Table Mountain suicide graphic above by alistair pott
CABLE CAR ENTHUSIASTS argue that the Pinnacle Road is dangerous whereas a cable car would be safe, but the cable car would make the mountain more dangerous than it is, and the mountain could become more deadly than Mount Everest.
Mountains are dangerous places. kunanyi has thousands of hectares of trackless bush to get lost in, miles of vertical cliffs to fall off, gales and ice to freeze in. Its long and narrow, horse and buggy era access road is poorly marked and badly guard-railed. Drivers must sometimes navigate slippery roads in poor visibility, and tourists—unfamiliar with the conditions, their vehicles and the road rules—face higher risks.
On the face of it, an aerial transport system appears less risky than a road and a Pinnacle Centre safer than any hut. Indeed, when an emergency rescue crew used the cable car on Table Mountain in South Africa to rescue a stricken rock climber, the MWCC claimed that, likewise, their cable car might be a savior.
The facts show otherwise. Firstly, the dangers—real and supposed—have rarely translated into deaths on kunyani. No one has died on the road to the summit in many decades and even road accident injuries have been very minor. Several climbers have died by misadventure on the Organ Pipes and, over a century, a handful of day-walkers have come to grief in the cold. In 2017 the skeletal remains of a woman missing for 30 years were found on the mountain, her cause of death remains unexplained. As for the cable car rescue, that was necessitated because the far-better equipped rescue helicopter was blocked by the cable car’s cables.
The insertion of a cable car up kunanyi would inevitably lead to more deaths. More visitors, more chances, more deaths on the mountain are statistically inevitable, but how could it be more dangerous than Mount Everest?
Cape Town’s Table Top mountain (often offered by the MWCC as an exemplar) is more deadly than Everest. About half a dozen people die on Everest each season. Last year twenty people died on Table Top Mountain. Pure maths alone explains some of the disparity. During its short climbing season a few hundred people attempt Mount Everest; a million take the cable car to the summit of Table Mountain each year. Visitors to Mount Everest are fit, well prepared, experienced and guided. Not so on Table Mountain.
A thesis by Sairita Maistry examined deaths on Table Mountain over a ten year period and tabulated the four main causes: over-exertion, falls (frequently while attempting to take a selfie, but also while rock-climbing), exposure (disorientated and ill-prepared—a few got lost in the clouds and died of exposure) and suicide. A considerable number go up the mountain to kill themselves. Five were murdered on the mountain. All these deaths occurred despite patrols, signage, mapping and barriers.
It will not be too many years before kunanyi draws a million visitors, and being further south and higher, kunanyi is colder, cloudier and more snowy than Table Mountain: it may be more dangerous. Alcohol exacerbated many of the deaths on Table Mountain, even though no alcohol is sold in the Park and its consumption is strictly prohibited. The MWCC plans to operate three bars at the summit.
Each death—however caused—would be bad for the reputation of the cable car, the mountain, Hobart and Tasmania; and a newspaper like the Mercury would make much of each incident. The darkest deaths are the suicides. Researches world-wide have reported that places of scenic beauty can become suicide hotspots, with the suicidal drawn to “an iconic feature like a mountain range, waterfall or forest”, survivors reporting that “dying at famous landmarks added dignity and grandeur to their existence and provided a sense of tranquility and peace before dying”.
The cable car’s part in any of these deaths is nebulous, but the necessity of popularising the mountain in order to increase patronage will transform the mountain and unintended and unknowable consequences are inevitable.