Hiking in the Mountains
A Survivor’s Guide

Hiking is a wonderful opportunity to explore natural areas, but could end in tragedy if these guidelines are not followed.

Reproduced with thanks from the Cape Nature Conservation brochure.



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
  • size of group (preferably three or more)
  • capable and responsible leader
  • availability of water
  • fitness and medical condition of group members – the slowest person determines the pace of hiking
  • inform someone of your plans and expected time of return
  • leave a message with your name, size of group, 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 turns 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 tel. 082162. If in doubt, phone the reserve before leaving home.

Emergency Equipment
Always carry the following equipment:

  • torch (with new batteries)
  • pocket knife
  • first aid kit
  • matches in a waterproof container
  • waterproof gear
  • 1:50 000 contour map
  • compass
  • space blanket
  • whistle
  • at least a 1,5l water bottle

Clothing and footwear
Take a wind- and waterproof anorak and woolen 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 on your face! In cold weather wear a cap to prevent heat loss.

Packet soups, dehydrated vegetables, powdered milk and soya-bean “meats”, dried fruit, raisins, cheese and chocolates are lightweight, nutritious and provide energy. 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 may impair judgment and cause dehydration.


  • Do not interfere with plants or animals, or deface rocks
  • Take all litter home with you
  • Do not pollute rivers and streams with soap, shampoo or any chemical substances
  • Take a small spade and bury toilet matter
  • Outdoor fires are strictly prohibited
  • Never discard cigarette butts – they cause veld fires and are unsightly
  • Stick to paths and walk in single file to avoid soil erosion
  • Leave trail huts in good condition
  • Firearms and pets are not allowed

Finally, remember that rescue operations are costly, difficult and could also endanger the rescuers. Relatively few rescue teams serve large mountainous areas, diminishing your chance of a speedy rescue.


In the event of an emergency or accident while hiking, keep the group together. Keep moving if possible. If 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 to be visible to a rescue party. Do not stray from a given route.

Being lost

  • 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.

Serious accidents

  • Stay calm
  • Protect the casualty/ties against further injury
  • Apply first-aid
  • Ensure that the rest of the group are safe
  • If possible, send two experienced group members to report the accident to the Police. Don’t abandon the casualty.
  • Give the police the following information: full name and age of the casualty, the type and severity of the 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

Hypothermia (exposure)
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 KILL!! The following points can help to 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 points can help to avoid hyperthermia:

  • hike in the cool of the 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 150ml (one cup) of water an hour
  • wear cool cotton type clothing

Mountain Fires
Mountain fires can be deadly.

  • 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 trouble.
  • 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

Flooded rivers
Try to avoid having to ford a flooded mountain stream. Rather wait until the water level has dropped before crossing a safe place.

If a thunderstorm seems to be brewing, immediately move away from high ground (summits, exposed neks/cols and ridges), prominent trees, power lines and similar lightning conductors. Seek shelter in low bush or inside a dry cave or overhang.

Be a survivor – not a statistic!

Survival Tips by Nigel Naylor

Ever thought about if you got abandoned in the bush, how would you survive?
Surprising, if you apply your mind you can do quite a lot.

Did you know that the inner bark of the marula tree, if crushed and pulped is a wonderful anti-histamine? And that the common-garden “black jack” or “khaki bos” are part of the spinach family and can be quite safely eaten. Why stop there? Ants are quite nutritious. And flying ants are full of lanolin oil – which is wonderful for your skin. Even rats are edible. Ask an expert which berries and fruit in the area where you are hiking are edible

Get up early in the morning and watch the bees when the sun is at the right angle. When they are hunting for food they zigzag all over the place, but when going back to their hive they fly straight back there. Follow them and see if you can get some honey, using a smoke to get them out. But avoid getting stung.

Some tracking skills can come in handy when trying to find your way, but also for tracking game.

If short of water and devices for carrying, why not cut a hanging vine? This is loaded with delicious fresh water. Talking about being short of water, it is always good practice to carry a short straw or piece of flexible tubing so that you can suck water up from puddles which are too shallow to scoop water from. With some dry riverbeds you do not have to dig deep to find water. Observing game can often lead you to the water spots. Steri-tablets are helpful for killing bacteria in doubtful water. In a survival situation the taste is not too bad.

Whilst on the topic of inner bark, you can use that to plait rope. Did you know that you can also plait rope from toilet rolls? With enough toilet rolls and effort, you can plait a rope to pull a 10-ton truck. Once you start applying your McGiver mind to things, there is no limit to the human ingenuity to make life comfortable.

Fire is always a huge psychological aid to survival, and the experts always recommend that one of the first things that you should try to do in a survival situation is to get a fire lit and keep it going. The traditional method of lighting a fire using a softwood block and a hardwood stick is quite difficult to do, especially as you need dry kindling which is quite hard to find when it is raining and that is when you need the fire most. Did you know that if you mix Condie’s Crystals (Potassium Permanganate) and Glycerine together a chemical reaction takes place resulting in fire? These items are sometimes found in first aid kits.

Of course it is prudent to carry waterproof matches in your backpack, or a magnesium stick from which you can make magnesium flakings and set alight by rubbing a steel knife against the flint backing which comes with the magnesium stick. This is very handy as an intensely hot flame is produced which can light most wet kindling and get you going. Failing this, if you have a car handy with it’s battery still working, you could try and get a spark off this to light some dry grass kindling. Cotton wool also makes quite effective kindling. And of course, once you have your fire going, don’t let it go out.

Fire is practical for fending off wild animals. A handy thing to do is to find thorn bushes and make a coral around your shelter so that wild animals cannot easily get at you at night. Also, keep a pile of stones and sticks as handy weapons. If you still have your pocketknife, you can lash this to a long stick to make a suitable stabbing spear. Fire also has the practical use of showing your rescuers where you are, especially at night.
Did you know that if you are short of salt and flavouring, the white ashes form a fire are quite nutritious?

Try to build a fire-beacon or mark out with stones a sign so that your rescuers can spot you from the air.

So why not learn about this beforehand and carry a small survival kit in your backpack. If you are going to get lost, always make sure you have your backpack with you with all these goodies in such as a fishing line and hooks, waterproof matches, a mirror for signaling, a meter-square clear plastic sheet to build you own water still, a straw, a whistle.

A bright orange survival bag is always an essential part of your survival gear and can serve many purposes, form carrying water, keeping warm in cold and wet weather, keeping your things dry when crossing rivers, to aiding aircraft spotting you. Using a mirror also helps, but only when the sun shines, so a small flashlight is also essential.

Did you know that the light on your watch can sometimes help with your personal visibility at close range in pitch darkness?

You know what they say about insurance: You cannot buy it when you need it. The same with survival – it is best to know about these things before you get into the predicament. There are a number of survival books out and most books on hiking carry some information on survival tips.

Medical Emergencies and Rescue:

WSAR (Wilderness Search and Rescue) - 021 937 0300
City Emergency Management Centre - 021 480 7700
ER24 - 084 124

Fires, Security and Wildlife:

Table Mountain National park - 086 1106 417

Useful information:

TIP: Wear an ICE ID bracelet.

It could save your life.

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