2010
Mar 9

I took these photo’s while doing the Fish River Canyon hike in Namibia

I have a Canon EOS 350D, with standard 18-55mm lens.

Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Fish River Canyon, Namibia Fish River Canyon, Namibia Namibia
Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Fish River Canyon, Namibia
Fish River Canyon, Namibia
Fish River Canyon, Namibia
Fish River Canyon, Namibia

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Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail

Posted by batman on Mar 18th, 2008
2008
Mar 18

Tsitsikamma is the Khoi-San word for a place of many waters. The Tsitsikamma hiking trail is inland from the Tsitsikamma National Park and traverses the base of the rolling Tsitsikamma mountains passing through indigenous forest, fynbos and pine plantations.

The cheapest option is to organise the trail yourself. Trails for Africa offers a luxury trail service which can include: transport arrangements, a guide, all meals and portage of your luggage. All you have to do walk with a light daypack.

The trail is parallel to the better known Otter trail which follows the coastline in the opposite direction. So if you want to indulge in a trail orgy then you can walk both trails one after the other and end up where you started.

The fynbos is typical montane fynbos of the southern cape mountains and is at it’s most spectacular in spring and early summer. The indigenous forest canopy reaches up to 30m in places and is a welcome respite from the summer heat. Rivers abound and each day reveals pools that take your breath away with their beauty and swimming is a contstant temptation.

The mostly shy wildlife includes baboon, vervet monkey, leopard, caracal, honey badger, large-spotted genet, blue duiker and bushbuck. Birdlife thrives in the varied habitats and include, forest buzzard, rameron pigeon, narina trogon, sombre bulbul, forest canary, swee waxbill and orange-breasted and black sunbird.

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Tribute to the Hikers

Posted by batman on Jun 30th, 2006
2006
Jun 30

Respectfully taken from the Blog of Colleen Louw: (http://naukluft06.blogspot.com/)

I last did this for the Tsitsikamma hike years ago – say a thank you and a tribute to the group I was with. On this hike, each of us was quite strong-willed and yet we had enough respect and humour to keep ourselves in good spirits for 2 weeks. And we looked after each other, which is not something others often do. I think this trip is one of those experiences that won’t come again, not with such a group and such an ideal set of circumstances. I will look back on it fondly.

So, here’s…..

To Woody, Mister Abraham Boep-pens himself. Your assistance with organizing the trip was invaluable and your stubbornness about where we had to be when turned out to be spot on. Thank you for making sure we didn’t wind up in outer Caprivi and for the incredible amount of driving. It was a contrast to see a tough dude with a lion king pillow, you’ll never live it down :-)

To Daja, for making me look forward to my fifties, gosh, if I have the energy you have when I’m 35 I’ll be well pleased ! Your kindness on the trip was something that everyone picked up on and it was welcome. The foot massage was heavenly, I owe you one. Thanks also for reminding us to look down, to take in the changing foliage and changing rocks and stones and not just be focused on the horizon and the next white foot.

To Nicola, for being a tough cookie in the face of a pesky cough. You brought a welcome dose of feminine grace to the entire exercise yet hiked strong day after day. Your calm patience despite various attempts by a couple of the boys to sneak into your mattress/ply you with alcohol under the guise of “lessons”/wash your back was amusing to watch and well-handled :-)

To John, for somehow quietly packing up and moving off every single morning while the rest of us pondered our mushy breakfast and unpacked packs. Thanks for the haunting sound of the harmonica, for a constant supply of tea and that gentlemanly manner that warmed the girls’ hearts (Pat, you’ve scored a gem of a man !).

To Bruce, the Bunny Wabbit himself, for tackling almost every chain first, finding the route on the 5th day and being in such good spirits all the time. For the record, despite your manly attempts at being an oke, you survived 8 days without a klap because – brace yourself – you’re a nice guy. And don’t worry, I won’t mention your hydrating marula moisturizer to anyone :-)

And lastly, of course to Sam, who was hiking when I was a wee pip-squeak and continues to. I’m really glad that you’re still speaking to me, I got a couple of mean and worrying looks back there. Your generosity of spirit hasn’t dimmed at all over the years nor your readiness to laugh and make others laugh. Your various “action shots” and pics have created a memory bank for this club and for intermittent hikers like me and it is a precious thing. Keep it up !

