Durban - A 19-year-old German tourist, who fell 30m while hiking in the Drakensberg and spent a night out in the open, has spoken of his ordeal.
Julian Schenk, who is in KwaZulu-Natal on holiday, and three friends were making their way down from Cathedral Peak on Saturday, when he lost his footing.
He tumbled down and landed on the edge of a ledge - narrowly escaping falling another 60m.
Fellow hiker Mike Pflueger, an American, described how their concerns worsened when he did not respond to their calls.
“I had the breath knocked out of me, so I couldn’t answer,” Schenk said. “It was a real dramatic experience… It hurt quite a lot. I landed on my back.”
Robert McKenzie, a spokesman for the KZN Emergency Medical Services, said that Schenk had “amazingly” come to a stop just 2m from the cliff’s edge.
“The other members of the group rushed to his assistance and found that he was stable but unable to walk. Some members of the group returned to their resort and raised the alarm.
“By this time it was late afternoon and the weather didn’t permit a helicopter to fly in the area, so three members of the KZN branch of the Mountain Club of South Africa hiked up (to Schenk) and assisted him during the night,” McKenzie said.
Steve Cooke, of the Mountain Club of South Africa, said their volunteers had set off at 10pm and reached Schenk at 1am.
Another party of hikers - strangers - had plied them with food, warm clothes and blankets to see them through the night.
At 6am on Saturday, Schenk was taken to Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital by an Oryx helicopter from the SAAF’s 15 Squadron.
He was discharged on Sunday with a few bruises and scrapes, and a sheepish smile, to show for it.
“He was very lucky it wasn’t much more serious,” Cooke said.
Asked about whether his accident had put him off hiking, Schenk said that he might take up butterfly hunting instead. “I’ve really enjoyed being here (in KZN). The landscape is really beautiful - when you’re not falling off a mountain.”
McKenzie gave credit to the Mountain Club of South Africa, Ezemvelo, 15 Squadron and the KZN EMS for a team rescue effort.
Cooke’s advice was to never hike alone, make sure people knew when to expect you back, wear warm clothing, and carry enough water and food to tide you over in case of an accident.