Universiteit Stellenbosch
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Injury Prevention Month: Hiking and Mountain Bike Safety
Outeur: Dr. Melissa Janse van Vuren, CHS
Gepubliseer: 10/12/2020

Having lived in four different provinces over the past six years, I feel like I am allowed to have an opinion about some of the natural diversity and beauty of this country we call home. I will proudly admit that I was born in Gauteng, and had decided that when I moved to the Cape, I will never become one of those people who believe that the Western Province is the “be-all and end-all" of the country. I have to confess though I wasn't prepared for the luscious green wet winters, cascading waterfalls, to the beautifully manicured winelands and to the rugged rock formations of the Cederberg. What really blew me away, was how easily accessible these all were. We are really spoilt for choice.

But despite the beauty and elegance of the Western Cape, I think Mother Nature is often underestimated and we are underprepared. Too frequently, we hear of people getting lost and injured or unfortunately even killed on Table Mountain – one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Cape. On occasion a spontaneous little hike can end up with some severe consequences.

So, I would like to propose some general hiking and mountain biking or rather adventuring tips I have learned over the past couple of years.

  1. Get to know your limits – there is nothing wrong with being someone who just enjoys being outside and active. The problem is when someone goes from a casual weekend stroll or cycle to doing a Black Diamond route in Jonkershoek or a 25km trail run that they aren't prepared for. I've treated too many people in the Emergency Unit who did too much or went too far too quickly and ended up regretting it.
  2. Surround yourself with people more experienced than you – don't be scared to ask for advice. Many people have learned the hard way and you can spare yourself from a lot of uneducated mistakes by just chatting to people. Most adventurers are passionate about these topics and you will have a harder time getting them to stop giving advice than to get them to start.
  3. Sunscreen – just always. The South African sun can be brutal. I try to make a habit of always putting on sunscreen, even if its only a short trip. It is easy to get sidetracked taking photos or having a picknick and before you know it its four hours later and you start to resemble a cherry tomato.
  4. As far as possible try to do it in a group – realistically we know that we stay in South Africa and it can be dangerous. There is always safety in numbers.
  5. Dress appropriately. You might be tempted to wear the perfect Instagram outfit but often it isn't practical. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes.
  6. Familiarize yourself with the creatures and critters in the area. There are many reports of snake sightings in the last month. There are 6 poisonous snakes in the western Cape, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with what they look like. At the end of the article I have put a link that you can go to for some more information regarding the snakes and what to do in case of a snake bite.

Let's get a bit more specific. Some of this may seem over-the-top or tedious till you are one of those caught in nature's fury. When planning a trip there are a few things to consider:

  • Research the area. Often when you google the area and the route, there are safety tips and estimated distances and durations that help you plan.
  • Who is going? Try to be conscientious when planning an outing. Choose a route that will suite the least experienced person.
  • Ask about allergies. If you are the one leading the trip, just make sure you know if any one has a specific allergy and the severity. You don't want to be out on the Panaroma route in Jonkershoek on a beautiful summer morning and someone has an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting. (Needless to say, if someone has such a severe known allergy they should have their own Epipen handy).
  • Ask about medical conditions. Many people won't offer or even think about disclosing medical conditions for example diabetes, but someone in the group should be informed. Often when their sugar levels drop, they may start feeling unwell very quickly and may even become confused if they aren't treated quickly.
  • Usually in a group, there are one or two trigger-happy photographers always looking for their next profile pic or Instagram post. Choose one person amongst yourselves whose phone is charged with a good battery life and airtime that if it is necessary you have a phone to use to call for help.
  • Almost all the reserves have maps and numbers that you can take a photo of before you start. Snap a shot of it and save the rescue number in your phone. Signal up in the mountains may be poor and trying to google the number up there might not be possible but you might still be able to phone out.

What do I take with me in my backpack or hydration pack?

  • Many of the reserves have streams of freshwater that you can drink from but if you are uncertain if there are or if they are still running rather err on the side of caution and take water with you. I try to take about 500ml per hour hike I go on, unless it is extremely hot then I take more or make sure I top up. I drink according to thirst, which is the safest way to regulate my hydration level.
  • I like to leave a snack or energy bar in my bag so I always have something to eat. But I do pack in more snacks the longer I plan to be out.
  • Take a first aid kit with, even if it is a very basic one. Often, something as simple as a band-aid for a blister, can turn someone's outdoor experience from almost unbearable to enjoyable.
  • Take toilet paper or some of those pocket packet tissues. You will be surprised on how frequently you need to use those for numerous reasons we do not need to go into.
  • Take a plastic zipper bag that you can use for your rubbish.
  • Take a jacket with. Even if it is warm down at the start, the weather and wind changes very quickly as you get to the top and even a jacket that is only wind-resistant will make a big difference.

Much of the above applies to the mountain bikers as well. I would just also advise to regularly check that your spares are in working order and to replace them rather sooner than later. I had a saddle bag once that had a screw protruding that lacerated my spare tire which I thankfully realized before I needed to use it.

For some inspiration and information on the various nature reserves we have at our disposal visit the website www.capenature.co.za.

For general information on snakes and safety tips go to www.capenature.co.za/snake-protection-summer/ or the following website provides information particularly about the poisonous snakes you might come across visit www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/tips-how-prevent-poisoning?toc_page=4#;~:text

Another useful site that is worth the read for more information is www.arrivealive.mobi/Hikers-and-Hiking-Safety.

Wishing you an active and adventurous festive season!