Adios

Coll

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The Naukluft Trail with Meridian Hiking Club

Posted by batman on Jun 2nd, 2006
2006
Jun 2

Burnt oranges and sienna yellows gradually crept over the expanse of the sharp, blue Namibian sky. Tired as we were, we paused for a moment from our evening scurrying to take it all in – a lone tree on the skyline, zebra in the distance. We, the 7 hikers who took on the Naukluft in June 2006 were at Kapokvlakte shelter on our last night of the trail. The next day we would be walking away from the experience of this place, from the stillness. I remember standing there in that moment watching emotions flicker across the faces around me. Awe, relief, fatigue and, on all, a simple appreciation for this place. John played his harmonica for us one last time and it seemed to capture the essence of what that the landscape had been for us – beautiful, stark, alone. I realized with a great exhalation that we had done it, we had faced the challenges of both this terrain and ourselves and had the good fortune to walk away, both humbler and stronger.

The journey to that point had begun many weeks before. I had been keen to head to Namibia, never having seen that country before and the Fish River Canyon hike had never really gripped my imagination. I can’t recall when or how I found out about the Naukluft, an 8 day hike in a the Namib Naukluft to the north west of the Fish, but it stuck in my mind for a long time. Fortunately there were other interested parties keen to go – Woody had also been interested for some time and others, a couple of whom were ambivalent at first but all of whom eventually committed to what would be a one-of-a-kind trip: Daja, Sam, Bruce, Nicola and John. We were lucky to have two 4×4 drivers who were willing to drive us north – Sam and Woody.

The experiences of others and information from various sources shaped the hike in my mind as something very different from the multi-day Garden Route hikes I’d done before. We were talking about 8 days on our feet in mountainous terrain. The conditions would be arid – this was a desert after all, although not the typical sand dune Sahara type desert with which we are more familiar. It was a wilderness hike, which I both looked forward to and felt intimidated by – no portage here and no quick escape routes in case things went wrong. The sticking point for many was chains that would have to be ascended and descended at various points on the trail. There was also the possibility of a fatal bee swarm as bees were known to nest in kloofs on the trail. Such an attack had cost a hiker his life in 2002. Each of us took the time to make sure we were prepared though, which we later agreed made the world of difference. Credit cards were dented for down sleeping bags and good jackets. We also did a couple of long day hikes around the Peninsula beforehand and thought carefully about what to eat and how much our packs weighed. We clarified who had allergies to bee stings and took precautions accordingly. Eventually, one Sunday morning, we packed it all in and headed north into a different land.

It was a surreal start, Woody, Daja and myself picked up Bruce Wayne [***] at his home in [***]. Do I call him Batman or Heathcliff ?, I wondered. Daja’s cat had begun the day evidently a lot more nervous about her leaving for the Naukluft than she was and decided to express her/his anxiety all over her backpack. Cat-peed pack, Batman and all we proceeded on the N7, intending to meet Sam, John and Nicola, who were traveling separately, for breakfast. We eventually did so, but not before Woody’s table – originally secured to the top of his trailer- propelled itself off the trailer, possibly leaving a decapitated guinea fowl and a surprised motorist somewhere on the roadside. We were unaware of this happening though and Woody was not prepared to do a search for it.

After a breakfast of hellos and happy tummies, we negotiated the road north past the massif of the Cederberg. Johnny Cash, solo and smoky as he walked the line and Neil Young, wistfully singing about a blonde biker on a desert highway, filled the air. Outside the land changed. Bitterfontein, a disheveled set of smallholdings and houses, appeared and disappeared almost as quickly on our left on a patchwork of orange and green grass. Bruce, who had been on that road a couple of years before, remarked that the place was much greener than normal. Large bulbs of granite began to appear, scattered everywhere, signaling the presence of various forms of rock – we would discover that rocks and minerals are an important element of this part of the world. We reached Springbok, quiet on a Sunday and paused for a bite before heading to the border crossing. Cape Town was beginning to feel very far away, like it was clinging to the lush, green tip of Africa, far from the dry, kokerboom-sprinkled place though which we were now passing.

