Dragon's Wrath 2023

04 Jan 2023 21:36 - 04 Jan 2023 21:39 #78236 by intrepid
Dragon's Wrath 2023 was created by intrepid
This is the place to gather and discuss all accidents and rescues in the Drakensberg for 2023. The most common are hiking related, though they can also result from other activities such as climbing and paragliding. This title of this thread is inspired by the book "Dragons Wrath" by Reg Pearse & James Byrom, and is an endeavour to continue on in that spirit.

The purpose of this is to:
* concatenate all information about these accidents to keep a concerned Drakensberg community informed;
* express solidarity and concern for those involved in the accidents;
* learn from mistakes made and to heed warnings of risks;
* maintain a publicly accessible historic record.

The purpose of this is not to:
* criticise or embarrass those involved;
* create media hype;
* create undue negative publicity for the Berg.

Historical threads:
Dragon's Wrath 2008 
Dragon's Wrath 2009 (not yet compiled)
Dragon's Wrath 2010
Dragon's Wrath 2011
Dragon's Wrath 2012
Dragon's Wrath 2013
Dragon's Wrath 2014
Dragon's Wrath 2015
Dragon's Wrath 2016
Dragon's Wrath 2017
Dragon's Wrath 2018
Dragon's Wrath 2019
Dragon's Wrath 2020
Dragon's Wrath 2021
Dragon's Wrath 2022

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
Last edit: 04 Jan 2023 21:39 by intrepid.

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08 Aug 2023 19:40 #78628 by AndrewP
Replied by AndrewP on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
News via a complicated grapevine tells me there was some helicopter activity in the Cockade area this weekend.

Turns out it was non other than Tony.  I have spoken to him and can start out by saying he is doing fine. Tony will post more details when he gets back online, but the bit I could piece together across a rather broken line is this.

He was in an exposed spot when the ground he was holding onto broke. He fell a few meters, bounced off a narrow ledge and fell some more.  Luckily he had cell phone signal and was able to get through to Neil, who in turn helped get the rescue guys out.

Tony is still in hospital with stiches in head, dislocated finger and a few other ouchies.  He thinks he will be discharged Thursday or Friday.

Bit of a shock and wake-up call to us all, so I am sure I will not be the only one to say I am glad it turned out the way it did all things considered.  And wish him a speedy recovery

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09 Aug 2023 15:14 #78629 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
Speedy recovery for Tony
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10 Aug 2023 17:19 #78632 by intrepid
Replied by intrepid on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
I was very relieved to hear that Tony was OK!

Thanks to @Zecrates who was in the area and noticed the helicopter activity. On finishing his hike he then figured out that Tony's car was still there and that he hadn't signed off on the register. He then contacted me through this site to figure out what more he could do about it. In turn through Andrew and Neil, I quickly found out what had happened. 

Wishing Tony a full recovery. No doubt you will have to recover and process the incident on the inside as much as on the outside.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
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16 Aug 2023 14:05 - 16 Aug 2023 17:16 #78650 by tonymarshall
Replied by tonymarshall on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
I never thought that I would feature in Dragon’s Wrath, although I have of course realised that my solo hiking and some of the extreme (unmarked) passes I do in the berg (while solo) do place me in a higher position of risk than most. 

Thanks to AndrewP and intrepid for breaking the news of my fall, and sorry for the shock this news may have caused. 

I was descending what I call South Cockade Pass on Saturday morning (5 August), which is a short gully through the escarpment cliffs immediately south of Cockade Peak, and then involves traversing the grass ledges below and descending through the rock bands where possible to get into the valley below. It is close to False Tseketseke Pass, and very similar in character, and I first spotted it when I did False Tseketseke Pass in 2016, and it has been on my to do list ever since. AndrewP did it a few years ago, although he didn’t do a write up. 

