Most dog-owning mountain users take the best of care when it comes to hiking with their beloved canine companions. Sometimes, things go horribly wrong, particularly in summer. Heatstroke doesn’t just affect human beings and can be as fatal for dogs as it is for us. Every year, we see dogs collapse (and sometimes die) because of the heat and lack of water. Jurgen Buchelt, who hits the mountains with his dogs on a regular basis, has some expert advice.
How much water should I carry for my dog?
With the temperatures rising above 25°C you want to go someplace with shade and water. To be on the safe side, you should always carry water and a drinking bowl for your dog when hiking in summer. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke in dogs are primarily caused by dehydration and not directly by the heat itself. I carry 500ml of water per large dog per hour. Since the dogs are hyped up, they will often drink more at the beginning of a hike. The bottom line is: take lots of water, plan your hikes with water supplies en route, and get experience on shorter hikes to learn how much water you will have to carry.
What about paw burn? How serious is it?
Paw burn occurs primarily on tarmac and very dark rock surfaces. As long as you can avoid tarmac, the pooches will be fine. Test with the back of your hand: if it’s uncomfortably hot do not walk the dogs on tar.
Are dark dogs more prone to heat stroke?
No. The colour of your dog’s coat has very little to do with how susceptible the dog is to heat exhaustion and heat stroke: the length of your dog’s muzzle has everything to do with it! The top of the mouth is the dog’s primary heat exchanger where the panting cools the blood flow and regulates the body temperature. All breeds with short muzzles are more susceptible to suffer a heat stroke.
What about long-haired dogs?
Long haired dogs are NOT more likely to suffer heat stroke that short haired ones. The double coat of most dogs although it seems counter-intuitive actually helps them to stay cool. Think the Bedouines with, their robes in the desert. Single-coated dogs, including some Terriers and Poodles, are more prone to heat stroke and heat exhaustion and even sunburn. PLEASE do not shave your long-haired dog in summer! It does not make them any cooler. It damages the coat and the dog might actually get hotter with a short coat. The sun now can penetrate to the skin as the insulation of the coat is missing.
Justin’s favourite dog-friendly trails on Table Mountain in summer:
- Deer Park (CBD): There are four circular routes. The shortest one only takes some 30 minutes to complete and goes past the perennial Silverstream and a small dam. It has a fair amount of shade and you can do it even on a hot day without carrying water for your dog. Start off to the dam and return to the dam when you finish. If it’s hot and you still want to stretch your legs some more you can do laps on the short route or take water along and do one of the longer routes.
- Silverstream Waterfall (Devils Peak): This is also a short hike. Start from the car park just before the road block at the end of Tafelberg Road. Take the trail up towards the Saddle and Devil’s Peak to the Contour Path / the Lower Traverse and turn right. Some 30 minutes later you will walk through a large rock shelter. The waterfall which reduces to a trickle in summer is just past the rock shelter. The shelter is a nice place for a picnic brunch. The walking time is some 40 minutes one way. Return the same way.
- Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine (Hout Bay): This one is best done from Suikerbossie. It starts at the gate of Ruyteplaats Estate. A small sigle trail which runs up the hillside towards Llandudno Corner and then fairly level from above the estate all the way to Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine. This part takes about an hour and has bits of shade in a number of small ravines and under large proteas and indigenous trees. Take plenty of water along on a hot day. The trail leading up to the Waterfall is in the shade and takes about another 20 minutes. This trail was closed earlier this year but it is unclear if only the fire damaged section of the trail above the waterfall was meant. There are no problems to get to the waterfall just a few fallen trees.
- Alternative to Myburgh: A shorter access to the Waterfall is from the end of Farrier Way in Hout Bay. 45 minutes one way and almost entirely under the trees.
- East Fort & Blackburn Ravine (Hout Bay): This one is suitable as a morning hike on hot days. Atla’s Pool in Blackburn Ravine has water all year round. The way there is only a bit steep, rough and rocky over the last ten minutes and takes about an hour one way. The steep bit as well as the pool and the little waterfall have some shade. A nice option for the fit is to carry on uphill (Do not turn right but look behind you at the pool!).Some 20 minutes further up Blackburn Ravine you will find the junction where turning left will take you over Skye’s Ledge and down to the starting point. Even in summer this section only gets direct sun in the afternoon. This circular route takes about three hours and you should at least take water from the pool for the dogs to drink on Skye’s Ledge on the way down. There is some exposure to heights and a short and easy scramble above the pool. Medium size or larger agile dogs are fine.
- Rhodes Memorial/Newlands Forest (Southern Suburbs): Here you have plenty of different options. Perennial streams are the First Waterfall some 15minutes into the Contour Path coming from the King’s Blockhouse and the stream in Newlands Forest. I personally prefer to start from Rhodes Memorial rather than the Forest Station as this avoids the overcrowded parking lot and neurotic dogs and their owners who usually do not venture very far up the mountain.
- Cecilia Forest (Southern Suburbs): Cecilia Forest has a nice number of trails. Only the Cecilia Ravine Waterfall is flowing all year round and there is some deep shade in the ravines making it quite pleasant and cool even on a hot day. Cecilia Forest is not ideal if you are or your dog is unfit since it involves quite a bit of altitude. Constantia Nek to the Waterfall and back takes some three hours. From the bottom it is a bit quicker but you have to conquer more altitude.
- Silvermine Gate 1: Drive all the way to the dam and walk down the jeep track below the dam wall. Turn left into the River Walk. Although the river is reduced to a trickle it does run all year and the trail has shade in the upper half where the trees were not destroyed by the 2015 fire. The trail takes about an hour and ends at a weir and pond near the gate. When you return to the jeep track below the dam turn right and go to the Southern end of the dam. There is a small spot where you and your dogs are allowed to swim. The board walks and braai and picnic facilities around the dam are off limits to dogs. The facilities and picnic spots under the trees along the upper part of the river walk are hardly ever used and are dog friendly. Entry fees payable at the gate / cash only.
TheTwelve Apostles /Table Mountain (FOR DIE-HARDS ONLY): This is something for the very fit human and canine! Do NOT attempt this on a very hot day. These hikes require a good measure of mountaineering experience, good preparation, and stamina. The trick is to take enough water to make it up to the Back Table safely. Then go to the Scout Hut and fill up your water bottles. You can also fill up in the lavatories under the restaurant. The restaurant has a fat “No dogs” sign at the entrance. We asked nicely and were allowed into the outside sitting area without fuss.