As 2016 will be the 10th anniversary of this hike which from a personal perspective was noteworthy in that I hurt my back so badly on the descent on day one that it ultimately culminated in my 2nd back operation a few months later. As a commemoration, I have elected to reprint / re-issue the two blogs on this hike as one blog: The Report Back and the irreverent – or maybe that should read irrelevant – awards. Of the 9 of us who completed this hike, Walter Baumgartl has since passed on, long before his allotted time.
Main picture: Fish River Canyon – Viewpoint at the Start. Naturally the only way down, is down
I always wanted to do one last hike down the Canyon before we got too old. Our last hike – the Giant’s Cup – indubitably proved that we are now too old – me included – to tackle such a strenuous hike again. At least we have the memories of four wonderful attempts and the concomitant camaraderie. What more can one want?
Note: The photographs are in date order and not beauty or interest order apart from the main picture
Report back on the Fish River Canyon Hike
First I would like to mention all the differences between this trip & my previous two expeditions:
- Temperature. It was undoubtedly warmer at night especially compared to my first trip in 1989. Due to the low nocturnal temperatures that year, a few of the people actually got up before the sun was up.
- The sense of isolation was largely absent due to the number of hiking parties in the canyon. Previously one might sight a party but this was a rare occurrence.
- With the volume of people, many paths are now like six lane highways. The descent now has a well worn path rather than the myriad of faint tracks & idiosyncratic descents that previously prevailed.
- Most startling was the level of greenery. Instead of the dust bowl, it appeared as if the Namaqualand flower show had been translocated northwards with its panorama of yellow & green.
- Finally we were at no risk of dying of thirst. The river was at its highest level ever with a steady stream of water at all places. The harsh stillness of the desert was supplanted by sounds of rapids & the tripping of water over the boulders. By closing ones eyes, one could almost imagine an English brook babbling along.
Secondly I would like to re-rate the trail. Certainly in the 5 day long trail category, it vies with the Amatola, the Otter & the Outeniqua for a top four spot if not the top position. But how can one compare the Outeniqua to the Fish River Canyon. They are on a par each with their own highlights.
Another issue that any inviter faces when they invite their friends, acquaintances or work colleagues along is how they will fare & maybe more importantly on a long trip, how will they fit in. I have vivid memories of two persons that I introduced to the Club viz Werner & Mike Paxton on the Otter. But any measure Mike Paxton should have found the Otter a “doddle” having recently done a 5h10 on the 50km race – the Korkie – and the Comrades in sub 12 hours. Instead he found it extremely tough to the extent that he will never hike again!
The highlights of the trip were numerous, too numerous to elaborate on let alone mention in detail. I have included these to distill the essence of the experience for posterity.
- The Red Sands just outside Kuruman proved to be an excellent choice as the first stopover; the only aspect causing consternation was the fact that each room had a double bed.
- The border crossing into Namibia was long & tedious
- Lunch at Karasberg consisted of hamburgers at least twice the size of a McDonald’s burger except that they were frozen. Despite repeated attempts at heating in a microwave, they remained cold at their core
- The Robor contingent, of whom I include Arnold as an honorary member, took full advantage of the hot bath facilities immediately on entry at Ai-Ais.
- Neither Ai-Ais nor Hobas had maps of the Canyon as claimed by the Windhoek booking office. This was to become problematical later on especially when the much vaunted short-cuts were attempted on day four. Both Kurt & I, both with 2 runs to our names, could not remember where the initial entry point was, causing much consternation.
- The descent on Sunday proved to be just as precipitious with the first 200 metres being a drop of 1:1. The multiple tracks had with frequent use “congealed” into a “single six lane highway”. Instead of every member picking their own path down, there is now a clearly defined path for all but the myopic to see.
- Now started a nightmare journey lasting a day a half for the fearless leader. I was struck by dehydration. Should I say again? Whereas the others gaily clambered over huge boulders, I found each required at least a litre of sweat to accomplish. Guenther gamely stuck by me as the others sprinted ahead. By day 3 it was over & I was back to normal.
