The party consisted of Karin van Niekerk, Brian du Preez, Evie & Tony Bowen, Fred & Nicky van Berkel, Maretha Alant, Marius van der Vyver, Basher Attwell, Andre Esterhuyse and Cheryl & Greg Devine (Leader)

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Pre-dawn start to maximise day-light hours, a good idea, as things turned out.

 

We all arrived at the farm Wilgemond on Friday afternoon where we were welcomed as usual by Nelmarie and Giullaume Swiegers. Friday evening was quite quiet as we prepared for an early start the next day. It was decided to leave the farm at 06h30 for the short drive to the start so that we could start walking at first light. Fred and Nicky decided to follow a bit later as they planned to walk only to the top of the jeep track.
Saturday morning was a bit dark and cloudy at the start and the start-out photo was taken in the near dark. However we were soon treated to a magnificent dawn and a lot of the clouds cleared. The weather for the rest of the day remained reasonably clear with the cool breeze stiffening to a cold wind on the summit.

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The northern slopes of the Groot Swartberg just after dawn.

The route follows the jeep track across the vlakte, zig-zags up the side of the mountain and continues past the telecom container, where we turned off and headed for the saddle. We had a quick tea-stop there and then started on the rather steep, bushy traverse to the ridge. Karin struggled with her wrist injury on this section and decided to turn back. We joined the rocky ridge for a very pleasant walk, with easy scrambling sections, all the way to the summit. We managed to straighten out the route and avoid the final gully by traversing to the right of the gendarme.

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Leaving the jeep-track at the telecoms hut and heading for the saddle

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A lone protea a bit past it’s prime

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The final gully to the summit

We sheltered behind the protea bushes on the summit to have our lunch, while Brian diligently photographed and counted every living thing and noted down observations for his CREW work. The views from the summit are spectacular, as Spitskop stands a bit out of line of the Swartberg range and one can see most of the peaks. Some new peaks and routes were checked out and plans made for future outings.

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Maretha looking exultant on the summit while Andre peers through the proteas.

On the way back we had a bit of an ‘incident’. One of the party strayed on the traverse back to the saddle. It later transpired that she had gone, unnoticed, north instead of east and had continued down a ridge to the cars, missing the jeep track altogether. In the meantime, though, we registered her as missing at the saddle and Tony and Marius went back to search for her where she was last seen. She was out of cell phone contact, except for a cell-phone auto-response of “I am at the cinema”, which lead us to believe she might have fallen and hit her head.
We decided that a further foot-search would be useless, and due to an impending freezing night, to use the remaining daylight hours for a helicopter search. I phoned Drew Scott who immediately contacted the Oudtshoorn Metro Search & Rescue. Their response was just as prompt and their leader, Richard Botha, promised a chopper in half an hour. Fortunately, shortly after that we received word that the missing person had reached the cars. We immediately cancelled the rescue, and the pilots, who were by then halfway to their base, were recalled.
I would like to thank all those who helped, Tony and Basher for their advice, Fred for maintaining watch at the telecoms station, Drew and Richard for their prompt responses. It is nice to know that we can rely on the whole system in case of emergency.
We had a great braai that evening and of course did a ‘post-mortem’ on the whole incident. Tony has since analysed the situation and come up with some recommendations for avoiding such incidents in the future. There will be more about that later.
The next day most of the folk were a bit tired and not much was done other than a bit of strolling. Fred, Cheryl and I got on the push-bikes and went in search of the Swartberg jeep track that runs, or used to run, all the way from Ou Tol on the Swartberg Pass to near Wilgemond. The going got a bit too rough for Cheryl, who turned back, leaving Fred and me to eventually find the track. We followed it for a while and then turned for home, leaving it for another day to cycle it all.
At the end of the meet, I was the casualty. I was the last to leave, and as I sat on my stationary motorbike, a moment’s inattention allowed me
to drop it. I crashed to the ground and landed on my ribs, probably breaking one or two. The worst was that I could not lift the bike up again and had to wait until Giullaume and his son returned to help me. The bike was okay and I rode home alright but now I am very, very sore, and wondering how it is that moving any body part, even blinking, can hurt one’s ribs.
Greg Devine 4 June 2015

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