It’s time to take back our mountains and be safe while doing it. (Photo: iStock)
South Africa is awash with beautiful natural spaces that draw travellers from near and far. The Western Cape in itself has over 900 trails to keep hikers active and inspired by the beauty of nature.
Having walked some of these very trails across Table Mountain National Park over the past few weekends, it really is such salve for busy families looking for a bit of bonding time and it doesn’t have to cost much at all.
Whatever the season, even now – the cool mornings quickly turn into more-than-warm winter afternoons. Some wise words uttered by my 7-year-old son along the way include, “the forest wants to play with us” to “Mom, I never knew the world was so beautiful from up here,” to “Today it feels like the clouds are winning, not the humans”.
So to hear about the murder of a Ukranian tourist, out in the Hout Bay part of the park is just sad and disheartening.
The humans are definitely not winning.
This globally unique, much-loved national park and World Heritage site offers some of SA’s top hiking experiences – which is why this Ukrainian tourist was there. Why I was there with my boys, and many other locals too. There is often a spirit of camaraderie amongst hikers, MT bikers and trail runners. You just greet or smile or grunt if it’s a hectic part of the walk.
A simple exchange that doesn’t cost a thing.
I saw at least two rangers on the busy Lion’s Head this past Saturday and we avoided a trail that felt a bit too secluded past the Kramat along Signal Hill – after hitting a closed off pathway. A walk from Newlands to Kirstenbosch was far less busy, with no rangers a few weeks ago – still thoroughly enjoyable. And we were in a big group. But rampant crime with a loss of respect for life festers amidst deep-seated poverty. It’s incidents like this that actually choke off the economic lifeline offered by Tourism. A sick cycle, really.
‘Don’t take unnecessary risks by hiking alone’
A hike is not a walk in the park.
In Cape Town, the weather conditions alone while hiking can change at the drop of a hat. And the key advisory right now, especially across SA’s national parks is to not do it alone.
The spike in incidents across Table Mountain has seen numerous efforts to ensure the safety and security when it comes to this recreational pastime. A group active in monitoring the situation, Table Mountain Watch and included first responders to the incident, organised a memorial service at the spot where Ivan Ivanov died. Around 50 people stood in a circle at the East Fort, surrounded by security officials, in remembrance of the 44-year-old man who was mugged for a backpack while walking on the trail on Saturday morning.
There are also group hikes organised under the theme of ‘Take Back Our Mountains‘ being one of them. In a previous interview with Cape Talk, group leader Taahir Osman, said that the monthly group hikes have grown in numbers.
“We range from about 60 to 100 people,” Osman explained.
When asked whether it is easy to manage a large group, Osman added that they tend to select fairly easy-for-beginners’ hiking trails and routes which are guided by hike leader and a sweeper who monitor the group and communicate through two way radios and speakers.
You can stay updated on the group hiking adventures and keep tabs on when the next one you can join is taking place here.
Traveller24 has reached out to SANParks for updated comment following the incident and is awaiting a response.
How to stay safe during your hike…
These are the suggested SANPark safety tips you should adhere to:
- Plan your route from start to end and choose the route according to the ability, fitness and experience of the group. This will prevent potential injury. Before embarking on your hike, make sure you are familiar with the route, terrain, difficulty and expected time required to complete the trail.
- Never hike, run, cycle etc. alone. Undertake your activity with somebody who knows the way and carry a guidebook, map or route description. A registered guide is recommended.
- When packing your bag, remember, you will eat your way through the heavy snacks. Aim for a 12kg load for long routes and trails. For a five-day hike, ladies can get away with 50 – 60 l bags and the gents with 60 – 70 l.
- Water purification tablets or drops are required for most routes – the dodgy river water will become your best friend. And yes, hiking boots work better then sneakers for those loose rocks – unless you want a ranger to fetch you with his bakkie half way through the hike.
