After the tragic mountain-related incidents that have happened over the course of the last week, Hiking South Africa has one small story of hope that reminds all mountain lovers of the importance of community and the power of collective care.
On the 1st January, a celebratory New Year’s hike up Lion’s Head turned disastrous when Holly the dog vanished from the busy trail while hiking with her human parents.
Josh Hayman and Michelle Hoch had decided to celebrate the new year by going for a hike on the popular Lion’s Head, followed by an ocean swim. Of course, they took their fur child along, adopted from Domestic Animal Rescue Group (DARG) in August 2017.
“We’ve gone hiking with Holly many times, but had never taken her up Lion’s Head before”, said Josh. “We had her close by the whole walk up. She was having such a blast but never left our side. About 40 minutes up, she broke away from us unexpectedly and a second later she was out of sight!”
Holly’s parents frantically began searching and calling for her. They stepped off-trail into the bushes and looked everywhere to see if they could see her, calling her name the whole time. The cliff face on that corner was steep and the ground very loose. No passing hikers had seen her.
“There was no way to get to the edge safely and we both feared that she may have fallen. The drop was very far down.”
The couple were besides themselves with concern. Michelle alerted DARG immediately, and posted missing posters to various “lost and found” online pages. They had been searching for several hours when Hiking South Africa were also alerted to the call. However, there was no sign of Holly by nightfall; devastated, Josh and Michelle returned home to spend a sleepless night worrying whether they’d ever see Holly again.
At first light, the couple were back on the mountain traversing the area where Holly was last seen, vowing that they would not return home without her. In the interim, DARG had been mobilized and team members headed off to aid the search party, including Nicole Nel, the animal behaviourist who had helped Josh and Michelle adopt Holly, volunteer Christy Quibell, and Nick Ashby, an experienced mountain guide.
“We were searching all of the paths that ran parallel to the spot where we’d lost sight of her,” explains Josh. “About two hours in, Michelle heard the quietest little whine coming from above. We immediately stopped walking and anxiously scanned the cliffs above us. Then I saw something peeping out over a small ledge near the Wally’s Cave area: Holly’s little black-and-tan head! She started crying and howling when we saw her. She could hardly move without falling – and she was about three storeys up! We tried to talk to her calmly but we were both in tears. She’d been on the ledge all night! We assumed that she must’ve chased some dassies and lost her footing, landing on the little ledge where we could see her.”
Josh and Michelle immediately alerted the search party that Holly had been found – alive! But now came the tricky part – no one could reach her from either above or below without the help of rock climbers or professional assistance. Through DARG’s updates on their social media pages, an appeal for professional climbers to assist SANParks in the rescue attempt was posted. The response was overwhelming. Ryan Sandes, the world-renowned ultra-trail runner who is also a DARG volunteer, heard about the situation and arrived on the scene in record time. Ryan met with Nick, and managed to lower himself down to the tiny ledge where Holly was stuck, where he was able to check that she was miraculously injury free and feed her some water after her 31-hour ordeal!
Then climbers Maghiel van Dorssen and Yonatan Wolowelsky arrived with their climbing gear and abseiled down to Holly and Ryan, and from the ledge were able to lower her down in a safety harness to her parents, where an emotional reunion took place. Holly licked her parents all over and rolled onto her back for a tummy rub, as if oblivious to her ordeal!
“The fact that Holly hung on up there – on a tiny little ledge – for 31 hours is a miracle. But the real miracle were the human hearts that put their holidays on pause to help us find and rescue our Holly,” said Michelle. “The people from DARG were nothing short of phenomenal throughout the adoption process and afterwards…it’s always amazed me how much they love their dogs. They do such incredible work and we are both just so grateful to them. I have so much hope for us now. Us, as people on this earth.”
Watch the emotional rescue mission and reunion (Video: Nick Ashby)
Holly was given a once-over and the all-clear by the family’s vet.
Without the help of the amazing volunteers and the incredible mountain community that came together, this beloved dog might not have been rescued.
Special mention must be given to the selfless people who gave up their time to assist Josh and Michelle:
DARG volunteers Nicole J Nel, Christy Quibell, Nick Ashby, and Ryan Sandes; Climbers Yonatan Wolowelsky and Maghiel van Dorssen (aka MJ); and Emergency service representatives, Gal from NSRI, Vasen from SANParks and Inspector Visser from the K-9 unit.