Letter of thanks after our mountain rescue

This post is part of The Art of Living series from Bacon and the Art of Living.  Chapter 99, where this is posted, is an addendum to the book.  In the “Art of Living section, I write about family and the many great experiences we had as part of “the art of living.”  Most of these experiences make it into the main body of the work.

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994854_10201513794267648_1278444717_n Coffee with some of the rescue members at the Ops HQ set up in Hout Bay from where the rescue was coordinated.

Rescue date:  27 July 2013

Background:

Minette and I set out on 27 July 2013 on a hike up Mayburgs Ravine after Tristan’s rugby match.  We did not take Mayburgs ravine, but one ravine to soon.  (Mayburgs ravine itself could have been deadly.  It is a hike that should never be done in the winter due to the rain and extremely dangerous conditions).

We found a way up to the right of the waterfall.  The first mistake was attempting the hike.  The second mistake was going up at a place where we could not get down.  Mid-morning Minette fell very hard as we tried to make our way across to the top of the mountain and lost her confidence.

At around 13:00 we decided to turn back, but could not find the way back.  A cliff prevented us from going down.  The wet and rainy conditions meant that once you start slipping you would slide a few meters before you stop which made it very tricky being close to a cliff.  We made it back to the waterfall, but were one section to high with a cliff between where we were and where we wanted to be.  It was so slippery that we took our shoes off.  Barefoot gave us better grip.  At one point we would slide at least 10 meters at a time as we got close to the waterfall.  Conditions were very wet and very dangerous.

At around 5, while it was raining I went down a ledge to see if there was a way through.  I almost slipped and fell over the cliff.  One mistake and I would fall.  I realised as soon as I got onto the ledge that it was a huge mistake.  I was now standing on a very narrow ledge and could not get back up up to where Minette was standing.  Wet conditions made this very treacherous.  Minette was standing on an incline herself.  After a few anxious moments, I started to claw rocks out of the side of the ledge above me to try and give me something to stand on to lift me high enough to get back to where Minette was and off the ledge.  If I slipped it would mean certain death.  I held on to very precarious shrubs.  The cliff was less than a meter behind me and the ledge itself was on an incline towards the cliff.

As I tried to get up, the rocks I was stepping on started to slip.  Minette grabbed hold of my outstretched hand and held onto a tree with her other hand to give her support  She pulled me back over the edge to safety.  In a state of complete panic, frantic, I sat next to the tree that Minette was holding onto and called mountain rescue.

During the rescue that followed a helicopter and three ground teams were deployed.  Minette’s cell was on its last bar of power and we had very bad signal.  The rescue team located my car and contacted Oscar at home in Potchefstroom informing him of events.  They continued to update him regularly through the night of the progress.  At around 11:00 he got a call that the rescue team has reached us.

At one point I thought I was talking to the call center when in fact I was talking to Tristan, my son.  He told his mom that Minette and I are in trouble.  He told his mom that I keep saying something about the helicopter is not looking for us in the right ravine.  Julie contacted a friend who put her in contact with the head of mountain rescue.  He advised her to get to the temporary rescue HQ that was set up in Hout Bay with warm clothes, lots of blankets and warm coffee.

Friends of Tristan’s parents were in bed already, listening to reports on the rescue on their local community safety radio network as it progressed.  They were wondering if it was us, having spoken about the hike at the rugby match, but thought that it could not possibly have been us.

Members of the rescue party told us later that when they got the call, they could not believe that anybody would be out in the mountain in the middle of the storm.  Especially not in the location where we were.

On the mountain, it was now extremely cold with wind and constant rain.  Spotters were deployed on opposite mountains and one of the men spotted Minette’s light.  Mine was already dead.

We made it down just before 12:00.

This is the mail I wrote the rescue team to thank them.  It turned out that we were in an extremely dangerous location and it would have been impossible for us to get down on our own from where we were without knowing the terrain and without ropes.  The first good decision of the day turned out to be calling for help.  We did not realise in what desperate situation we were.  A year later I tried to get up to where we were during the dry season and was unable to do so.  Even in dry conditions, in daylight, well-rested, it was simply too dangerous.

(Letter written 29 July 2013)

Words fail to describe Minette and my thanks and appreciation to Andy, Laura, Gregg, Craig, and the rest of the members from Wildernis Search and Rescue, Metro Rescue and the SANPARK Rangers who got us off the Mountain safely Saturday night.