Having successfully negotiated the upper section, and done several scrambles down through rock bands, I came to another rock band requiring a scramble at about 09h15. It seemed fine, the holds were there, and not really harder than the others I had already done, so I started going down. This one was quite a bit more exposed than the others though, which I saw and knew, but this didn’t deter me. With hindsight I should have lowered my pack and climbed down without the pack, or just looked for a less dangerous place to go down. I was nicely balanced on a good foot hold with a very good left hand hold, and a not so good right hand hold, but it seemed fine. As I moved my foot to step down, the right hand hold broke out, my left hand pulled me sideways and I was falling backwards. A horrific feeling of sheer terror, to know you are falling on an exposed spot, and there is nothing you can do. I bounced twice, and was mostly spinning in the air, not knowing what was up or down or left or right. On the third impact I rolled a few times before coming to a stop against some protea bushes. I could sit up and take my pack off – the waist strap buckle had broken – and realised my hat and left boot were off, and I was bleeding from my head, and had an obviously broken or dislocated left middle finger. I didn’t feel bad at all, and determined with my handkerchief that my head cut was big but not too deep, and that the best way of stopping the bleeding was probably to find my hat and put it back on. I went back up the slope the protea bushes were on, and a short scramble got me to my hat, and views of a blood marked jutting out piece of rock directly below where I had fallen. So I had landed on my head on the first impact and bounce! I put on my hat, tightly, and when I turned around to go back down, I saw my boot, so also collected it and went back to my pack. I also had pain in my right arm and shoulder, and right chest, but I can honestly say that the pain was never too bad, and mostly just on my right side when I made sudden or big movements. 

I wasn’t sure what to do next, but it seemed sensible to try to find somewhere reasonably comfortable to sit, and doing that would also give me an indication of my remaining strength. I put my pack on, but probably didn’t move more than about 5 m before feeling that I was in a state of collapse, and afterwards could barely drag my pack further on the ground. I found a spot where I could recline comfortably, and as I could see part of Cathedral Peak Hotel far below, thought that I should have cell signal, and be able to call for rescue. I got my cellphones and hiking permit out of my pack, switched the phones on, and had signal. Frustratingly none of the local EKZNW numbers were answered, so I called the control centre number, which was answered, and I reported my situation, including my gps co ordinate and description that I was between Cockade Peak and Pyramid (and Column). Rajesh who spoke to me was great, but he did tell me he has no idea where I am and no experience of mountain rescues, which made me think to just follow that up with a call to someone who does. I phoned Neil Margetts, who was happy to help, although he is not involved in berg rescues he knows nearly everyone who is, and took down all the details to pass on, and agreed with my suggestion that the person who co ordinates the rescue should liaise with Rajesh at the call centre to avoid separate parallel rescue efforts. Next I phoned Mia, my wife, to tell her, and she was very worried about me, her worst visions of what could happen to me while hiking had happened. 

I had no water, as my plastic bottle with 1 l of water had burst in the fall and the water had run out, and no water nearby at all, but I ate a bit and put my groundsheet over my legs, as much to keep away sunburn (I was in my shorts) as for warmth, and prepared for a wait. 

Soon I started receiving sms from Carl Dreyer (Viking) of MCSA Search and Rescue, who was co ordinating the rescue, and the good news was that the local helicopter would come to look for me and drop off a ground rescue team as soon as possible, when the relevant people were mobilised. Regular updates followed and by about 13h00 the helicopter was in the air, and coming towards me, but to my consternation were all around, but not close to me, and I judged that they were searching the Cockade and Tseketseke Pass areas, and not the ‘nothing’ area inbetween, where I was. When I saw the helicopter go to land on Tarn Hill, I sms Carl to say that they were missing me, and soon Gustav phoned me, and I suggested that he keep me on the phone and I direct them to me, which worked superbly. The rescuers had found me! Huge relief! They couldn’t find a spot to land close to me to drop off the rescue team, so flew down to the flatter valley below where two rescuers were dropped off and would hike/climb up to me. Regular updates continued, and I could hear the guys talking to each other below me. Helicopter activity continued, and I understood that more ground teams were being dropped off to assist. Soon the rescuers and I were in shouting contact with each other and it wouldn’t be long before they got up to me. Gustav and Nick (a medic) were with me a short while later, at about 15h30, and gave me some water before Nick commenced with a thorough examination of me. 

My dislocated finger, head injury and a graze on my knee were bandaged, while the guys decided that the best way to get me out was with a helicopter with a hoist, as the terrain was just so severe. This would only happen the next day, so they prepared to make me comfortable for the night, dressing me up in all my warm clothes, and moving to a nearby area which was more sheltered by bushes. I had a little bit to eat, and was on the flattest section of ground we could find, but it was still quite sloping. My sleeping bag was opened out and put over me like a duvet, but I kept sliding on the slope and had to call the guys to help me back up, which they said I should do, so that I didn’t slide too far and make it difficult for them to get me back. I felt helpless, I couldn’t see, and didn’t know what the terrain around me was like, and felt that I was being a nuisance, although Gustav and Nick cheerfully helped me back into position each time, getting up from where they were lying in their sleeping bags nearby. 

