Memorial service for missing hiker from Centurion – though his body hasn’t been found

2018-01-30 18:06
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After leaving for a hike a month ago, Mark Grobler (25) from Centurion, Gauteng, is still missing. A memorial service will be held on 1 February in the Westview Methodist Church in Wierda Park, even though his remains haven’t been found.

Mark’s father, Ben, told YOU on Friday the family had spoken to their pastor at the church and decided to plan a memorial service for Thursday 1 February at 11am.

“The search for my son continues,” is all Mark’s mother, Jean, would say about the service. Apart from a note Mark left behind in a cave on the hiking trail, no other sign of him has been found.

Jean says Mark has always been fond of hiking. He left home on 26 December 2017 for a solo hike in the Drakensberg which was supposed to last until 29 December.

“He was well equipped and hiking was something he enjoyed very much. He’d usually go with a group of friends but this time nobody was available,” Jean says.

After completing his honours degree Mark started working in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. “He was super fit and even completed the Comrades,” Jean says.  

Mark’s contract in Durban ended in September 2017 and he returned to his parents in Gauteng. “He got a new job and moved back home for the time being. The plan was finding a place to buy,” his mom says.

The family spent Christmas Day with family and friends at home, and Mark left the next day, Jean says. He signed the register for the hiking trail at the Cathedral Peak Hotel. Hikers are required to enter the following information into the register: their planned route, how many days they’ll be hiking, what colour rucksack they have, how much food they’re taking, and where they’re planning on overnighting every night.

“He was planning on walking the route from Mlambonja Pass to Twin Caves. The route is quite steep but in general it’s not a hard route.”

Cellphone reception is bad in the mountains and many hikers switch off their phones to save the battery, Jean says.

The last sign of Mark is a note he left at Twin Caves on 28 December. “I suspect what happened is that Mark left a note in the cave to book a place to sleep that night. It was a beautiful day and he might have decided to walk the Bell Traverse [one of the Drakensberg’s most beautiful routes].”

It’s been reported that other hikers came across Mark’s note in Twin Caves and this is proof he made it that far.

Jean believes the other hiking group saw the note but moved on because there hadn’t been enough space for everyone to sleep.

Jean suspects Mark disappeared between the night of 28 December and while walking back on 29 December.

The search started when Jean and Ben didn’t hear anything from their son and established that he’d never signed out of the hiking register.

Gavin Raubenheimer, a coordinator with the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) in KwaZulu-Natal, launched a large-scale search that lasted from the Saturday after Mark’s disappearance to the next Saturday. The MCSA’s search and rescue unit, the SAPD helicopters, the SAPD canine unit, the air force and KZN Wildlife took part in the search.

Raubenheimer says though the intensity of the search has diminished, they still haven’t stopped searching. “Hikers have been informed that we’re still looking for a missing person. Notice boards have been erected for everyone to be on the lookout. The ranger who always patrols the area now patrols even more regularly.”

Raubenheimer says that as far as he knows Mark is the fourth hiker to go missing in the past two decades, but the MCSA hasn’t given up.

Jean says Mark was a wonderful person. But though she talks of her son in the past tense, she goes quiet when you mention closure. 

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  johannesburg

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