- Night one’s meal consisted of one kilogram’s wors & a charcoal braai. Maybe in his naivety, Johan had agreed to lug it down but as they say, “Once bitten, twice shy”.
- The hot springs were reached by lunch time on day 2. Instead of the usual quick dip & off, there was even a stronger attraction viz a mother & daughter duo. Wild horses could not drag the guys out.
- Just as we had settled down on night two, ominous dark clouds appeared accompanied by a dust storm. Supper of couscous & sausage had to be hastily abandoned to erect shelters. Intermittent showers occurred all night long.
- Day three saw a disheveled bunch of hikers emerge from their warrens.
- The first dissention in the ranks arose on day 3. After the woman’s contingent alleged that a likely looking gully was the awaited first shortcut, it was, after much tramping about, proved to a feint.
- The second dissention in the ranks arose later on day 3. Danie claimed that the westerly bank offered better sleeping quarters. Eventually the cohesive team split into two with the mixed German | Austrian contingent guarding the eastern bank & the rest the western bank.
- After missing the first official shortcut, the main shortcut was encountered later on day 4. Only as I walked up the gully, did I remember it. This brings one out at Von Trotha’s grave.
- At this point, a pair of Mexican ladies was found wandering alone in the desert having already spent 7 days there. They wore slip-slops, carried day packs on their backs & sleeping bags in their hands. Sustenance consisted of diet protein shakes. The team ahead of us helped them out with food as best as they could.
- With the 3rd shortcut directly ahead & not being heroes, we availed ourselves of the chance to cut some more kilometers off the distance.
- My sobriquet could easily have been “There is no need to rush. There is plenty of time, chaps”. This terse comment always seemed to have the opposite effect with certain members. They would instantly pack up their goods & chattels & make a dash into the desert. It seemed to have the same dramatic effect as a squadron of Tiger Tanks bearing down onto one’s vulnerable & indefensible position.
- The former food emporium & destroyer of quick finishes, the Pink Palace was no more, forlornly guarding the road to the erstwhile owner’s abode at Quagga.
- Despite the initial intention of sleeping at Fools Gold Corner, yet another shortcut cast its beguiling spell over the guys. The thought of only having to do less than 15 kays on day 5 was irresistible. This was almost our nemesis like it had been 16 years before. Two paths each with its cairns marked the way forward. The allure of the right hand one was greed, the promise of cutting off countless additional kilometers. Herein lay the “path of ruin”. It led straight into the desert. Fortunately wise heads & Arnold’s ubiquitous GPS soon prevailed. An eastward fork was taken & the team was re-united.
- Night four found all teams trying to consume all unused supplies much like a hasty withdrawal where previously precious supplies are destroyed willy-nilly a la the Western Desert in WW2 after the fall of Tobruk.
- Day 5 was a breeze. The first signs of civilization in the form of a pump station were quickly evident. Drinks were served promptly at 10h30. A local guest in polka dot bikini paraded in front of the men much to the delight of the assembled menfolk each with the obligatory beer in hand
- An underwater endurance challenge was hosted with each male vying for supremacy. The eventual winner was the odds-on favourite – Stephen Leatherbarrow – with 2 lengths. Brave challenges were launched by all the older members but to no avail.
- Friday saw our hasty departure to view the flowers at Springbok. After a few cursory glances, the cameras were switched off & the trek back resumed in earnest.
- Lunch at Vergelegen just outside Kakamas proved to be surprisingly posh at half Sandton’s prices.
- Accommodation on Friday night proved to be problematical with all likely places being fully booked. Finally a B&B called Eagle’s Nest in Kathu was found. We shared the accommodation with a black civil engineer from Zambia. Supper was at a local Steers whose manager had assisted us finding our accommodation after the convoluted directions proved to be inadequate.
Awards arising from the 2006 Fish River Canyon Hike
I would like to commend all the participants for their prodigious efforts made in trying to claim these awards. Each & every participant can be considered a worthy winner for their sterling endeavours.
