With the summer hiking season almost upon us, being prepared is the key to having a safe and enjoyable experience and we urge all hikers to make safety a priority before heading out on any trails.
Before heading out, check your equipment, the terrain, conditions, local weather and ensure you have the necessary permits. Even if you are headed out for a short period, an injury, severe weather or a wrong turn could become threatening. Never hike alone and pace your hike to the slowest person in your group.
The following guidelines will help ensure that your hike is safe and sound.
Plan your hike thoroughly. Pay attention to:
- Permit requirements and gate times
- Time of start and expected finish
- Pace (3km/h is average)
- Time of sunset and tides
- Size of group (preferably three or more) -never hike alone.
- Capability and responsibility of leader
- Availability of water
- Fitness and medical condition of group members - the slowest person determines the pace
- Informing someone of your plans and expected time of return
- Leaving a message with your name, size of group, route, expected time of return and a contact person clearly visible in your car.
Weather conditions can change very quickly in the mountains, even if the weather is good at lower altitudes. Trails will be closed in the event of dangerous weather. Do not attempt to hike if the trail is closed - it can endanger lives. If the weather becomes dangerous, make your way back to the start or to the nearest hut as quickly as possible. Do not attempt to complete the trail. Weather forecasts are available at from 082 162. If in doubt, phone the reserve before leaving home.
Always carry the following items:
Torch (with new batteries)
- Pocket knife
- First aid kit
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Waterproof gear
- 1:50 000 contour map in Wilderness Areas
- Space blanket
- No less than a 1,5l water bottle.
Clothing and Footwear
Take a wind- and waterproof anorak and woollen jersey (even in summer). Wear two pairs of socks. Change the inner pair every few hours to prevent blisters. Boots or shoes should be sturdy with strong non-slip soles and must be well worn-in. Tennis shoes and tackies are not suitable. Sun hats are essential, even on cool days. Use a sun block on all exposed parts - not only your face. In cold weather, wear a warm cap/beanie to prevent heat loss.
Lightweight, nutritious energy foods include packet soups, dehydrated vegetables, powdered milk and soya-bean meats, dried fruit, raisins, cheese and chocolates. Carbohydrates like pasta, dehydrated potatoes and rice are convenient and energy-rich. Tinned and bottled foods add unwanted weight. Glass containers break easily. Drink fresh water. Alcohol is not advisable because it can impair judgement and cause dehydration.
In the event of an emergency or accident while hiking, keep the group together. Keep moving if possible. If you are unable to continue due to injury or collapse, or if weather conditions become too severe, seek shelter, dress warmly and stay in your sleeping bag. Stay on or close to the path, so that you are visible to a rescue party. Do not stray from a given route. in the event of an emergency, notify the relevant reserve office or phone 10111 if possible.
- Never descend via unknown kloofs or slopes. Waterfalls, loose stones and hidden cliffs can be deadly.
- Keep the group together.
- Light and weather permitting, retrace your steps until reaching a known route. Otherwise, camp where you are until rescued.
- Use bright items to reveal your position to search teams. Blow a whistle to attract attention.
- Stay calm
- Protect the person/s against further injury
- Apply first-aid
- Ensure that the rest of the group is safe
- If possible, send two experienced group members to report the accident.
- Don't abandon the injured person.
- Give the authorities the following information: full names and age of the casualty; the type and severity of injury, the location of the accident (preferably on a 1:50 000 map with grid references), and the details of the rest of the group.
Wet, wind and cold can cause hypothermia. It can happen very quickly. Symptoms include exhaustion, stumbling, uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, loss of memory and drowsiness. Hypothermia can be fatal. The following can help avoid hypothermia:
Stay dry: put on rain-gear before you get wet
Strip off wet clothing and put on dry clothing
Beware of wind - it whips heat away from skin and cools wet clothes
Wear a warm cap to avoid heat loss
Have warm, sweet drinks
Seek shelter while you still have energy, but try to stay near the path.
Hyperthermia (heat exhaustion)
Hot weather, insufficient liquid and exhaustion can cause hyperthermia or heat exhaustion. Symptoms can include exhaustion, stumbling, dizziness, headaches and impaired vision.
The following can help to avoid hyperthermia:
- Hike in the cool of morning and evening
- Rest in the shade during midday
- Wear a sun hat with a wide brim to protect the back of your neck
- Drink at least 15 ml (one cup) of water every hour
- Wear cool, cotton-type clothing.
Mountain fires can be deadly. Follow these guidelines to avoid danger:
- Stay calm and think in practical terms.
- Keep your group together, keep water bottles filled and, if possible, wet your equipment and clothes. Synthetic materials can melt.
- Never try to out-run a fire, especially uphill.
- Take note of changes in wind direction.
- Find water, rock slabs or cleared areas and stay there.
- Avoid thick bush, kloofs and rocky areas where you could be trapped.
- Try to keep to jeep tracks, paths or open slopes. If you are in a hut or building, stay there.
- Never try to start a back-burn; you can cause even more danger.
- Remove gas canisters and all other fuel and inflammables from your rucksack. Store them in a safe place.
- Keep a lookout for helicopters.
- Wave bright items to attract attention.
- Inform the trail authorities when you reach the end of your hike.
Try to avoid crossing a flooded mountain stream. Rather wait until the water level has dropped, then cross at a safe place.
If a thunderstorm is brewing, immediately move away from high ground (summits, exposed necks /cols and ridges), prominent trees, power lines and similar lightning conductors. Seek shelter in low bush or inside a dry cave or overhang.
Finally, remember that rescue operations are costly, difficult and can also endanger the rescuers. Relatively few rescue teams serve large mountainous areas, diminishing your chance of a speedy rescue. Make safety your priority.