- Inform someone exactly which route you are taking as well as your expected time of return) and stick to this route and plan.
- Always be prepared for unpredictable weather, i.e. take proper weatherproof and warm clothing even on a sunny day (wind and rain proof); torches – with spare batteries and globes; good footwear – strong boots or shoes with non-slip soles; food; water; a flask of tea or some other beverage; a rucksack to carry it all in – so as to leave your arms and hands free. Also be sure to remember flip flops, a headlamp, a swimsuit, toiletries, sunblock, easy-dry towels and a dry-bag – particularly if your route requires river crossings.
- Keep to the designated routes on well-used paths. Heed signs advising of danger and do not take short cuts or unknown routes.
- Leave valuable like cash and cameras behind.
- Be wary of suspicious persons who may pose as hikers.
- Save the emergency numbers into your fully charged cellphone.
- Main emergency number: 086 110 6417
- Emergency SAPS (South African Police Service): 10111 (02110111 on cell)
- Emergency CT Emergency Services: (021) 480 7700
- Emergency CT Central OPS Centre: (021) 467 8002
Track your journey digitally:
You can add an extra precaution by using the Hikers Network’s Safety Tracking tool for the Western Cape, where volunteers can keep track of you and your squad throughout your hike in the Cape mountains. In 2017, from January to August, they tracked over 7 300 hikes, peaking in April and dying down in June.
All you have to do, after signing up, is let them know where you are at all times through Whatsapp, and by checking in on a regular basis they’ll be able to mobilise support if things go wrong. They also have a paramedic volunteer on the network, who can give emergency advice while the Metro-Wildnerness Search and Rescue mobilise for serious incidents.
To use the tool, you can sign up for free on their website, after which you will be added to a Whatsapp group.
On the day of your hike, you message the group with the following details before you start the trek, which one of the volunteers will acknowledge:
- Number of people in your group
- Your start and finish points
- Name of the route you will take
- Another cell phone number of someone else in your group
- Your estimated time of arrival
During the hike, you have to regularly update the Whatsapp group on your progress, and let them know if there are any problems, and they will contact the relevant authority if needed.
It’s important to know how to use the ‘Share location’ function on Whatsapp, as this can be used to not just let the volunteers know where you are, but can also be used to report suspicious activity and to mark obstacles in the road or where the road becomes dangerous.
You should also monitor the messages in the group in case of warnings, like fire, or if another hiking group is in trouble and you may be close enough to assist.
After you’re done with your hike, you message the group Safely Off the Mountain (SOM). You can also follow the network on Twitter for more updates.
Overall – ALWAYS remember to let someone else also know about your hiking plans, including family and friends as well as trail management.
How to avoid sunstroke and becoming ill on your journey:
- Hike in the cool of morning and evening.
- Rest in the shade during midday.
- Wear a sun hat with a wide brim.
- Drink at least 250 ml (one cup) of water every hour.
- Wear cool, cotton-type clothing.
Don’t cave into cave trail pressures – stay safe:
Steve Mouton, Head Guide at Cango Caves, says the most important rule is to never go into a cave alone.
“If you and your friends decide to do a bit of recreational caving, make sure to inform family members and friends of your expected time of return, number of people in your caving party and also, exactly where you are going to go caving. This way, if you are not back outside by your expected time of arrival, then those that you informed can start to get a rescue party arranged and find you before it’s too late,” Mouton says.
Some of his other tips include:
- Stay with your caving team throughout the entire trip.
- Have a map, or preferably make sure a person is with you who knows the cave.
- Before entering a ‘wild cave’, wear a helmet and make sure that you are adequately dressed.
- Make sure you have enough water.
- Carry at least one spare light source.
- Try not to touch anything unless you really need to. “Not only could you damage the speleothems but they are also fairly brittle, sharp and heavy. They could break and you can hurt yourself,” says Mouton.
- When entering a show cave, never wander off alone – stay with your guide at all times.
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