Like many participants he made himself available automatically for multiple awards. Obviously he could have won the best novice award as there was only one novice. But that would have been unfair as it would have been an automatic award. The Mr. Gadget Award seems fairer but as Johan made strenuous efforts to win the next award, it is only fitting that he is the eventual winner of the Submariner’s prize – second class. I never expected that such an award would be made on a hike but after Johan’s superb performance on night 3 he is the eventual winner. A spectacular belly flop into the water with full kit on was witnessed by all. Due to the diligence that he displayed, it is only fitting that he is awarded the New Nomenclature Award for introducing the Club to the term MSD. Finally he is awarded the clasp to this called the “Poorte Award” for his vain efforts to prevent his toes from falling off.
After his debut on a Drakensberg hike in +- 1993, Guenther’s obvious nom de guerre was Panzer. This arose not only due to his bulky looks but due to his ability to steadily maintain a slow unremitting pace despite the terrain. Nothing could stand in his way.
The type of Panzer remained a mystery. Was it a 75mm Mark IV or was it a JagdTiger? Well I never knew! What I did know was that for 12 years I have always believed that the machine did not have a gearbox as it steadfastly remained in first gear. On day 3 Guenther discovered where the 2nd gear was when suddenly he surged ahead. For that discovery he finally obtains his driver’s licence.
Stephen was a slippery contestant as he hid his talents, of which there are multiple, under the proverbial bushel. Initially I considered that he would be awarded the dark horse award for his quiet efficiency but that would have been very prosaic. Even the coveted Cobblers Award would not have done justice to his skills. Despite the obvious workmanship, skill & determination displayed to keep the boots “roadworthy” to day 5, his crowning achievement was the 2 laps underwater at Ai-Ais. For this accomplishment he rightly deserves the award Submariner’s prize – first class.
Danie’s award was easy to determine. Just like Oates in Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic in 1913, he just wandered into the desert on day 4 despite the pleas of his colleagues. For this achievement Danie deservedly wins the Wandering Soul Award.
Corrie du Plooy
Having hiked with Corrie for a few years I thought that I had the measure of the man. Despite a pair of non hikers’ knees, Corrie quickly occupied a position close to the front of the field. Suspecting surreptitious training, I questioned Danie closely on this pre hike training schedule but discovered none. On Day 3 all was revealed – Corrie was in a flat spin because he could not find the Voltaren. The secret was out. For that, Corrie wins the coveted Voltaren trophy with the figure of a legless man.
Being biased & having the inside track on my abilities, this was an easy award to make. I considered the Bathroom Soprano award for the worst singing on the hike. Instead I reserved the award for the Most Profanities per Kilometers for my sterling performance on days 1 & 2. For all wives present, these were no stronger than “O Golly!”
Kurt opened up a whole plethora of categories & awards with his performance on this hike. A new Kurt was on view. The one that best epitomizes this new “look” is the Mutter Award. It is rumoured that he even muttered under his breath something about “The old Bastard is going to make it home”. Even more unspeakable it was reported that he claimed that the Fish River Canyon was now too tough for him. Skande!!!!! One would have thought that he was getting old or something to that effect.
Walter won the prestigious Inane Question Award. He expected Arnold to calculate the exact time taken for a rock to become round in the canyon. Arnold spent the whole of night 4 & came up with the precise answer viz 487, 327, 215 years, 56 days, 23 hours, 5 minutes & 35 seconds. The only problem that Arnold found in computing this was the PH of Walter’s urine. With its low PH, it meant that it might increase the rate of erosion by one nanosecond. To simplify the answer, Arnold assumed that Walter would not come on the next expedition in 2011.
I initially considered awarding Arnold the Computational Genius Award for calculating the exact time in seconds that it takes to wear down a rock in the Canyon. However he finally won the Domestication Award hands down. With quiet efficiency he kept the Robor Contingent well fed & watered. He steadfastly refused to assist me in finishing my uneaten food & left it up to Vacuum Cleaner Scholtz to do so. On future hikes he will have to carry the prize along viz a miniature kitchen sink.
14th August 2006
15th August 2006 16th August 2006
17th August 2006
18th August 2006 – Namaquland daisies in bloom in Namaqualand