The crossing at Vioolsdrif was marked by a shift from the computererised South African border post to the paper-based system of the Namibian government. I spied slightly inbred, slightly feral looking hunters in khaki lurking about, clearing their rifles for entry to Namibia as we waited for Woody and Sam to have their vehicles cleared as well. A discussion on underarm roll-on – the presence or lack thereof – ensued. The views veered from “What do you mean you brought roll on ?” to “I have a really tiny lipstick version of roll-on” to “Just plait the hair under your arms like Norwegian women do and leave it”. We were beginning to get a sense of each other and understand that Woody would be our chief navigator, Nicola would impart useful advice on diet and such that would fall on deaf ears, Sam would take photos of everything that moved and many things that didn’t, John had a sublime sense of humour, Bruce would either be drinking beer or talking about it and Daja was either on speed or just naturally had the energy of 3 twenty year olds. I tried the hike leader thing for about 5 minutes then realized that this group was a sussed group of hardy and independent people who would cope just fine.

We camped at Norotshama that night, a beautiful enclave on the banks of the Gariep (as the Orange River is known in Namibia). A few of us went swimming, all of us at various moments stopped though to take in the sheer beauty and power of the river. It was interesting to realize that it begins as a little stream on the Drakensberg’s Amphitheatre, a world away. The night brought our first encounter with Woody’s Tent, which us 3 women were sharing. It took some skill to understand how to erect the hardy relic, but it was bombproof once it was up. The guys had foregone this opportunity to bond and had separate sleeping arrangements.

The next morning saw us taking an off road along the Gariep in the direction of Rosh Pinah – and what a road. As there had been floods, large parts of the sandy parts of the road had washed away. It was an i ncredibly isolated part of the world though and that began to settle into my mind. We stopped at a bridge to see what was some sort of construction vehicle lying upended on a river bed downstream – this was clearly not a place to underestimate the elements. We were headed to our spot for the evening -Lüderitz, via Rosh Pinah and Aus. As we drove I think we all realized that distance and space mean something very different in Namibia. They take on vast proportions, land rolls on for miles and miles as you drive, changing as the light falls on it but always seeming infinite.

Rosh Pinah sounded positively biblical yet came and went enveloped in dust as a bad headwind picked up. It seemed like a town built for workers, not especially hospitable. It also seemed as if the national dress of the country was the blue overalls of Namdeb, the nationalized diamond corporation that came into existence with Namibia’s independence in 1990. I wrestled often with the rhetorical question of why a country as mineral rich as this had so many who clearly were not especially well off.

At any rate, while I contemplated the social ills of the world, the air was becoming progressively colder outside, feeling almost Arctic as we arrived at Aus, our last pitstop before Lüderitz. Not yet understanding what they mean in Namibia when they speak of a town, we had had high hopes for Aus, of possibly finding a meal and a loo. As Bruce observed however, its not everyday that you need a 4×4 to get down the main road of a town. Aus was a sprawl of bush, houses and sand, a spiffy beer garden and a sprinkle of forlorn faces. It was above all freezing cold though, the air was fresh and things tingled.

The road from Aus to Lüderitz ran alongside the skeleton of a railway line still under construction. As we edged closer to Lüderitz, sand, more sand, wind and a jarring lunar landscape of jagged rocks greeted us. We paused for the washed out sight of Kolmanskop, an experiment in how well German architecture survives the harsh Namibian sands, long since abandoned as a ghost town. We would visit there the next day.

Lüderitz is not pretty, it felt like a place unsure of what to become when it grew up, being so defined by what it was: a German outpost on one of the harshest coastlines of Africa. Quaint buildings mingled with marine businesses housed on industrial premises. We camped at a place called Shark Island and proceeded to explore the town on foot. The most imposing building was the Lutheran church which stood like a sentinel over the town yet there were others, reminiscent of a different time and place. We enjoyed an evening meal at a seafood restaurant with a turquoise interior and a waitress who would put many of her profession serving in Cape Town restaurants to shame. The rest of the night passed in a fog of occasional rain, cloud, bells and foghorns with the ever present crash of the ocean.

The next morning we made our way to grey Agate Beach – a stretch of coastline just outside the town known for having agates and other gemstones wash up on the shore under the right tidal conditions. We scoured it, having discussed en route what would happen if any of us ever came across diamonds (which wouldn’t be as fortunate as we’d like to think as taking them out of the country and attempting to sell them is illegal). Eventually we moved off, Kolmanskop and the ‘Ghost town tour’ awaited us.

