The desire to go exploring can arrive suddenly, sometimes causing us to venture into potentially dangerous situations without forethought. Glyn Demmer discuses what we should do (and what we should carry) to ensure that we can survive if disaster strikes.
Looking back, I am amazed at the silly things I have done. How did I survive it all? It is a miracle that I am still alive.
I remember staying in England at Lake Windermere. My wife and I decided to stroll in the nearby hills, as it was a beautiful sunny day. As soon as the village was out of view, however, we were engulfed in the thickest, wettest mist I have ever experienced. Needless to say, we did not have a compass, a torch or raincoats with us. We thankfully made it back safely, but we could have gotten lost and succumbed to hypothermia.
I have done a few silly things over the years and learned important lessons each time. In my early 4×4 days, I once extricated myself from deep sand using my vehicle’s mats and my son’s beach bucket and spade. Thank goodness no one was witness to that process!
All these near-disastrous little excursions had one thing in common: they were unplanned. And consequently, I was always unprepared.
Regardless of whether you go off-road driving or park the 4×4 and go on a short hike just because someone told you that the view from the top of the ridge around the corner of the hill is beautiful, you still need to have a plan in case things go wrong – sort of like a mental checklist.
The weather is not something we can truly predict. Remember, in areas we frequently visit such as George, Knysna and the Tsitsikamma forest, you sometimes experience all four seasons in one day.
So, always be prepared if you are going to go exploring. It does not matter if you are staying in five-star accommodation whilst on the Garden Route, when the itch bites and you decide to leave the tar either on foot of by 4×4, you need to have a few things with you – items that should always be close at hand when the spirit of adventure strikes.
Your Garmin navigation unit should always be with you. Yes, it looks great in your windscreen and shows people that you are a rugged adventurer, but see that it is charged and take it along when you go hiking. Most maps you receive when buying a ticket at a park or reserve are not very detailed, so save the parking area as a waypoint on your GPS. Also take a compass reading in case your navigation unit fails.
It is better to have your GPS off the windscreen, anyway, as temptation may cause a burglary while you are away. On that note, if you have stuff in the load box of your vehicle, rather reverse it close to a wall, tree or rocky outcrop.
If you have a GPS-enabled smartphone, it is worth charging it and taking it along as well.
You should always have a torch, compass and lighter with you. And make sure that you have spare batteries for the torch! Rain jackets, space blankets, water (cold drinks don’t count), a first-aid kit, matches, a decent knife, duct tape and a few bin bags are also must-have items. Refuse bags can be handy, since they can be used to make emergency raincoats. They can also be used to protect expensive electronics from a downpour.
It is important to be appropriately attired as well, especially when it comes to footwear. Crocs are comfy, but not ideal when hiking 8km over rough terrain. Hiking boots, on the other hand, are great for walking, but do not offer the sort of pedal control you want for off-road driving, so take a pair of comfortable sneakers as well.
The basic message of this article is simple: Never rely on luck. Always be prepared. Make sure that you have a plan in case things go wrong, and that you have the items needed to ensure survival. Enjoying the outdoors is important, but it has to be done responsibly.