Hiker Mark Grobler was expected to return to his vehicle near Cathedral Peak on December 29 after a four-day hike, but his whereabouts are unknown. Picture: Mountain Club of South Africa

Authorities have scaled down the search for a 25-year-old hiker who has been missing in the Cathedral Peak area in the Drakensberg.

After a search that started on December 29, the authorities conceded yesterday that chances of finding Mark Grobler alive were slim.
“In the complete absence of any clues, despite intensive searching and combined with the fact that Grobler is now 5 days overdue, the search management team has to accept that the probability of finding Grobler alive is now very small. Therefore in conjunction with Ezemvelo (KZN Wildlife), the search management has taken the decision to scale back the search operations,” Steve Cooke of the Mountain Club of South Africa KZN Section said in a statement.
Grobler, from Centurion, was last seen on December 26, 2017 when he undertook a four-day and three-night hike.
He had planned to ascend the route of the Mlambonja valley from the road head at Cathedral Peak Hotel.
Grobler was due to spend the first night at the base of the Mlambonja Pass, before ascending the pass to spend the second night at Twins Cave.
“He planned to return by the same route again, spending the third night at the base of the pass before returning to his vehicle on 29th (of December) ,” said club spokesperson Steve Cooke.
However when Grobler, who has been described as an experienced hiker, failed to return on that day, a search operation was initiated by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.
The operation involved dispatching an advance search party of Ezemvelo field rangers to follow Grobler’s planned route.
When that search yielded no results it was escalated into a massive search operation involving five police dogs, 30 members from Ezemvelo and the Mountain Club of South Africa KZN Section, the SAPS Air wing and private helicopter services.
“On January 1, while deploying searchers into the field a helicopter from the SAPS Air wing crashed near the contour path. The occupants, including a K9 search dog, sustained only minor injuries,” Cooke said.
Despite the setback, the search operation continued until Wednesday, however it still had not produced any clues.
Cooke added, however, that the search would continue in the next few days with the Ezemvelo rangers focusing on those areas that did not form part of the priority search areas.
“Aircraft operating in the area will also be asked to report anything unusual. The SAPS K9 units will conduct a follow-up operation at a future date,” Cooke concluded.