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Safety

"Safety" covers two different aspects:

  • Safety as in security from being attacked or robbed.  The Table Mountain Safety Action Group is focused on this aspect.  Visit their website and review the current discussion for information on mountain security issues. The key advice is to avoid walking alone or in small groups. To date, no organised groups have been attacked, so do contact one the many hiking clubs and organisations and arrange to walk with them as a member or visitor.
  • Safety as in finding the way and walking safely without injury - and what to do if there is an accident. Many of the clubs and walking groups have guidelines on walking safely. Some are listed below.  Read them carefully - your life, or another's, may depend on it! 

Safety guidelines and background information:

  • Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) is the main organisation that coordinates rescue operations in the Western Cape, but do not contact them directly - contact Metro Rescue first at 10177 or 021 937 0300 who will then contact Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR).  (Note that the Metro Rescue number changed in August 2008.  The old number which is listed in many places still works, but use this new number in preference.)
  • Mountain Club of South Africa safety guidelines
  • University of 3rd Age Safety notes and statistics including information on rescue costs.
  • Hikers Network has a comprehensive set of notes on mountain safety, first aid and more.
  • Cape Nature also has an extensive set of notes, with particular relevance to country areas.
Cell phone access:  There are many places on Table Mountain and Silvermine where there is no cell phone reception, so don't rely on this and think it is safe to walk alone.  If there is an emergency and you do need to make a call, walk to the nearest 'edge' as there is reception at any point around the mountain where you can see the city below. In most places the nearest 'edge' is only 20-30 minutes walk away.  

Grades of walks and climbs - how to use

 

NB Many of the walks and scrambles described in Mountain Meanders are difficult and dangerous.  Do not attempt any Grade 3 or higher route unless you are experienced with exposed rock scrambling. Read the grading of walks and climbs but realise that grading is inexact and subjective!  Different clubs using different systems with confusingly similar notation and the same route can be graded differently by different people. The golden rule is to be cautious until you are familiar with a grading system e.g. be comfortable with grade 1 or 2 before trying anything higher.  If you are unhappy at any stage, don't climb on - retreat!  One notch up is substantially different!


Use of ropes:  To rope or not to rope? 


A recent (February  2017) fatal fall on one of the newer Mountain Meanders routes raised some questions about the recommendations given on various routes such as "a rope may be required" or "a rope is advised". 

The difficulty is that the experience levels of mountain users vary widely. To even an average rock climber,  all the routes on Mountain Meanders are easy and could be climbed without a rope (with some caveats - see below).  The key point is that Mountain Meanders is not aimed at this level of mountaineer,  but at the more adventurous hiker who may be bored with the same old slog up Nursery Ravine or Kasteelspoort or the like and wants to expand the range of scrambles they do. 

The big problem here is that frequently the participants of any hiking or scrambling group have a range of abilities.  A particular danger  is when some choose to climb free, putting pressure on others to follow suit.  There is a heavy responsibility on the leader in this situation to either insist everyone ropes,  or to know the group well enough that they can decide who needs roping and who can climb free. And of course if the leader says "we shall rope",  then everyone must obey.  Those who don't,  put themselves and other members of the party at serious risk of injury or death. 

Of course an essential prerequisite is that a) the leader (or a competent person in the party) is carrying a rope;  and b) that they can either free climb (or climb using protection if needed); and c) that they know how to belay themselves on and belay the other members of the party.  (Standing casually dangling a rope down without being belayed on,  is the ultimate folly.  If you don't know what this means,  find out -  fast!!)

What is often not appreciated  is that grading is not the only factor at play.   Even a competent climber on easy terrain can be fatally undone by loose rock,  or a hand hand hold breaking off. if the pitch is exposed. Attack by a swarm of bees or hornets is another risk.  Unlikely?  Maybe,  but the latter is the only time I have come off in 55 years of climbing.   And not because I fell,  but because I jumped,  knowing I was secure.  

Weather conditions also play a big part,  and this has little to do with rain. Even on a clear day,  the right combination of temperature and humidity can lead to the white lichen becoming terrifyingly slippery.  So even a route climbed free one time,  may be dangerous another time -  for many reasons. 

To summarise: Anytime a route on Mountain Meanders says anything about a rope,  there is serious responsibility on the leader to assess the route,  the party and the weather conditions,  and take a decision.  If unsure,  don't do it.  Yours,  or even worse,  another person's life may be at stake. The mountain's not going away.  You can always come back and do it another day. 

Accuracy of Map and GPS tracks

 

Be careful with the GPS tracks. GPSs do not work well in steep mountain terrain especially when walking below, or on, a south facing cliff, or in any kloof or ravine, because many satellites are obscured. Even in open terrain, reflections of the satellite signals off rock faces can cause significant errors. One must therefore always be able to find ones way without the GPS. They can be useful for finding the start of a route or the start of a descent from a ridge, but are of limited value on steep terrain.  You must be able to follow a route description … and remember it for your return!  GPSs in the mountains – the good, the bad and the ugly is recommended reading as without an understanding of the errors that can occur, you could be seriously misled by your GPS!  If you have an interest in GPS use, consider joining the GPS group.


Indemnity: With these points in mind, it is clear that no responsibility of any kind can be accepted for using the route descriptions, maps and tracks posted on this website.  There may be errors in the route descriptions and in the recording of tracks and errors may occur when using them in the mountains.  A GPS is an aid to navigation in the mountains.  If you can't navigate without it, you should not be there! It is essential that you can navigate from a contour map and route descriptions. 

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