En route, Daja relayed in the car her creation myth for Namibia: that the gods made this land as harsh as this because it disguises something splendid. The most special places (she says) are where there are no diamonds and gemstones, such very special places being most unappealing to human greed. It was interesting to contemplate that people have gone to some lengths to reshape this place because of the value attributed to diamonds. We chatted about it and agreed that a) you can’t eat diamonds and b) like money, diamonds and similar elements only have the value that we attribute to it.

Yet more ponderings aside, we eventually came to Kolmanskop. I expected to be struck down by either lightning or the odd loose roof beam as I openly expressed my dismay at the architects of the place. It was an entire town built on sand dunes – I couldn’t understand what on earth these people were thinking. All of us went on the tour which was informative. One had to give the town’s inhabitants credit for improvisation – they had an ice-making facility, a fridge and a bowling alley in and amongst other hallmarks of European civilization: an enormous kitchen, a school, a hospital, houses for each of the professional men of the town, a mono rail and separate quarters for the workers. The buildings have gradually been bleached of their vivid colours though and the interiors have been overtaken by wind and sand over the last 60 years – the town having been abandoned entirely in the 1950s.

Disappointed at the lack of ghosts we moved along to find something Sam was keen on sighting and photographing: the feral horses of the Namib. One of the many things the Germans brought to Namibia with them was horses, some of whom evidently got fed up and bolted, content to roam the open lands. They have eventually grown to a population numbering in the hundreds. Through the efforts of a local researcher who created a paddock where the horses come to laze in the sun and feed, we were able to watch them and in Sam’s case, try to get close without getting stomped. They’re beautiful animals, who seem adapted to the land in which they found themselves.

From that point on we had to begin heading north – we had to be at Hiker’s Haven, the starting point of the hike the next day. The sky was clear and the day warm, allowing us to properly take in the area around us. We passed another common sight – the nests of social weaver’s on telephone poles – basically like telephone poles with enormous brown grassy afros. We would see such extended weaver families often on our hike as well. There were kamikaze animals as well though – while on the road a fox dashed out from the bush, tried to dice with Woody’s Explorer, realized that he stood no chance and headed away from the road again.

Eventually we came to Helmeringhausen – basically a hotel, petrol station and two stores, where we paused to refresh. We would return there far more happy to see it after the hike. It was a long haul from Helmeringhausen through a mishmash of back roads with names like D826 and D831. We weren’t entirely sure where we were going to camp but Woody quite rightly felt that we had to cover distance to make the next day’s driving less onerous.

As the sun set on us we drove towards the Tsaris pass and a place located on the map called Hammerstein. Around us was the contrast of dry, scratchy bush and rose petal pink skies. The sun disappeared soon and the horizon on either side levelled. After winding down the pass we came to Hammerstein, a lovely lodge where the owners squeezed us into an area outside a bungalow. We acquainted a group braaing close by, folk from the Namibian Port Authority who were generous enough to share a whole snoek, some Namibian beer (phooey) and conversation with us. The night was even worse than the Arctic temperatures at Aus though. After erecting the tent with numb fingers, the ladies decided to crash on the floor of the bungalow and awoke the next day glad to have done so – there was ice covering the outside of the tent. I was concerned, if this was any indication of the Naukluft’s temperatures, we were in for a rough hike.

We packed up the next morning and as a special treat, were shown a couple of wild cats that Hammerstein kept on their grounds for rehabilitation. There was a cheetah – a tawny, beautiful animal with mesmerizing golden eyes called Caesar who’s large enclave we could enter. In the enclave next door was a leopard happily gnawing at the hoof of a buck. She glanced over at us through a fence with a more aggressive eye than the cheetah. She was called Lucy and had a bit of a temper so we couldn’t enter her area. Lastly, we had a quick look at the last set of cats – a pair of rooikatte called Romeo and Juliet who hissed emphatically, annoyed that we were disturbing their morning sunning session.

From that point on the group split – half heading directly to Hiker’s Haven and the others driving to the midpoint shelter to drop off food packs. The great thing about the Naukluft is that one need not carry 8 days worth of food. A metal cabinet is provided at the midpoint shelter where one can leave the last 4 days worth of food. It is quite a detour to get there though. Sam, Nicola and I headed for Tsams Ost, the midpoint while singing to Tina Turner. After dropping the packs we took a circular route back, passing a very swank lodge in the Naukluft built next to tall petrified dunes. Its odd to look at mountains of stone and then hills of red sand but such is the contrast one finds there. We headed to Hiker’s Haven taking in Solitaire and the sight of graders, men who’s lives are spent maintaining the unending network or Namibian roads.

