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The Drakensberg mountain range is located slightly east of the centre of South Africa and forms the border between Lesotho on the west and the province of KwaZulu-Natal to the east. The "Berg" consists of an escarpment 180 kms long rising to heights of 3 300m. Several peaks rise high above deeply incised valleys and are a constant attraction to mountaineers . The highest section of the Drakensberg consists of weathered outpourings of basaltic lava overlying sandstone and, below the 'cave sandstone' layers, shales.
Many climbs are located in rock between broad grass bands and ledges. The basalt has formed into pinnacles, blocks, overhangs and turrets, providing a range of challenges to climbers.
This is a substantial mountain range with the concomitant dangers of rain, snow, lightening, rockfalls and rapid weather changes. Climbers should be equipped for all possibilities.
During the summer rainfall period (October to March) mornings tend to be fine but there are often afternoon thunderstorms with hail, heavy rain and lightening. Early starts are recommended. The best time for climbing is from May to August, but be warned of blizzards which can occur for days at a time with temperatures well below freezing. Besides radio broadcasts, weather forecasts can also be obtained by telephoning: 082 233 9500, for a prerecorded 2-day forecast, 082 231 1603 for the Drakensberg, or 082 231 1602 for a 5-day forecast.
Rescue operations in the Drakensberg fall under KZN Wildlife but due to the hazards and technical difficulties of the area are mainly carried out by the KwaZulu-Natal Section of the Mountain Club of South Africa(MCSA) supported by helicopters from the South African Air Force. The levy included in the entrance fee covers all rescue costs during your stay in the Park.
The Mountain Club of South Africa is made up of 13 sections throughout southern Africa, and can provide a wealth of information regarding climbing in the Drakensberg. Route descriptions of all of the Drakensberg climbs are available on the KwaZulu-Natal section web site. http://kzn.mcsa.org.za
Bear in mind when reading some of these descriptions that some of the earlier routes were opened when the ropes used were only 30m in length as compared with the more modern ones of 45m or more - confusing when descriptions are given in rope lengths. In addition, climbers are advised to carry 1:50 000 maps of the area and KZN Wildlife provides an excellent series of maps of the entire Berg.
Two "rules of thumb" to keep in mind when reading route descriptions are that i) lower altitude rock is generally the worst and most crumbly, ii) the higher the technical grade, the greater the likelihood of good rock.
Few Berg abseils and few climbing pitches exceed 45m, making the carrying of longer ropes seldom necessary.
For information on climbing, guiding and guided tours trekking and climbing in Africa and else where in the world contact www.peakhigh.co.za.