It was a long night, none of us slept, and in the morning some messages came through to Gustav and Nick that there were no SA Air Force helicopters with a hoist in flight worthy condition in SA (how is that possible?), and that all hopes were pinned on a SA Police Service helicopter with a hoist in another province. A lot of protocol and red tape had to be followed, and the message was that the hoist helicopter would arrive late in the morning. The other ground rescuers, who had been told to wait below, were turned back, and the guys got me comfortable for the day, taking off the warm clothes, and helped me to eat and drink a bit. They were terribly busy with messages and updates, so I decided to pack up my own things while I waited, with help from Gustav who put all my things around me to assist before I packed my pack. 

Later the helicopter arrived, but like the previous day they couldn’t find us. They returned to Dragon Peaks base to refuel, while the local helicopter came in to pick up the other ground rescuers, and would then guide the SAPS helicopter in to us. At about midday the helicopter was above us, and a rescuer came down with the gear to pick me up, and while I was being prepared another rescuer also came down. I was hoisted up with the first SAPS rescuer, and ‘short hauled’ on the outside of the helicopter to Tarn Hill, one of the most amazing experiences of my life! We were lowered down on Tarn Hill, and then the helicopter landed nearby, and with the rescuer’s help I could walk and get inside. We flew to Dragon Peaks, and I was taken inside for a doctor (Sharon – Nick’s wife) to check me out, and for the SAPS to do their paperwork, while the helicopter went back to pick up Gustav, Nick and the other SAPS rescuer. Sharon determined that I had neck trauma between vertebrae C4 and C5, although my neck had been stiff for most of the previous day, and was still stiff, I really couldn’t tell if it was stiff from falling, or from sitting around awkwardly most of the day. Either way, being stiff had prevented me from moving it, which was the right thing. 

The ambulance arrived, and I was being taken to St Annes Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, which was recommended by the SAPS rescuers who had come from PMB to meet the helicopter, as well as Freddie, the rescue coordinator at Dragon Peaks, being a Sunday afternoon. I was quite dehydrated from shortage of water, and had last urinated at about 9 am the previous day, and was encouraged to drink as much as possible, with the good advice that I should try to have a good pee before we got to, or at the hospital, to prevent me from being put on a catheter. Very sound advice, and the first thing I did when we arrived at the hospital at about 16h00, was ask to be taken to the bathroom, and I was asked to pee in a bottle so that they could monitor how much water I was passing. 

The casualty doctor and sisters were great, and just got stuck in and fixed up all the wounds I had. I had an anaesthetic to relocate my finger, and had a massive, weird hallucination before I came to. X rays and a CAT scan followed, which confirmed all the visible injuries, and showed I did have some neck trauma, three broken ribs and a punctured lung. I was put into the high care ward for the night, because of the neck trauma, with a neck brace, although they didn’t tell me much about that. I would go into surgery on the Monday morning for follow up treatment on my dislocated finger, and head cut, and some lacerations on my left hand, the one on my middle dislocated finger was down to the ligament, and I could see the ligament through the cut (before it was bandaged on site, and again in the hospital casualty). 

On Monday morning the neurosurgeon came to see me, and told me that I would have to have an MRI scan for him to see exactly what was wrong with my neck, although he did tell me that three of the vertebrae were cracked, and C4/C5 was ‘damaged and displaced’, but he thought I was doing well and with a bit of continuing luck may not require neck surgery. The orthopaedic surgeon also came to look at my hand, and later I went to theatre for surgery on my hand and head, stitches in the hand cuts, and wound cleaning and more staples in my head cut, and my luck continued and the ligaments were undamaged and required no special attention. I couldn’t do the MRI scan until Tuesday morning, so spent another night in high care. This time I was prepared for the (very early) morning routine, and when the nurses came to wash me and disconnected all the monitors and drip from my body, I got out of bed for them to change the bedding, and requested one of them to walk with me to the toilet, which I could do comfortably; so now I had set a precedent, and could now ask to be disconnected and go to the toilet on my own instead of using a bottle in bed (which wasn’t a problem, but nicer to be more independent). I went for the MRI scan, and was quite shocked to see Freddie, the guy from Dragon Peaks, at the X ray section, he had had a stroke and was also in St Annes hospital. I was sad for his setback, although he looked okay and was in good spirits, and he was pleased that I was recovering well. The neurosurgeon came to see me late in the afternoon, and I received the good news that no neck surgery was necessary, everything would recover over time. It was too late to move to a normal ward, so I spent another night in high care, moving to a normal ward on Wednesday morning. Amazingly during my wait for rescue, and during the time in hospital I experienced no pain, only mild pain in my right side when I moved. 

