pressed the SOS button on our Garmin satellite communicator and exchanged messages with the Response Team. We had saved the number of the MCSA rescue team and sent them messages as well, which they seemed not to have received. I suspect the number we had could only be used for calls. The Garmin Response Team contacted authorities in South Africa, as well as our emergency contacts – a couple of very good friends who ended up liaising with the MCSA rescue team and other entities to speed up the process and to press for updates to give us. (For more details on this, skip to section IV.)
It wasn’t yet 16:00 when my wife set off the emergency response. She told responders my condition was critical and that I had sustained multiple injuries to my head. While waiting to be rescued, she dressed my repulsive wounds, including a flap of skin on the back of my head that seemed ready to part ways with my skull. Such were the sights she had to endure.
We thought we could still get help that day. We still had a few hours’ worth of sunlight and were close to the KZN Wildlife Office in Bushmans Nek and even closer to Bushmans Nek Berg and Trout Resort. The initial ETA was certainly promising: the recue team would reach us within three hours. It turned out to be too promising.
The sun began to set and the cold to settle in. My wife pitched the tent. She dreaded the thought of our attackers returning to finish us off, so close were we to the site of the attack, but moving me wasn’t an option. Despite her best efforts to keep me warm, I was slightly shivering. She wasn’t sure whether I would survive the night.
Our friends told us that there were now also plans to get a helicopter with night vision to pick us up. As no helicopter had come during the nearly four hours’ worth of daylight we had after the attack, we didn’t keep our hopes up.
Eventually, the ETA of the ground team changed to between 00:00 and 01:00. We were advised to flash our lights once we spotted the rescuers. So, shortly after midnight, my wife opened the tent door to look for signs of help coming our way. The sky was clear, and she could see the stars – and three flickering lights in the distance. For a long time, they seemed to move. Although my wife dreaded the thought that she could be giving away our position to our aggressors, who she feared could still be in the vicinity, she waved her headlamp for a couple of minutes. But in vain. It eventually became evident that those three lights flickered only; they weren’t moving. She closed the tent. No one came during the night.
The sun rose. We waited. A couple of hours went by. Then, the sound of whirring rotor blades filled the air. Around 16 hours had passed since our initial distress signal.
A paramedic was onboard. He redressed my wounds and gave us words of encouragement, even though he thought I had a depressed skull fracture, as I later learned. If I had such a fracture, 16 hours would have been too late to wait for rescue: I would already have been dead by that time.
We were nearly 3200m high – too high even for the experienced pilot to chance taking us down all at once. He first flew my wife down the mountain to where the rest of the rescue team was, but not before doing a thorough sweep of the scene of the crime: no phone could be found, and both pairs of poles were gone. Someone had come to take them after the attack. My wife’s fear of our assailants returning to the crime scene looked very plausible now.
The helicopter then returned to take me and the paramedic to Underberg, where an ambulance was waiting for me. After medical-aid matters were taken care of, I was on my way to Pietermaritzburg to finally get treatment at the Hilton Life Hospital, where I received excellent care from all the staff with no exception.
The paramedic who helped us atop Walker’s Peak kindly drove my wife from Bushmans Nek to the Hilton Life. On their way, they stopped at Himeville Police Station to open a case. What followed was a ludicrous scene. The officer at reception refused to open the case. She asserted that the location of the attack was on the other side of the border – and, therefore, not a problem for her to deal with –, but a quick check on the map proved her wrong. Still, she didn’t change her stance. She also asked my wife whether she knew the names of our assailants. The answer was obvious. Since my wife wasn’t privy to their names, it was pointless to open a case, the officer stated, to the incredulity of both my wife and the mountain rescuer. Apparently, the burden of investigation now fell to the victims.
To be honest, we weren’t expecting the culprits to be found. The main thrust behind our desire to open a case was not a need to see justice being served, but rather the responsibility we felt to leave a record of what had happened to us, as a warning to future hikers. It’s that same sense of basic civic duty that made me write this post.Be that as it may, we were not deterred. Still in hospital, we met with police officers from Hilton, who took our statements, opened the case, and then transferred it to Himeville. The investigation is ongoing.
Despite our assumption that nothing would come of it, apparently the Basotho communities in the vicinity of the site of the attack – and the village of Thamatu in particular – are angry about what happened and have conducted some enquiries. The Lesotho Police are also involved in some capacity. The mountain rescuers, who deal closely with some Basotho chiefs, appear confident that the culprits will be caught. We’re keeping our expectations in check, but it’s encouraging that the investigation is being taken seriously.
IV. COMMENTS ON THE RESCUE PROCESS
Let me preface this section by emphasizing that I am very grateful for the selfless service provided by all involved in rescuing my wife and me, including the volunteers of the MCSA Search and Rescue team. I only had face-to-face dealings with one of them – the one who was flown to Walker’s Peak –, but my wife got to meet more members of the team. They are good people, and we appreciate their kindness. Still, the system itself is certainly not without its flaws, some of them glaring, as we’re sure even the rescuers would agree.
It's no secret that the rescuers are volunteers, operating with a lack of equipment and funds. The MCSA team depends on third-party assistance, particularly for helicopter rescues. It seemed that in the past these were easier to secure with the military, but budget-slashing has since changed that. We have been told that the helicopter they thankfully managed to secure for us was their last available option. Hadn’t they secured that one, there would be no other. We were also told that not all helicopters are able to fly at the altitude we were at – nearly 3200m –, hence the need for a Bell Jetranger. This leaves rescuers – and the people who need their help – at the mercy of available aircraft and pilots.
