30 November 2010

Kirstenbosch: Summer Green

Date: 28 November 2010

Location: Kirstenbosch

Walker: Helen

For other walks in the garden have a look at the Kirstenbosch archive here.

After lunch at the tea room (delicious middle eastern platter - highly recommended) Dorothy and I took a stroll out into the garden. First stop: the newly re-opened fragrance garden.

This area is a collection of particularly fragrant plants, including many pungent pelargoniums, and is especially designed for the olfactory experience - visitors are encouraged to sniff. It's fun. Of course, I tend to treat the whole of Kirstenbosch as a fragrance garden, often bending down to smell flowers and rubbing leaves between my fingers to release their scent, especially in the fynbos sections higher up.

We continued on and strolled around the middle parts of the garden. We have had a lots of rain and it has been warm so the garden was looking particularly lush and green.

Last time I visited I was enamoured with all the spring colours. This time I was enjoying all the different shades of green and the variety of textures and patterns in the vegetation.

Looking up to the mountains above we could see the green extending right up to the peaks. Another walk up these slopes is long overdue.

Of course there were quite a lot flowers in the garden too.

These strelitzias were over and we guessed the wire cages around the flowers were a way to collect the seeds. I'm not sure what strelitzia seeds look like but I guess they must be quite large not to fall through the holes.

There is always something to see at Kirstenbosch. Must visit again soon.


YUM! Droë Wors

Droë wors is dried spicy sausage - like biltong, a South African delicacy. We ate this tasty meaty snack on top of Lion's Head, a little while before watching a rather dramatic helicopter rescue of an injured walker.

Lion's Head: Training Walk, Week 4 - And a Mountain Rescue

Date: 27 November 2010

Location: Lion's Head

Walkers: Michele & Helen

This walk is part of my get-fit training programme. For other training walks see here, and the Lion's Head archive see here.

Before: It was the perfect day for walking: cool, still and overcast. We were keen to get out onto the mountain - and to make it to the top this time. As we arrived at the parking area we saw a large bunch of kids setting off: maybe 30 to 40, aged from about five to twelve, all wearing the same t-shirts. An American couple appeared to be leading the group. The children were very excited and very noisy. Not wanting to be walk in the middle of all the raucous chatter we decided to take the back route up the peak instead.

The walk: Quite eventful, actually!

We followed the path on the right, towards Signal Hill. Last time I was here it was rather overgrown but it looked like it had been cleared recently. This route stays on the level for a while, so it gives the body a chance to warm up before the climbing starts.

We spotted a few flowers on the wayside: Lobostemon (variety argenteus, if I'm not mistaken) and the tall flower spires of Aristea capitata.

Looking closely at the aristea we saw a brightly-coloured worm.

And also a spider devouring a bee. How extraordinary!

Further along we saw an interesting beetle.

As we reached the cannons we passed two rangers on duty. I always find it reassuring to see guys patrolling and keeping things safe and secure for those of us out on the mountain. We took the path to the left, up the slope.

It was a strange day... hazy and misty along the coast.

The path zig-zagged up the mountain, quite steeply at times, until it met the main path just below the rocky cliff-face.

Birds of prey circling or hovering is a common sight here.

We continued round the front and up to the plateau area, where we took a short break. As always, from here we could see the route we needed to follow: to the right, up past the trees, and then up the rocky spine to the very top. Time to climb. Let's go!

Spotted on the way: struthiola and lobelia.

The views down were quite dramatic. Vertigo-inducing, in fact.

About half way up the final stretch we again encountered the group of children from earlier. They were now heading down the mountain. I didn't see an adult in the front of the group - the kids were making their own way down in small groups. We stood back and let then pass on several occasions. They were completely over-excited and were charging down in leaps and bounds, far too quickly, with lots of shouting, slipping and sliding. One kid had taken her shoes off and was going down in socks (I told her that was dangerous and to put her shoes back on, but was ignored). They appeared to be unsupervised, which was astonishing as this is dangerous slope where great care should be taken. It was no surprise at all when we heard a scream and then shouts from below that someone had fallen. By this stage we were close to the woman leading the group. She quickly hot-footed it past us and down to the child, followed shortly afterwards by the American man and a second man who also seemed to be part of the group. We didn't see what had happened, and couldn't see much from above, other than that the woman had reached the child and had her arm around her. We figured if she was sitting up it was probably okay. As there were plenty of other walkers lower down on the scene where the fall had taken place (including one guy on his cellphone) we decided to continue up.

It was just a few meters more to the top. We crossed across the western side and sat down for a while, gazing at the view.

As we started to descend, back on the eastern side, we saw that a rescue helicopter had arrived. Oh no, the situation with the fall was obviously much more serious than we'd thought! We continued down the hill slowly, following all the activity below us - as were all the other walkers on the mountain. Everyone stopped to watch: it was fascinating to see a rescue from up close. And we could hardly ignore the helicopter - the skilled pilot flew it in extremely close to the mountain. It was right there in front of us!

First two members of the Emergency Medical Team lowered themselves down, with all their gear, and hurried up to the injured child. A little while later the helicopter brought in a third guy with more gear, including a stretcher. They were quick and focused, and seemed to know exactly what they were doing.

The helicopter was deafeningly loud from so close, and kicked up a lot of wind and grit.

While the rescue personnel attended to the child the helicopter parked down below near Kloof Nek. We continued down the hill, right past where they were working. Here we heard from another bystander that the girl (one of the younger ones of the group) had hit her head and fractured her arm. We saw blood on the rocks which was ghastly and very sobering indeed. Poor little girl! We carried on further down to the plateau where we were completely out of the way and watched the rest of the rescue.

The helicopter came in very close again, and then headed straight up.

Down came the cable, and then slowly and steadily up went the stretcher with the patient, with the helicopter hovering as still as it could above.

Once the stretcher was secure they quickly flew away, right past us, and out over the city.

The helicopter landed back down in the parking area at Kloof Nek where an ambulance was already waiting. Phew, rescue over!

After: Watching this rescue was dramatic and exciting but left us with mixed emotions and lots to talk about. I was impressed by the rescue team. At least two of them were older guys and they seemed professional, experienced and in control. And the pilot also seemed to know exactly what he was doing. It's good to know we have a first-class team on standby.

I felt bad for the little girl who was hurt, and hoped she was doing okay. Seeing someone get injured and require rescue is a reminder to that there is always some risk involved in venturing out on the mountain. It's so easy to slip and fall! I bet all of us who watched this rescue will be a little more mindful of our own safety from now on. I know I walked down the mountain very carefully and with greater concentration, and will hopefully continue to take extra care when climbing (down, in particular) so as to best avoid getting into trouble.

While accidents can and do happen sometimes, I couldn't help feeling that this particular one might have been avoided. I don't know exactly how this incident happened, of course, as I didn't see it, but in general this group was not being careful. They were racing down that slope. There seemed to be far too few adults to supervise so many kids. It's natural for children to be excited and boisterous on an excursion but they need to be watched, helped and shown how to climb slowly and carefully, not allowed to go charging off on their own. Mountains are not playgrounds.