Mia flew down to visit me, and sort out collecting the car etc, arriving on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday one of her friends helped her get to Didima to collect the car and sign out my register. The staff at Didima knew that I had been rescued, but had no other details and were pleased to learn that I was recovering well in hospital. My brother Brian is in Pmb, and works across the road from the hospital, so came to visit me after work every day, as well as being there on Sunday afternoon when I arrived in the ambulance, and took my pack to keep it safe for me. I was recovering well, and could have been discharged on Thursday, but Friday would work better, so that was arranged. 

I was discharged on Friday, and went to visit my mom, who is very frail, in her old age home, to use the opportunity to visit while I was in Pmb. We stayed over with friends, and travelled home to Benoni on Saturday. I am recovering well at home, although my full recovery will take about 8 weeks, and I must wear the neck brace for 8 weeks, which I would choose any day over neck surgery. The dislocated finger and broken ribs will also take about 8 weeks to heal thoroughly. The pain free trend continues at home, and I have reduced my prescribed pain medication intake myself. 

Throughout my whole rescue and hospitalisation I only received the best care possible, for which I am very grateful and thankful. I would like to thank the entire MCSA S&R team who were making arrangements to rescue me, and the ground team rescuers, in particular Gustav and Nick; the skilled and experienced helicopter pilots who participated in my rescue, Brett Tungay from Champagne Valley and Captain Botha from SAPS; the SAPS Pmb S&R team who manned the SAPS helicopter; the ground team at Dragon Peaks; and the doctors and nursing staff at St Annes. 

I believe I am being given a very strong message through this incident, that I need to be a lot more careful in the mountains, and need to reduce the amount of risk and danger which I expose myself to, particularly as I hike alone a lot. Fortunately I am nearly finished all the extreme passes I want to do (including the one I ascended on this hike, and the one I had the fall on), so will be more into normal passes again, with immediate reduced danger; before the fall I have been approached by a friend on VE who has asked to hike with me, which is great as I will be alone less often; and long term hiking friends Elinda and Richard have offered to accompany me on some my adventures where I will be alone some of the time, also before the fall, to look after our base camp, and monitor me while I am alone and ensure I get back to camp okay (or raise the alarm and know exactly where I am if I don’t…). I will certainly be back once I have recovered! As Andrew said in his earlier post, this is a shock and wake up call to all of us, and I don’t regret that it has happened to me – I needed to receive a strong message to prevent something worse from happening to me soon, and I take the fall and injuries in my stride, rather than someone else having to deal with them and experiencing much more discomfort than me. 

This write up has become a lot longer than I expected, but I want to include as much detail as possible, so everyone knows what happened to me, and also because it may be helpful to someone else who reads it now and needs to be rescued in future. It has also taken me much longer to write than I expected. 

Be safe in the mountains, an accident can happen out of the blue in the blink of an eye.
Last edit: 16 Aug 2023 17:16 by tonymarshall. Reason: Correct formatting

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16 Aug 2023 21:12 #78651 by Sabine
Replied by Sabine on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
Wishing you a speedy recovery, Tony. Glad you're on the mend
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17 Aug 2023 10:54 #78653 by Riaang
Replied by Riaang on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
Thanks for the write-up Tony.

Glad to hear you are ok and didn't suffer serious injuries, and that you are now on the mend :-) It is definitely a reminder to all of us that the berg is a potentially dangerous place, and that we should take care. My risk profile is more similar to yours, I like to take chances, but my hiking buddies keep me in check - mostly :-)
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18 Aug 2023 11:30 #78657 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
Glad that you got out OK, Tony. And hats off to the rescue party. What an amazing job. 

You had to talk the choppers in to find you. Why were they not using the gps fix you sent through? I ask merely to understand the systems they use. 
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18 Aug 2023 11:40 #78658 by tiska
Replied by tiska on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
“…were no SA Air Force helicopters with a hoist in flight worthy condition in SA (how is that possible?)”

imagine the fate of the 225 souls winched from the sinking Oceanis by 13 SAAF Pumas were that to happen now. 

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20 Aug 2023 08:24 #78659 by Beard
Replied by Beard on topic Dragon's Wrath 2023
THanks Tony. Glad you still have the view of getting back out there with an adjusted sense of caution/adventure...
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