They want to help, but unfortunately the lack of resources often prevents them from responding to crises as they – and we, hikers – wish. In a better world, they would be fully paid and funded for the work they do.
When my wife pressed the SOS button on our Garmin InReach Mini 2, a signal was sent to the Garmin Response Team in the US, who in turn:
a) kept in touch with us to ask for more details and provide updates on the rescue efforts;
b) notified authorities in SA so that the rescue could be set in motion;
c) contacted our emergency contacts, who were two great friends, committed to getting us to safety.
The authorities that ended up being contacted by Garmin or by other entities were plentiful, and the back-and-forth that ensued proved labyrinthine. Whether they followed up on the matter or not, all the following were notified at least once: the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC), the South African Mission Control Centre (ASMCC), the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) – and one of its subdivisions, the Cape Town branch of Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) –, the Johannesburg branch of the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) – and the subdivision of South African Search and Rescue (SASAR) –, Telkom Maritime Radio, the Mountain Search and Rescue (MSAR) of the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA), Underberg Emergency Services, Nsele Emergency Services, and the Ladysmith Police Station.
The authorities that ended up being most active in relaying information to our emergency contacts, who in turn relayed it to us, were SAMSA, MSAR and especially ASMCC.
SAMSA was initially a bit perplexed to be involved in the matter, since we were in Drakensberg, rather than at sea. Given that sea rescues are their focus, its initial stance was that it could not be of assistance in any way, but they eventually contacted the emergency services.
MSAR provided updates up until their final ETA (between 00:00 and 01:00) but did not notify our friends that the plans for a ground rescue were halted and abandoned during the night.
ASMCC, on the other hand, went beyond the call of duty: this institution was basically only supposed to relay the message to MSAR, but they ended up taking phone calls and replying to messages from our friends throughout the night and even contacted SASAR to ensure the rescue had been followed. ASMCC also notified the Ladysmith Police (from whom we never heard).
Our friends ended up liaising throughout the late afternoon and the long night that followed with ASMCC, the Garmin Response Team, MSAR and, of course, with us, always there to provide any additional details needed and to press for updates to give us. Their help was invaluable and instrumental in getting help to reach us. We never managed to contact the rescue team directly, so our friends and the Garmin Response Team were our only avenues of information.
In this broken telephone game, some details were misrepresented. For instance, the rescue team thought I was a seventy-year-old man, more than twice my actual age. My wife had rather told the Garmin team that I weighed around 70kg. The rescue team also believed that our tent and other belongings had been stolen. Had that been the case, we would have frozen, as temperatures dropped to zero and perhaps into the negatives during the night.
Fortunately, our Garmin InReach Mini 2 provided accurate GPS coordinates. We have been told that devices from other brands have hindered rescues in the past. Consider this a free advert for Garmin and invest in one of their InReach devices before heading out for long hikes.
V. PARTING THOUGHTS
I’d like to once again thank all the people and entities that helped us get back to safety and comfort.
We hope no one sees in my remarks any unintentional denigration of the Basotho. Lesotho is one of our favorite countries – and that is due in part to the warm welcoming we received from its people. Yet, despite our respect for the Basotho, we do not wish to sugarcoat this violent episode. We have no doubt in our minds that the two boys who attacked us had decided to kill us: they were certainly using lethal force throughout the attack. They only stopped thanks to the brave intervention of my wife. Were it not for her, they would have thrown a couple more rocks and I would have died. For that matter, had the rocks that they did throw hit me in ever so slightly different ways, I could well be dead anyway.
The fact that they hardly stole anything from us – my backpack was lying unattended on the ground, ready for the taking, and they just grabbed a water bottle – further confirms for us that their focus was striking us as often and as hard as they could; the theft itself felt incidental to the assault – an afterthought, as I’ve stated before.
We still believe that episodes of such vicious violence are statistically rare in the Drakensberg. Moreover, the general trend, from what we can gather, is for violent attacks to play out during the night, when hikers are sleeping in their tents, not that this is more reassuring; if anything, it’s more diturbing. So, the assault we endured is not the norm.
Yet, we also feel that the throwing of rocks in general is much more common than we had previously suspected. Several occurrences have been described on this forum, but probably many more are never reported in any fashion – neither here nor to the police. While I was at Hilton Life Hospital, my roommate in the ward, who was there for completely unrelated reasons, told me that he and a friend of his had also, many years ago, been the victims of rock throwing in the Drakensberg. What are the odds? Fortunately, they managed to scare off their aggressors. This incident likely predates the creation of Vertical Endeavour.
This is, therefore, a decades-long problem. Even if not all rocks are thrown with murderous intent – and at least some are –, aggressors are certainly not being delicate about it and must be aware that, whether its their end goal or not, they may well end up committing murder. If nothing changes, it seems only a matter of time before someone is killed again up in the mountains.
To part ways on a more optimistic note, let me say that we do not wish to discourage anyone from hiking in the Drakensberg. Even after our ordeal, my wife and I are already longing to return to the harsh beauty of the barrier of spears. Fear will not conquer us.
Please login or register to view the image attached to this post.
Specifics about the attack are crucial in helping us with planning how to react if things go wrong.
I am surprised about the location of this one - the Mzimude Valley has been one of my favourite valleys for the last decade, I've camped around there many times and rarely even seen people in the area. Just goes to show that things can turn bad anywhere, not just the usual hotspots such as the Kubedu.