Copyright: MCSA-KZN 2007 ©
The following hazards are mentioned more as a disclaimer than because of any significant threat to your well being. This section has been included only because of numerous enquiries from people who still think of Zululand as the 'heart of darkest Africa'. You will probably find that a majority of the so-called 'hazards' exist at virtually any crag in the country. You are more likely to be involved in a car accident on your way to the crags, than to suffer serious harm from any of the hazards mentioned below. Nevertheless, exercise caution where necessary.
Security: Things are somewhat less secure on the north bank now that the old caretaker, Mkhize, has been retrenched. If you choose to camp on the north bank you are advised to lock all valuables in your car before venturing down to the crags. At this stage there have been no problems with security on the south bank but it would probably still be wise to lock valuables in the huts or your car before strolling down to the crags.
Cell phone reception: The whole R34 from Empangeni in the south to Vryheid in the north is well covered. There is marginal reception near the hut on the north bank, but the chalets on the south bank have a good signal.
Crocodiles: There are no crocodiles in the river. There was a crocodile farm several kilometres upstream beyond the Matatane camp site but this was closed some years ago. Update: (12 May 2005): A 4 m crocodile has apparently been spotted in the large pool under the bridge on the R34. This is several kilometres from the climbing area and it is unlikely that this poor reptile will survive another season without being shot by some over-zealous local. December 2007: No further reports of crocodiles in the area – but the possibility of their existence does make life more interesting!
Snakes: This is definitely snake country. However, only five climbers have actually reported seeing snakes. Three of these were harmless - the snakes, not the climbers! One of the landowners reports that there is a large python in the area. Snakes almost always slither away unless you corner them or step on them. Keeping a sharp lookout, or letting your belay partner walk ahead of you, are probably the most practical precautions you can take.
Ticks: Ticks are a problem at some times of the year. It would be wise to check yourself carefully for ticks at regular intervals. Tick bites occasionally cause 'tick bite fever'. If you decline treatment for your first attack of tick bite fever, you will apparently develop an immunity from subsequent infections - a sacrifice that is well worth making !
Bilharzia: There is an extremely low possibility of contracting bilharzia if you swim or wade in the river. In this area the river flows rapidly over sand and stone and there are no stagnant reed-fringed pools that are the breeding ground of the bilharzia snail. As a result of this, any bilharzia parasites that may occur upstream are likely to be very scarce in this part of the river and thus the possibility of infection is extremely low.
Malaria: Surprisingly, mosquitoes are seldom a problem here, and malaria is virtually unknown in the area.
Bats, bees and hornets! Several routes harbour resident populations of bats that may startle you if they fly out unexpectedly - you can usually hear or smell them before you see them! Large hives of bees occasionally take up residence in the crags. Should you spot a hive please exercise great caution - bees can kill you! The bees that were living on 'Hummer', 'Bee Line' and 'Bee in the Bonnet' have moved off and I am currently unaware of any active hives. Nests of hornets are sometimes encountered on the routes. Whilst their stings are painful, they are usually more of an irritation than a threat, and are easily dealt with if you have a long stick or a can of aerosol insecticide available. If your name is Charl Brummer, you simply swat the entire nest with an open hand before the poor little devils know what has hit them !
Access Ledge: Access to many of the trad climbing areas requires you to walk along the 'Access Ledge' which runs across the full width of the Power Wall about 30 m above river level. This ledge is generally broad and level, but there are some narrow, steep sections and there have been a couple of near disasters when people fool around, forgetting that there is a substantial drop of some 30 m to the river below. Be especially careful not to let young kids run amok on this ledge whilst you are busy climbing. Either tether them to a tree or relocate them to a more secure area of the crags.
Loose Rock: There are loose rocks and boulders at the top of several climbs. Please exercise caution when topping out and when abseiling, especially when topping out on the main Power Wall and on the Tree and Grass Ledges. We have removed much of this debris, but if you come across any loose rocks, please try and relocate them to a safer spot where they are less likely to be knocked over the edge. Please avoid the urge to 'trundle'. There are a couple of routes with large blocks that seem to have very little supporting them. To date these blocks have defied our best efforts to dislodge them and they seem to be quite secure. Nevertheless, it would be wise to exercise the usual caution and to test all holds before committing to them. Although it is not regarded as 'cool' these days, wearing a helmet makes a lot of sense.
Old Bolts: Before climbing routes that were bolted in the early 1990s it may be better to top rope them or to check the bolts on ab before committing your life to them. Routes bolted in recent years have all been bolted with 70mm x 10mm stainless steel bolts which should still be in good condition for years to come.
River Noise: The noise of the river makes communication difficult on some climbs, especially on the Power Wall. Have some sort of signal system worked out with your belayer before you start climbing.
Sand: There are large sandbars at the base of the Friction and Upper Warrior Walls. When climbing in these areas a towel or rope-mat is useful to keep your ropes out of the sand.
Sunburn: If you are fair-skinned, a broad-brimmed hat and 'blockout' sunscreen are highly recommended, especially in summer.
Nettle trees: Watch out for nettle trees, especially in the vicinity of the Power Wall. Most people will experience no more than a temporary irritation, but people with sensitive skin may get a nasty rash.
Good grief, I'd better stop now or I'll end up warning you about broken fingernails, hangovers and other life threatening possibilities.