Monday, April 25, 2005

Drakensberg hikers told: Be sensible

Mercury - Berg hikers told: Be sensible: "Berg hikers told: Be sensible
April 25, 2005

By Latoya Newman

Tourism service providers in the Drakensberg are concerned that recent fears over the safety of hikers are being blown out of proportion and fear the negative publicity will destroy the potential of one of the country's prime tourist spots.

Responding to an article in The Mercury last week on attacks on hikers, particularly in the Giant's Castle area, service providers said that if proper precautions were taken by hikers, they need not feel threatened.

David Sclanders, of Bergfree Adventures, has been a guide in the area for nine years and has done almost 200 trips into the mountains during this time. He said people needed to be responsible in how they approached their trip. His main concern was that the emerging panic could set back tourism in the Berg.

'The Giant's Castle area has been a problem area for years. Those who know the area do not plan to overnight there, but walk right through it and camp away from it. There have been numerous groups who have done this and have had no trouble,' said Sclanders.

While there was some trouble in the Berg at times, basic precautions had to be considered.


Precautions

'Mountain guides lead many trips in the Berg with no trouble, but they do not sleep there. There are other areas considered not safe to sleep at, so plans are made to camp elsewhere,' said Sclanders.

'While I am not saying that the mountains are completely safe, neither is anywhere else in our country. If one takes precautions, does proper planning and sticks to basic rules then any experience can be better enjoyed.'

Citing a few safety tips in relation to the attacks on a German tourist - who he said had hiked alone - and the schoolgirl group - who he said had camped in a non-sleep-over area - Sclanders said it was never recommended that people hiked alone and that research must be done when planning a hike.

He added that local herdsmen were not all threats, and he cited an incident last year when two French tourists, who had hiked on their own, had been helped by a herdsman after a dog attack.

Sclanders said one of the hikers had approached a hut and had been attacked by dogs trained to protect property. He had tried to avoid the dogs, had slipped on a rock and had broken his femur.

The herdsman had walked three hours to police and back again to ensure the man got to a hospital. Local authorities had arranged an airlift.

Sclanders said the hikers should not have been alone, should not have approached the hut and should have familiarised themselves with the area before going out.