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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 1:15 pm 
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Location: Cape Town
I read with sadness about the deaths of three hikers on the Swartberg mountains, but I have to wonder about the hikers being described as "well prepared" and "experienced". I'm fairly sure that most of us have been in icy cold, wet, windy, and generally miserable conditions at least once or twice when out in the wilds, and have lived to tell the tale.

I recently read a book by Rachel Kelsey Colenso about when she and Jeremy Colenso survived being stranded high up on the Piz Badile for two nights in a terrifying electric storm, where temperatures plummeted to well below freezing. Although they had a lightweight shelter which kept the worst of the elements at bay, they were unable to move from the only semi-sheltered spot on the ridge line. The three hikers were on the move, and would be generating heat while hiking; and while not the athletes that Rachel and Jeremy are, would in my mind have had a better than average chance of surviving all but the worst storms that South Africa's mountains could throw at them (certainly for more than a day) if prepared with the correct gear (warm clothing, waterproofs, gloves etc.). Even if they were forced to camp out on trail, a semi-sheltered area, a decent sleeping bag and a space blanket to keep the elements at bay should keep one dry and warm enough to survive a miserable night out on a mountain.

The article refers to the difficult hiking conditions and that the rescuers struggled with the conditions – but I wonder whether it would have been a life and death situation for the rescuers should they have continued.

Comments?


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 1:36 pm 
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To all who are considering to post to this thread please keep the following in mind.

3 People have lost their lives and their loved ones are currently in great emotional pain.

Please be sensible with your posts. Lets not have a repeat of the India Venster thread, where I too was guilty of contributing.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 2:33 pm 
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Real Name: Russell Warren
Trail walkers are not normally geared for serious weather conditions as they don't carry a shelter with them. In my experience no clothes are rain proof if the rain is consistent and the wind is blowing like hell as it would during any cold front experience in the Cape Mountains. If the weather is bad enough and you cannot find shelter from the weather then you are going to die in less than a day even with fairly nice clothes.

Normally the Swartberg trail is closed if bad weather is approaching for this very reason.

It is important to distuinguish between trail walking experience and mountain experience and I believe the Swartberg Trail in winter is more of a mountain experience than a trail walking one especially if the weather turns bad. It is probably the most exposed 5 day trail in the Cape. There are not many escape routes that I know of (from 5 years ago's memory) meaning once you have reached halfway on any given day you are fairly committed to completing that day.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 3:10 pm 
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Condolenses to the families of the departed. I agree with Hann, I think it would be pointless for us to sit here and debate the situation as none of us were there. This was a tradegy and sometimes these things happen no matter how well you were perpared or how experianced you are.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 4:11 pm 
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Location: Cape Town
No disrespect to the departed was meant, and it is always a tragedy when someone loses their life in the mountains that we all love to spend time in. I have not done the trail, and therefore cannot comment on the commitment required and the dangers of the route. However, with all tragedies, lessons can and should be learned. Previous posts noted, and with them in mind, the subject is hereby closed.... (if anybody has any serious objections to this thread, I'd be happy to delete it).


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 6:04 pm 
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Real Name: Russell Warren
A discussion around what happened can be had without being disrespectful in any way to the deceased or their families. The point of the discussion would be to try and bring things to peoples attention that may be of some help to them if they are ever in such situation or to help them avoid such a situation. It has got nothing to do with trying to diss anybody. I am sure there are people reading this forum that could benefit from the other members of this forum giving constructive information. I think most "mountain people" know that something like this can happen to just about anybody, but there are things one can do to mitigate the risks.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 29, 2009 6:36 pm 
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Real Name: Justin Lawson
Well said Russell

Yes, we could delete the post however I think it might be good to leave it up for someone researching the trail oneday.
The main thing to know: If bad weather is expected - Stay off the trail.

Just read another report detailing the events, sounds like the weather was particularly bad with one of the search parties turning back...

mjs: for the record, nothing insensitive about your post

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 8:13 am 
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The Search & Rescue organisation in the Western Cape:

Wilderness Search and Rescue
Known as WSAR (Pronounced: Wasar)

Tell:
021 937 0300
or
10177

You will be able to find the "WSAR" group on Facebook.

http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=65278900617


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 8:52 am 
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WSAR were not involved in this rescue. It would appear that it was handled locally and the Southern Cape rescue team were not called.

One point to be learned is that a group should not split up, especially in marginal conditions. As Russell will tell you, the main problem with hypothermia is that the victim does not recognise the symptoms and it requires help from your buddies to identify the problem early and make a plan to deal with it before it becomes catastrophic.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 9:10 am 
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You guys are quite right that lessons can be learned. Just prior to my post I had read a comment posted on a news site that openly criticised these hikers. Hindsight is a perfect science. So leave the thread open and hopefully we will have some constructive posts.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 9:15 am 
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Location: Cape Town
Real Name: Willem Boshoff
the intention is not to comment on the tragedy, but rather in general on hiking in storms (or mountains for that matter):
always make sure you have proper rainproof gear. and yes, there is gear like that. i've hiked 4-days in the Drakensberg in non-stop rain & hail with a First Ascent Flashflood jacket and pants and no-problemo. my latest Mountainhardwear shell is even better. it's going to cost a bit but is defintely worthwhile (it can save your life!).
if you keep dry and keep the wind out, you can easily survive freezing temperatures. climbed in minus 10/15 at 6000m+ with only a proper shell and midweight fleece jacket and pants (and good gloves & boots). just keep moving - your body will generate heat and the shell will help retain it.
windchill is normally the biggest killer (and becomes supercold when wet) - again, get a proper rain&wind shell and find shelter.
heat escapes everywhere - good gear will have drawstrings to tighten around your body, neck, head and wrists. a lot of body heat escapes from your head - get a beanie/buff and shell jacket with a proper hoodie. add decent insulated waterproof gloves, gaiters and leather boots (pref goretex lined) and you should be able to survive alomst anything south african weather can throw at you.
last bit of advice - check the weather forecast; as unpridictable as mountain weather can be, major cold fronts are normally spotted well in advance.