Most of the time at Hiker’s Haven was spent moving about deep in thought, packing and repacking packs as we considered what we were letting ourselves in for. The walls of the house (it is more house than hut) is covered with messages that other hikers have left as the house is also where one returns after the trail. Some people sounded as if they had found God as a result of the suffering on the walk, others lamented sore feet and there were a few “never again” comments. It seemed as if there had only been one fatality, the unfortunate hiker stung to death while descending a chain. That evening, Richard and Katherine stopped by out of the blue – they had planned on doing the hike but opted to do a few day walks instead. As the evening progressed we braaied, fought with the hot water gas thing and chatted with our visitors about their impressions of the place so far. Before long it was time to pack in, pack up and rest, anticipating the next day, the beginning.

We agreed to an early start to every day as being winter, the days were short and so we began the next day ready to roll at 7am Namibian time (South African time + 1 hour). We were to leave our cars at the nearby Park office and take off from there, into the hills. After a few solemn words we were off, heading to Putte shelter, our first on the trail. The path criss-crossed a river bed before winding up a hill then snaking along it. We overlooked yellow brush and scrub – the Naukluft park seemed to go on forever. This is not the Whale Trail nor is it the Tsitsikamma – on the face of it there’s nothing verdant about much of this place. It certainly took us a while to grow accustomed to it.

The path made its way along a contour path called the Zebra Highway. Daja excitedly pointed out a number of flowers and plants that she had not seen before bringing to mind that we were out of the fynbos world and in a very different ecosystem. The Zebra Highway proceeded for some time before heading over a few bumps to the shelter. We were surprised – we arrived there in the middle of the afternoon, with enough time to spare for lazing around. We had to grow accustomed to the unnerving buzzing of bees though. At first we thought the toilet was a bee nest but that fortunately turned out not to be the case. It also meant that we didn’t know where the bees were which was both good and bad. We also had to get used to the first of many water pump devices used at the shelters. The evening was amusing: John quipped that he had decided to grow his fuzz and not shave – Nicola responded that she’d planned on doing the same thing. Woody began an improvised story that each of us expanded on that wound up describing alien octopuses on hallucinogenics in the Gardens Centre. John polished off his ration of alcohol for 3 nights on this, the first, while telling us about Gay Gordon style dancing. Sam claimed the next morning to have seen zebras bonking in the moonlight after we had all nodded off. Clearly fresh air brings out the best in people.

The next day was the one we were all very wary of – the descent into Ubusis Kloof. Ubusis hut, our destination, lies at the far end of a kloof that one reaches after descending 4 chains and passing the place where the 2002 hiker had been stung to death. We weren’t taking chances, John, who had consulted a bee expert, said that the best repellant was good old fashioned Doom, which each of us dutifully bought. As we headed into the kloof that day, we covered up, Bruce looking like the Sultan of Oman with his sleeping bag’s mesh bag over his head. We smelled bad, Doom does not make good deodorant, but we grimly sprayed away. The kloof was quite a sight, it meandered along over rocks for a long while in the shade. The parts that required descent by chains were manageable for the most part – lying at an inward gradient. There were 4 chains to be negotiated before we reached a river bed along which we boulder-hopped for a good few kilometres. It was a long afternoon, longer than the 14km on the map (we were learning not to trust the one paragraph official route descriptions nor the scale of the map). We passed into a veritable forest of old kokerbome though, larger than any others we had seen.

Ubusis Hut was an experience, it was run down and neglected with a shower square in the middle of the place and a shower curtain held together with a lick and a promise. The sight of the shower was enough to propel Nicola into a lone part of the bush where she proved that you can wash yourself with a Camelbak if you have to. The rest of us meandered about, Daja massaging a couple of grateful pairs of feet while Woody relayed his tale of a rat (or something) running across his head the night before.

