Home Trail tales 2006 MCSA rescue
Mountain club heroes to the rescue ...
Youngster rescued at Castle Gorge
The Johannesburg Hiking Club will endeavour to put in additional safety measures to avoid this type of accident.
Oh no! We knew that it’s impossible to escape from that pool (the 2nd one down from the big pool and waterfall) without the use of mountain climbing ropes and gear. And 14-year old Jonathan Malcolm’s father, Jeremy, had just proved that – having tried (unsuccessfully) to haul his son up by means of first a towel and then a knotted rope. The rocks are simply too long, smooth and slippery for rescuers to gain purchase sufficient to pull a person out. And the sides of the pool are too high and too smooth (after years (centuries?) of water action) for anyone to climb out.
Francie Spanger & I had spent the morning of Sunday 9 April exploring at Castle Gorge, reaching the rocks on the north side of the Big Pools and Waterfall by midday. We had watched for a while – from the opposite side of the gorge - a group of young people using ropes – clearly accomplished mountain climbers from the MCSA.
Once Jonathan’s plight became clear, George quickly went off in search of, and found, the party of climbers. Pablo (surname unknown) quickly came to assess the situation. And then – using their climbing equipment - abseiled back down the gorge to enlist further help and to collect additional equipment.
Jonathan had managed to climb out of the pool onto a small, wet, slippery ledge at the far side of the pool, overlooking the steep, slippery rock-face leading down to the lower pools (just above the lowest waterfall). Wet from his swim, he was being caught by the wind traveling down the gorge, which was also whipping up cold water onto his body. Visibly shivering, he watched and waited. His mother, Cesca, remained constantly within his sight, making ‘stay there’ and ‘sit down’ motions to him - verbal communication being impossible due to the sound of rushing water.
Pablo and his friend and co-climber, Allan, calmly went about securing ropes and equipment, ensuring that they had 2 backup ropes in place. When all was safe, Allan shed his t-shirt and shoes and made the quick descent down to the now clearly chilled Jonathan (he’d been down there for 1˝ hours). Installed in a spare harness, Jonathan was slowly and ably lowered by Pablo down the long slippery rockface to a lower pool, where the remainder of the climbers were awaiting him with towels, jackets, chocolates and TLC!
Once Pablo had ensured that Allan too had safely joined his climbing friends, he calmly tidied up the ropes, carabineers, etc. He, Cesca, Jonathan’s younger brother (Matt), Francie and I made our way back towards the carpark. Ken Middleton and Jeremy meanwhile hurried down to below the lower waterfall with Jonathan’s daypack and shoes to meet him and the rest of the party of climbers.
Almost back at the saddle, Pablo suddenly realized that he still had Allan’s shoes, so ran back to meet the returning party, Allan already having set off barefoot!
Immense gratitude goes to Pablo, Allan and their climbing friends – not only for their quick readiness in coming to our assistance, but also for their calm competence in effecting the rescue – the first time that either had been required to carry one out! Guys, we salute you.
Some postscript thoughts:
· Jonathan had jumped into the pool to save his hat which had dropped in : material possessions can be replaced; people cannot.
· Look before you leap : not all pools are safe.
· Had the climbing party not been there that day, there’d have been no alternative to contacting the Mountain Rescue team. This would have necessitated additional waiting time, probably resulting in Jonathan having to sit out at least a rain squall which blew up shortly after the rescue. And rescue would probably not have been possible until twilight or later – with possibly very different outcomes.
· Vodacom reception was not available between Piranha Pools and the saddle (during which stretch, because it had started to rain, I was trying to sms Ken that we’d moved from our agreed meeting place at Piranha and were en route to the carpark). I do not know whether reception was available from the point of the rescue scene. The point though is that cellphone reception is not always available – we need to reduce our dependency on technology.
· Pablo said that they normally climb at Mountain Sanctuary – pure happenstance that they were at Castle Gorge that day. Guardian Angels at work perhaps?
· In a world of many bad news stories, isn’t it wonderful to be able to reflect on a tale with a happy ending!