ciao
mok


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 10:16 am 
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Real Name: Willem Boshoff
a few more tips....
get breathable waterproof gear - otherwise you will become soaking wet but from the inside. but make sure its seam sealed, otherwise its only splash proof.
waterproof gear rarely remain fully waterproof with extended use - the waterproof membrane does get damaged with bumps and bruises. decent quality gear should nonetheless keep you mostly dry - only allowing in some dampness. you can get double or triple layered clothing (at a decent weight). my MHW triple layered goretex has yet to let in a whisp of dampness after 5 years of heavy use.
some synthetic insulators (such as primaloft) retains its insulating properties quite well when wet. down as well but to a lesser extent.
helps to layer - a splash proof down jacket below a proper rainshell is pretty close to bombproof.
be carefull to keep your sleeves facing downwards - hiking with trekking poles in the rain might cause water to run in from your hands.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 11:43 am 
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Real Name: Justin Lawson
"This group didn't have clothes sufficient for that type of weather. (Raubenheimer) used a normal black bag over her clothes to try and keep dry when it started raining. She didn't have a raincoat," he said.

Read: Swartberg hikers did not have correct gear

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 11:50 am 
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Real Name: Spikarillo
I think it's important to discuss these tragedies so people can learn from it.
If the article is accurate (??) then a lot can be read between the lines about their mistakes.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:26 pm 
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Location: Gauteng
Hann, just to complete the list here are the emergency numbers for the various Mountain/Wilderness Search and Rescue areas in South Africa:

    Western Cape: 10177, 021 937 0300
    Southern Cape: (i.e. around Plet / Knysna / George) 10177
    Eastern Cape: (i.e. around PE) 10177; Convener 082 990 7626
    Kwazulu Natal: 0800 005 133
    Gauteng / Free State / Limpopo / North West / Mpumalanga: Rescue Organiser: 074 125 1385, Alternative Rescue Organiser: 074 163 3952, Control room (Metro): 011 315 0203


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:28 pm 
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Here are some of the basic mountaineering rules:

1) Tell people where you are going and when you will be back.

2) Check the weather.

3) Carry the correct gear.
Non-negotiable gear:
a) Rain Jacket
b) Fleece Jacket. (not cotton – cotton absorbs water/perspiration and acts like a radiator, drastically increasing chances of hypothermia)
c) Technical Pants. (not cotton ie. Jeans)
d) Fleece Beanie.
e) Emergency Space Blanket (I suggest at least 2)
- Survival bags are good too. You can even cut armholes in it and use as a poncho.
So now you are warm and dry.

To get out of you situation:
Still Non-negotiable items:
e) Headlamp + Spare batteries.
f) Map of the area + compass (and know how to use it)
g) Whistle
h) Water
There are lots of extras, but don’t leave home without the above. Even when going to your local city crag.

4) Stay together, always.

5) If involved in an emergency. STAY PUT, call for rescue.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 1:45 pm 
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Location: Cape Town
Do the guys at WSAR have a cell phone where one could sms. I know of lots of youngsters who do not always have airtime on their phones but have sms bundles?

Just to add to Hann's post "stay put" - out of the wind (and rain if possible) "and call for rescue".


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 2:58 pm 
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Location: Stellenbosch
Real Name: Nic Le Maitre
@ Wayne73: No there is not a number that you can sms. However you can phone 147 from a cell (tollfree) and ask them to connect you through to Metro Control. This WILL take much longer however.

An alternative is to sms someone you know and ask them to phone WSAR on your behalf. You will then get called by the rescue manager.

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Nic


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 5:59 pm 
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Indeed with reference to RW's post:
"WSAR were not involved in this rescue. It would appear that it was handled locally and the Southern Cape rescue team were not called."

Going forward - one should be very explicit and specific - that you require assistance from a mountain rescue team.

It is an unusual request considering the tens of thousands of daily calls for standard ambulance and police, and misunderstanding happens frequently.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2009 12:08 pm 
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Real Name: Andrew Kyriacou
Very sad to hear this. My condolences and prays to the families.

Some info for everyone about Hypothermia. Every person should read this, it could save someone.

http://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/hypocold.shtml


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2009 1:38 pm 
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Real Name: Geoff Jobson
A useful tip for cell phones- you can dial 112 from any cell phone without having to unlock it or enter pin numbers etc, and will go through to emergency call centre.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 01, 2009 4:12 pm 
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Hi guys, just to set things in perspective. I climbed Kilimanjaro (in Jan this year) with two of the ladies that died we experienced a shitty storm on summit with temps under -20. The girls had the gear and the bad weather hiking experience. I have just returned from a hiking trip and don't have all the details. But having hiked with them many times, something must have gone very wrong or complacency made them hike under prepared and they paid for it with their lives. I think the only lesson to take from this is to never go onto the mountain assuming only good weather. Ah santa sana girls, travel well. Sandy


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