The next day was far more relaxed than the first, we felt less intimidated by the chains – even doing a group shot on the longest one for Sam. It was tantalizing to find fresh leopard spoor along the way as well. There were rock pools to enjoy at tea time before we trudged out into the heat of the day towards Adlerhorst shelter, our stop for that night. We stopped in the middle of the day for lunch and to take a break from walking in the heat. This was unfortunate for a prostrate, blue lizard who was either having an out of body experience or dying – Daja managed to pick him up and concuss him by dropping him. She was contrite though, and politely put him back where she found him.

Adlerhorst shelter – our first and only circular shelter – was found early in the day as well out on an open plain. We were getting into the cycle – arriving at the shelter, booking our spot on the gravel inside then washing up. I strapped an emergency blanket against one end of the open shelter to allow the women to wash in peace and quiet. Woody of course, proceeded to walk around the blanket (our “modesty blanket”) just to prove that men have great potential to be sneaky. Bruce collapsed and snoozed after telling us that the best way to do this hike was with medication – a combination of Myprodol and whisky. Later in the day, Daja relayed her escapades as a housekeeper extraordinaire in England. Picture it: a hairless demented English countess poking Daja in the direction of the fire she has blazing at 10 in the morning. Daja happened to build this fire with the countess’ own furniture, stored in the barn. The countess however took a disliking to Daja regardless of her efforts to save the woman from the inclement English weather. The dislike it would seem, was mutual. The rest of the afternoon was long and lazy and as we nodded off to sleep Woody shyly unpacked his pillow that evening – it had Simba, the lion king on the cover and belongs to one of his sons. Sleeping was another affair entirely, with the snorers and whistlers amongst us highlighted for future reference. The nights were long though but we were eventually too tired to mind.

The next day was when I felt the hike really began – the walk from Adlerhorst to Tsams Ost was scheduled to be 17km. We all woke up at a ridiculously early hour after falling asleep at 8:30. The walk from Adlerhorst took us into a place called Zebra Kloof (no originality with naming conventions in these parts) which looked to me as if it had fantastic potential for climbing. It was not straightforward walking though with a fair amount of boulder-hopping. The kloof was simply a pleasure to walk in though, a tranquil place of beautiful sandstone. It was another hot day so we were quite grateful for the shade it offered but eventually we had to ascend out of it, taking quite a steep route up. We wound our way along the edge of a valley and, at it’s highest point, looked back and saw that Zebra kloof ended in a massive dry waterfall, a long section of sheer rock. The path took a very steep drop on patches of loose slate before winding up in the bottom of that same valley onto a river bed. We broke for a leisurely lunch, the greater part of the day’s walking behind us. There are large number of dry river beds in the park, and the route is on them a lot of the time. The group split after that as Daja, Bruce and myself paused at an old Moringa tree with an enormous circumference. Imaginatively, we baptized the tree “Fattie” and promptly had a discussion about fat people, which was so engaging that we managed to get ever so slightly lost. The trail is well marked for the most part by white feet on a good path but ever so often, the guys seem to have run out of paint and one has to scratch about to figure out what’s going on. Eventually we were back on track and plodding on a 2km stretch of jeep track to Tsams Ost. We had looked forward to this night for a while, pondering the prospect of yummy foods and beer from the cabinet and even joking about having a talent show that night. The food and beer was fortunately intact and waiting for us and as usual we washed with yet another peculiar water pump, then ate and drank. Woody managed to get a fire going around which we wound down the evening, some of us rendering our talent concert contributions. John quite sweetly delivered a specially adapted Naukluft poem to the melody of ‘Born under a wandering star’ and Woody relayed a tale of Jack the Hunter on a submarine, dealing with dodgy meatballs. Bruce brought us to a standstill as well with a sad but sincere rendition of the Roger Whittaker song “I don’t believe in if anymore”. After days of hearing about the manliness of Buffalo Bruce from no less than Buffalo Bruce himself it was interesting to see his flip side. As interesting, in fact as seeing Woody strolling about in his thermal underwear and boots, having forgotten his sheepskin slippers at home. Sam, ironically, decided to take action against the snorers that night and was noted to be flinging a water bottle at John while he was asleep as a hint to pipe down. John took umbrage to such action and flung the bottle back at Sam, and so it proceeded while the rest of us slept. A point of concern at that stage was Nicola’s cough, something she had picked up early on in the hike and hadn’t managed to shake. She was hiking very well day after day but sounded as if her lungs were giving out.

