SA catches summit fever

Over the last 10 days around 1 000 people, aged between three weeks and 95 years, have climbed—or been carried up—mountains across South Africa as part of a countrywide celebration of the International Year of the Mountain (IYM).

“‘People on Peaks’ is the MCSA’s (Mountain Club of SA’s) major event for the International Year of the Mountain. The idea behind it was partly to publicise the IYM, it was an important opportunity to bring mountains into the public spotlight as important to

everyone in South Africa,” said Andre Schoon, chairman of the MCSA.

The United Nations declared 2002 International Year of the Mountain to publicise the importance of mountains to all life, especially as a source of water and unique ecosystems.

In 2000 the UN declared the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park a World Heritage Site—one of four in South Africa. The others are the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, Robben Island, off Cape Town, and the Cradle of Humankind at

Sterkfontein in Gauteng.

Many of the peaks “bagged” for the “People on Peaks” event were in the Drakensberg—Devil’s Tooth, Champagne Castle, Giant’s Castle, the Drakensberg’s highest peak Thabana Ntlenyana in Lesotho and South Africa’s highest peak Mafadi, which “gained” a metre

during the event when a team used new equipment to measure it.

Mafadi, now officially rises 3451 meters.

Tiny Lize Bekker, just three weeks old, topped out on a 1530m ridge on the Bronberg in Pretoria, claiming her position as the youngest participant in “People on Peaks”, said the MCSA’s Petro Grobler.
The oldest participant also came from Gauteng—95-year-old Harry Barker climbed the Melville Koppies.

However, the Eastern Cape section of the 111-year-old club also had a wide “age differential” getting people between the ages of 18 months and 88 years onto Lady Slipper at Lady Slipper, about 40km from Port Elizabeth.

Grobler said MCSA members climbed the highest peak in five of the nine provinces—Namahadi, a 3 275m peak in the Free State’s Maluti range, Gauteng’s 1 913m Toringkop, at Suikerbosrand near Heidelberg, the

1 800m Nooitgedacht in the North West’s Magaliesberg, Iron Crown, a 2 126m peak on the Great Escarpment in

Limpopo, and Mafadi.

Around 50 peaks were climbed in South Africa and Lesotho and six peaks outside the country, including Japan’s Mt Fuji and what must be one of the most inaccessible peaks in terms of getting to it’s

general location—St Helena’s Diana’s Peak were climbed “in sympathy”. The island’s only means of transport is the RMS St Helena, which leaves from Cape Town for the south Atlantic island around once every two months.

The MCSA spends a lot of energy on conservation and ‘People on Peaks’ was seen as a way of publicising the importance of protecting South Africa’s greatest water source. Mountains provide

the thirsty interior with clean, unsilted perennial water, said Maretha Shroyer in her research project on the status of mountain conservation in South Africa.

There are no commercial navigable rivers or lakes in South Africa and many rivers in the drier parts of the country flow only in the rainy season. Most rivers are dry for most of the time, and, according to Forestry SA, only 10% of the low rainfall

reaches the rivers, much of it lost to evaporation. South Africa’s three largest rivers—the Orange, the Vaal and the Limpopo—have their origin in mountains.

Schoon said: “The major problem facing South African mountains is that there is no real, rational, policy applied in terms of development. There should be a ultimately be a full management policy. From that their importance can be judged. A lot of development is done in a very haphazard way.”

To bring the importance of mountains to the attention of South Africa’s decision-makers Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Valli Moosa was invited to climb Table Mountain with the MCSA’s Cape Town section, but was unable to make it, said Schoon.

“Last year we had several meetings with Valli Moosa and he was very enthusiastic about ‘People on Peaks’, he strongly supported the idea.”

The Magaliesberg section, however, managed to get Gauteng Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs MEC Mary Metcalfe and the North West’s Agriculture, Conservation and Environment MEC Edith Molewa to come to an event at Maretlwane in

the Magaliesberg. Representatives from the Rand Water Board, Working for Water and the National Botanical Institute also went along.

One of the organisers, Jenny Paterson, said the event was “designed for VIPs with limited time, to show them a pristine kloof in the Magaliesberg”. The event took place on September 14 to mark the first day of the ‘People on Peaks’ project, and International

Mountain Protection Day.

In Stellenbosch the university town’s mayor climbed the Papegaaiberg with 25 MCSA members, and in Namibia members got together with the Damara people living at Spitzkoppe, between Usakos and Swakopmund, to clean up a popular campsite in the area. - Sapa

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