Thanks to the helicopter crew who searched for us till lack of sunlight halted this effort.

Thanks to Belinda, the telephone operator who was our link with the search team. Your constant communication. Wow! You are amazing!

To Julie and Tristan who figured out what was happening when I thought I am talking to Belinda and was actually talking to Tristan. Julie contacted Gerrie who put her in contact with the right people and who came through with loads of warm blankets and who remained with the team in Hout Bay till we got down. Who provided us with encouragement and transport back to my car.

Caroline who offered the use of her Hout Bay apartment. Oscar and Trudie who was informed by metro rescue when they found my car and who were updated of events as it unfolded. When you called me Sunday morning it was very emotional for me!

My own thanks to Minette. Wow. I have no words. Cool and level headed throughout it all. Your bravery inspires me! For you and me the attempt to get down safely started at around 13:00 Saturday afternoon when we abandoned the effort to make it to the top and across. The story of how hard and difficult this was is one that will have to be told at some stage. You were amazing throughout the entire day!

Helping me to stay warm when I started to shake uncontrollably from the cold when we abandoned our efforts to make it down on our own while we waited for the ground team to reach us.

The event that prompted the call to the SOS number – holding onto your hand was literally a matter of life or death and you pulling me back over a ledge – this changes a relationship with someone. The courage and bravery that it took when I was so scared that I may pull both of us over. Yet you never wondered what to do!

I have no words to tell you how much I appreciate having had you with me and how much I love you. The prognosis would have been bleak if it hasn’t been for you. You are astoundingly amazing!

To Gerrie and Deonie and all our many other friends who found out what was happening and who regularly checked in with rescue services or with Julie for news and updates.

Going through the photos with Minette last night was emotional. Driving into work this morning and seeing the staff was emotional.

The conflicting emotions about Saturday – the splendor and beauty of what we saw, how close it was to a complete catastrophe, Minettes amazing bravery, friendship and love, the courage, dedication and professionalism of the entire rescue team, Julies friendship and the love of so many other close friends, the support of the kids, the concern of my friends and business partner, Oscar the many, many lessons learned.

To us you are not just people any more – you are angels!

Eben and Minette

ps: please send this on to the many people who participated and who’s email addresses we dont have.

Here is the sms communication of that day.

Here are pictures from the afternoon and evening:

 

MINETTE CAM 009
On the way up the ravine.

 

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The rescue helicopter searching for us in the right ravine. We were unfortunately in the wrong ravine.

 

MINETTE CAM 011
Through the clearance in the forest, the rescue helicopter could not see us.

 

MINETTE CAM 009
Through the clearance in the forest, the rescue helicopter could not see us.

 

MINETTE CAM 026
Getting up on a ledge and then getting up at a place where we could not possibly get down in the wet and a long fall to the bottom – our big mistake. We were in any event unable to find this spot again.

 

MINETTE CAM 025
Getting up on a ledge and then getting up at a place where we could not possibly get down in the wet and a long fall to the bottom – our big mistake. We were in any event unable to find this spot again.

 

MINETTE CAM 002
Taken after Minette pulled me back up from a very precarious ledge, less than a meter away from a 50m cliff. Taken just after we alerted the rescue services.

 

MINETTE CAM 008 T
he helicopter could not see us through the thick canopy.

 

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Very cold and wet. Waiting for the rescue team.

 

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Nightfall. Wet. Very, very cold. Hoping the rescue team would get to us.

 

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It was from the top of this waterfall that I almost fell down. Would have been fatal. There was no way I would have survived the fall.

 

MINETTE CAM 006
Waiting for the rescue team. Very cold and very tired!

 

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Waiting for the rescue team.

 

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The final push up the ledge that got us in trouble in the first place.

 

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Overlooking Hout Bay

 

16913_10201507189182525_1989356841_n 600248_10201507193062622_1502918989_n 600255_10201507181862342_562496708_n  971151_10201507198262752_529250871_n 1003333_10201507187382480_414340818_n 1003342_10201507196782715_1616983236_n             MINETTE CAM 027    MINETTE CAM 022MINETTE CAM 021  MINETTE CAM 017  MINETTE CAM 015MINETTE CAM 013  MINETTE CAM 010

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