The next day held a big ascent up a hill appropriately called Broekskeur. We made our way along past Euphorbia and Quiver trees before reaching a pump at lunchtime that didn’t have much in the way of water. I think we were all beginning to feel the toll of the hike at this point, we were in the middle of the fifth day and poor unfortunates like me had managed to cram a little too much food into their pack from the reserve held at Tsams Ost. Most of the day was spent on open plains in the heat – another 17km day. We wound our way along a valley in stillness, reaching some shade and a river bed before realizing that we weren’t seeing any feet. I nervously watched the sun as we scoured about, looking for the path. Bruce eventually found a foot and the route and we plodded along – spying a kudu family who looked at us as quizzically as we did them.

We soon found ourselves on a road to the next shelter which was called Die Valle – a place which has the most incredible situation of all of the shelters – one can see large and imposing mountains all around it and a tall, dry waterfall a few kilometers to one side. We found our first bug at Die Valle – a scorpion that we deduced was poisonous. John, unfazed by the menacing look of its tail, scooped it onto a plastic plate and flung the unfortunate insect into the bush. (The score so far: Bush creatures 0, Meridians 2). The evening was warm and passed without the scorpion having called up his buddies to infest the shelter. There was a surprising lack of insects, bugs, snakes etc on the hike – not at all disappointing but quite lucky considering how much of a problem a real emergency would be to deal with. The trail is not entirely isolated but nor is it easy to reach park officials who are not necessarily able to deal with emergencies.

The walk to Tufa shelter the next day was easily my favourite. We had a steep and rocky climb up a section called ‘Groot Hartseer’ before reaching a contour path. We wound along it past beautiful rock pools, at one point looking over the enormous dry waterfall which we had spied from the hut previously. The path took us to a place called “Tufa Cave” which was basically coffee-coloured mousse-like rock in a cave-like formation. Tufa was quite different from the sandstone and slate that we had seen so far, much more porous and quite distinct. We walked from that point on along an almost unending river bed in an area called the Quartz valley, to the very end of the riverbed itself. By that point, we all felt fatigue, walking on rocks constantly being more of a challenge than a simple path.

The road from the end of the riverbed towards Tufa shelter was much better, winding down winding hills along an old mountain road. We skirted a kloof which was beautifully green saw yet more mountains off to the east, the direction that we were now taking. The trail makes a big loop, heading from east to west then back again. It is possible to do it as a 4 day hike only, but that is unfortunate as the most spectacular sights are on second half of the hike. Tufa shelter was found after a 400m drop, surprisingly close to civilization – a generator of some sort was not too far off and a park ranger was tidying the hut as we arrived. He shared with us tales of hyenas who hang around in those parts and are liable to eat anything they presume to be dead, including the extremities of sleeping hikers. We were not impressed.

Nicola and John must easily have had the lightest packs by that stage: Daja was bizarrely collecting rocks en route, Bruce had a pack that only the superhuman could lift, I was still eating my way through my oversupply of food and Sam seemed to produce pink Pronutro, of which he evidently had an unending supply of. Our entertainment at Tufa shelter was a red-eyed headlamp stuck in an eye socket of a zebra skull. Say no more

The climb from Tufa the next day was by far the most challenging for me and also the one on which we were to face the longest chain. We set off into a kloof along which we scrambled for a while. It wasn’t the most fun, heading up fairly smooth rock while weighed down with a large pack, especially when we bypassed a dead zebra, rigor mortis already leaving him almost comically with legs in the air. We moseyed on though, eventually reaching the foot of a 28m chain which was meant to be at the foot of dry waterfall.

The waterfall was in fact anything but dry. Running with water, mossy and slippery but not dry. The chain that we would ascend hung over a few agitated bees but was strung around an old tree out of the way of the waterfall for the bottom section None of us were particularly impressed by this as there was no doubt that taking a fall from up there would kill the unfortunate soul who slipped.

