MOUNTAIN rescuers pulled off a dramatic and exhausting 21-hour rescue on the top of the Amphitheatre in the Drakensberg yesterday after a hiker got into difficulty.
The rescuers left Pietermaritzburg at around 5 pm on Monday after receiving a call that a hiker, 18-year-old German woman Malin Gornowitz, part of a group of 17 Scouts from Frankfurt, Germany, was in distress.
The team drove for four hours to the Drakensberg and arrived in the mountains at around 9 pm. They then walked for another two hours across dangerous terrain before reaching her at around midnight.
Steve Cooke of the Mountain Club of South Africa said Gornowitz was hiking in the northern Drakensberg when she suffered acute pain in her back and lost feeling in one of her legs.
“The party had climbed the chain ladder from the Witsieshoek car park and had reached the summit of the escarpment when she was no longer able to walk,” he said in a statement.
Her party moved her to the Ezemvelo KZN hut on the summit and raised the alarm. Alerted at about 2 pm on Monday, search and rescue convenor of the Mountain Club of SA Gavin Raubenheimer co-ordinated the operation.
Raubenheimer arranged that Stephen Richert, the conservation manager of Ezemvelo Royal Natal National Park and a trained paramedic were accompanied by another local paramedic and staff from Ezemvelo who drove up to Witsieshoek to hike up to Gornowitz to provide immediate emergency care.
“Having reached the patient earlier, the paramedics had examined her and provided emergency treatment. They suspect that the woman has a slipped disc and therefore would have to be evacuated from the mountain,” said Cooke.
He said a rescue helicopter was put on stand-by to fly to the Berg early yesterday morning, weather permitting.
“Unfortunately visibility on the mountain remained very low, preventing an air evacuation.”
Raubenheimer described the rescue as tiring.
“A decision was made early in the morning to transport the patient on a stretcher as the helicopter could not get in due to the thick mist …”
He said a team of at least 12 people and other hikers helped to carry the injured women over a distance of about five kilometres from where she was at Mont- aux-Sources hut near the Tugela River Falls, to the Sentinel car park where she would be transported to hospital.
He said the journey was a dangerous, stop-start affair that needed careful movement and for everyone to keep on their toes.
“This journey would normally take you two hours on foot, but it took six hours. We started in the morning and finished at about 1.30 pm,” he said.
He said: “The terrain was difficult — rocky and misty — and we were transporting a human being in a stretcher and we had to be very careful. In some areas we had to lower the patient with ropes.”
Raubenheimer, a veteran rescuer who has been involved in a number of Drakensberg rescues, said, “This was a spine injury. She would have to be examined in hospital … This [rescue] was much harder because we had to carry the patient, even though her condition was not life threatening.”
He, however, said the rescue was all in a day’s work. “We [rescuers] are definitely tired … But this is what we do, it’s no big thing.”
The injured woman was taken by ambulance to Bethlehem Mediclinic in the Free State. The Witness was unable to reach her to speak to her last night.