Trail safety in focus

André van Schalkwyk of Table Mountain Watch spoke at Tokai Library last week.

The tourist-pulling power of Cape Town’s spectacular mountain wilderness is in peril following recent attacks on hikers, the most recent claiming the life of commercial helicopter pilot Doug Notten at the weekend.

Mr Notten was stabbed to death on Sunday morning January 28 while hiking with his wife above Kalk Bay.
His death came less than two weeks after Table Mountain National Park officials vowed to beef up security on the slopes above Kalk Bay after at least five hikers were stabbed on Saturday January 13 by two men posing as hikers. In June 2014, Henri La Cour was accosted and stabbed to death on the Trappieskop route above Kalk Bay.

Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) spokesman Johann Marais said Mr Notten and his wife had been accosted just after 11am by a man who had initially thrown rocks at them before closing in with a knife.

Western Cape police spokesperson Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana said the wife was uninjured and nothing was taken from her as she ran away. The police assisted with the search. No arrests have been made.

Sally Petersen, of AWOL Tours, said there was a need for a mountain intelligence unit, while registered mountain guide Frank Dwyer said he was being restricted to ever decreasing sections of Table Mountain deemed to be safe.
“Only the Cape Point to Smitswinkel and Orangekloof to the upper cable station sections of the original Hoerikwaggo Trail can be walked safely, killing a potential tourism drawcard,” said Mr Dwyer.

“We don’t know the long-term effects on tourism generally, but we know these incidents are reported in the international press and it is bound to put off potential hiking enthusiasts and give Cape Town a bad reputation generally.”

Last week mountain users groups held meetings and formed a coalition called Table Mountain Security Action Group, representing 42 organisations including hiking clubs, climbers, runners, neighborhood watches and many others.

On Wednesday January 24, Hiker’s Network president Anwaaz Bent, who is also a Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) volunteer met with mountain users at Mowbray Town Hall.

On Thursday about 30 people met at Tokai Library where André van Schalkwyk of Table Mountain Watch used props of security uniforms, toy weapons and stuffed dog, horse, rock climbing and cycling helmets, bush hat and radios to tell a story of increased crime on the mountain and the response towards it.

The overriding message is that people must take responsibility for their own safety, while assisting SANParks and indirectly, through their security providers and partners.

The coalition will share ideas and existing solutions while also developing new methods and systems to protect everyone; and engage with TMNP, the City, SAPS and local security organisations.

According to SANParks spokesperson Janine Raftopoulos, more than five million people visit Table Mountain National Park annually. The park has a dedicated vistor safety unit appointed by SANParks, but it would “welcome approaches from external organisations offering assistance around safety on the mountain”.

Mr Bent said hot spots include Karbonkelberg, Red Hill, Blackburn, Peers Cave, the Blockhouse and Trappieskop.

Ms Raftopoulos said these hotspots change and are located across the mountain range.

“Never assume because an area is not a
hots pot that it might be safe.

“What is clear is that the bulk of incidents that happen in the park occur near to the urban park interface. Crime is spilling into the park from the urban edge and for an open access national park with hundreds of entries, this makes mountain safety a challenge. Collaborative efforts to support the park boundary are under discussion with a number of forums,” she said.

As for forming partnerships and drawing from ideas from mountain users, Ms Raftopoulos said TMNP was a member of the Table Mountain Safety forum and they collaborated closely with SAPS, the Department of Community Safety, City of Cape Town, The Metro Police, Law Enforcement and civil society such as neighbourhood watches, ratepayers and resident associations, and private security companies.

“The park is open to coordinated partnerships where resources can be pooled to improve mountain safety especially focusing collaboration around the urban park boundary,” said Ms Raftopoulos.

The use of drones within national parks is illegal, however, Constantia neighbourhood watch volunteer Wayne Ramsay said if used on park boundaries, it was possible for drone operators to pick up people in distress and triggers to criminal acts.

“It may sound like science fiction, but drone technology is improving and becoming more affordable.”

Bruce Templeton of Meridian Hiking Club questioned whether the required manpower was available to respond to incidents.

Ms Raftopoulos said the park was investigating the viability of tech solutions across the landscape. Challenges included remoteness of certain sections of the park and lack of reception and following up on crimes which are not reported to the police.

“Security officials are repeatedly frustrated trying to locate a victim through social media to validate the veracity of claim circulating about an attack that was never officially reported,” said Ms Raftoloulos.

“The park is concerned about people’s safety and recommends that hikers join a hiking group and not do any recreational activity alone.

“We recommend that all park users leave valuables at home and ensure they have loaded their route onto one of the safe hiking apps so that a friend at home may track their progress,” she added.