Being hardy hikers though we climbed on, myself and Nicola electing not to take our packs across the slippery top section. I felt incredulous and a bit pissed off that I was hanging off a rusty chain, strung around an old tree and, at the top, a boulder. With a considerable amount of teamwork though we eventually made it to the top but, as John observed, that was not something to be repeated. I waved my fists and pouted my lips at what I considered to be completely unsafe before realizing that we had chosen to come here, understanding the risks. We broke for tea and in a last bid attempt to get rid of food, I shared my secret stash of pig’s ears. Woody observed one of his lasting impressions of the walk then, that women, unlike men it would seem, go to lengths to take care of themselves on trips like these. Chicks 1, Dudes 0 :-)

The walk proceeded up the rest of the kloof, eventually topping out at a place called World’s View. It was aptly named as one felt to be on the roof of the Naukluft – in effect we were at its highest point, more than 1900m up. We were headed now to our last shelter – Kapokvlakte, which was found after a long, long trek on the vlakte themselves. We did however see springbok and zebra, which managed to draw attention from our ailing feet. The evening at Kapokvlakte shelter passed well but was chilly – Bruce relaying the dropping temperature to us until night fell.

The next day was the walk homewards – we passed through a place with the unfortunate name of the Never Ending Hills before dropping steeply into the umpteenth river bed. This was an altogether different river bed as there as an actual river to be found further along in it. It was quite a beautiful spot with large overhanging trees and rock pools, a serene and fitting end to a hike such as this. Winding our way along the river we eventually, almost surprisingly found ourselves on the road running past Hiker’s Haven, a few metres from the house itself. We were happy to see it, dreaming about beer, beverages, soft shoes and meals that didn’t involve Pronutro, Pro Vita, couscous or dehydrated meals. We had done it, completed an epic and we felt that way.

The rest of the trip was a pleasant way to round it off – we headed to Sesriem where warm vetkoek, slap chips and cold Grapetiser awaited us at the campsite as well as a pool. We spent the following morning at Sossusvlei, trying to scale Dune 17 in a buffeting wind on the way there. Sossusvlei was desolate, the wind however made it unpleasant and ruined Bruce and Daja’s chances of ascending the highest of the dunes there, which they had wanted to do. From Sossusvlei we headed to Sesriem Canyon, a strange kilometer-long mini canyon cut in the water by years of the passage of the Tsauchab river.

We made our way back to Helmeringhausen from there, booking ourselves into the hotel as a special treat. It was a lovely place with everything that we needed – beds, a shower and a 3 course meal. We decided to dress for dinner and spoiled ourselves, deservedly. The next day we said goodbye to what is a magical place and headed south, headed home.

Respectfully taken from the Blog of Colleen Louw (http://naukluft06.blogspot.com/)

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Namib-Naukluft Hiking Trail

Posted by batman on Jun 1st, 2006
2006
Jun 1

The Naukluft Hiking Trail is situated in the South of Namibia in the easternmost portion of the Namib Naukluft Park. The eight day hike covers 120km of undisturbed nature over extremely rough terrain. The lowest point on the trail is at 1250m with the highest at 1950m above sea level. Hiking is limited to the period between 1 March and 31 October because of excessively high summer temperatures. Even in mid-winter daytime temperatures can rise above 30 degrees.

It is not reccommended for unfit hikers, and is considered tough even by regular hikers. All hikers must have a medical report valid less than 30 days from the start date for submission to the nature conservator at the Naukluft Park Office. There is a steel locker at the Tsams Ost shelter on day 4 where you can leave food parcels for the second 4 days. This necessitates a 5 hour round trip to drop off. The trail starts and finishes at Naukluft campsite where there are camping facilities, firewood and hot showers.

The going is rough,dry and hot. You must carry a waterbottle (2-litres minimum) and use water sparingly. Fires are not permitted, so you must have a camping stove. Underfoot is hard, steep and rocky. Overnight temperatures may drop to freezing. Warm clothing is essential.

You walk through many dry river canyons which often have very steep sections which are negotiated with the aid of chains. If you are afraid of hights then this trail is not for you. A 20m length of light rope will definitely come in handy for lowering and lifting packs for people who find the steeper sections a bit daunting.

Animals you may encounter on the trail include Steenbok, Springbok, Oryx, Kudu, Mountain Zebra, Dassie Rat, Chacma Baboon, Rock Dassie, Klipspringer. The Hartmann’s mountain zebra is endemic to the area. Over 200 bird species have been documented. Snakes and scorpions also abound and you are advised to be on your guard at all times.

“Hikers Haven” is a delightful cottage at the Naukluft campsite provided as part of the trail. You can stay here the night before you start the trail and the night you finish. There is hot water with a shower and bath and a large outside area with braai facilities. The perfect place to begin and end the trail.

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