Kuiseb River exploration hike

With permission granted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Namibia, the Kuiseb River, situated in the Namib Naukluft Park, was hiked and explored by Kobus Alberts and Mark Hannaford. The two man team has done several hikes and expeditions together over a large variety of terrains. (The Kuiseb River is the last ephemeral river that still reaches the Atlantic Ocean on occasion. It is also the only barrier between the sand sea of the Namib Desert in the South, and the gravel plains to the North.) The hike started on the 29th of February 2008 at the Kuiseb Bridge, approximately 14:00. It ended at Homeb on the 4th of March, approximately 18:15. Total distance covered on foot was 107,75 Km. Day 1. The Kuiseb River was flowing quite strongly when the hike commenced. About 200 metres downstream of the Kuiseb Bridge our walking boots had to be exchanged for sandals and sneakers, as we would be walking in and out of water all the time. (The original plan was that we would be walking in the riverbed, with no flowing water. The river bed was supposed to be wet and the sand compact, from previous floods, and this would have made walking even easier. As luck would have it, this was not to be the case.) The first day we walked from 14:00 to 18:00. After passing Carp cliff, the home of two (2) German geologists during the 2nd World War, we found a suitable campsite and made camp. The canyon is still relatively wide at this stage, about 50 to 70 metres in width on average. Walking was still easy, as the river was shallow and mainly consists of gravel river bed. Night fall occurs around 19:40, and usually by that time, dinner were already had. Usually at 20:15, when it is totally dark, nothing else was left, but to sleep. Total distance covered for that day was 9,71 Km. Day 2. The day started at 05:30. After the water has boiled, rusks were washed down with a cup of coffee. This constituted breakfast as well. As the canyon is very deep most of the time, the sun does not reach its corners until later in the day. First light, or light enough to see, were at 07:00, and that is also the time when the team started their walking again. This also helped a lot in covering as much distance as possible before it becomes too hot. Being on several adventures together before, Mark and me had a good repertoire, and this showed in the hike as well. We will walk for an hour and then rest for 10 minutes, and that is how it stayed for the rest of the adventure. Lunch consisted out of “Provita’s” and cheese wedges. Water was filtered during our lunch breaks as well. Lunch would start at 12:30 and end at 14:00. From 18:00 the team would start scouting for a suitable campsite, and when on was spotted, the day ended. Usually the days ended at about 18:30. No fires were made, and all our food was prepared on a gas stove. Water was taken from the river, and then filtered. As the water was extremely dirty, the filter pump had to be cleaned after each litre filtered. The distance covered on the second day was 23,6 Km. The canyon started narrowing, and the water in the river got deeper and deeper as we went. The canyon width was about 15 – 25 meters on average. Mountain Zebra and Klipspringer were seen very regularly. The Zebra’s sometimes did not notice us and came down to have a drink from the river. The Klipspringer was more alert however. Day 3. At 07:01 we were walking in the water. 2,41 Km from Camp 2, we found the Gaub river. It is quite a big tributary and showed a lot of flow where it enters the Kuiseb River. By this time the team realised they were falling behind in the distance department. We needed to cover at least 30 Km a day, but due to quicksand and mud, this did not materialise. The total distance covered during this day was 15,04Km. At one stage we covered 1,4 Km in one hour. This was really energy draining to say the least. Waist deep mud at places and fast flowing water slowed the team down considerably. Due to this situation, we had to resort to boulder scrambling, and was making use of Zebra trails whenever the opportunity presented itself. At times the trials will lead away from the river and then we had to make our own way back to the river only to find a drop of 20 meters. As there was nowhere else to go, these drops had to be negotiated. This usually meant that the rucksacks were taken off, one man would go down and the equipment passed down, and then only could the other man come down. Day 3 also saw us reaching the area where the Sand dunes of the Namib start appearing on the South bank of the Kuiseb River. This is an amazing sight, to see the stark red colours mixed with the grey of the cliffs and rocks. Game got less and less, as the cliffs became steeper. We camped in a big tributary on the south bank of the river. The original plan was the camp outside on top of the banks each night, but due to the immense height of the banks this did not materialise. I did however climb to the very top of the South bank, and could see Barrow berg, so knew we were not far from Zebra Pan. That night while preparing food we discussed the possibility of not finishing the route, due to the extreme confines and other obstacles we were facing. Plan B were to be that at 11:00 the next morning. If the Canyon did not become wider, the team will move out of the river and walk to Zebra Pan. There we will then make contact with our back team, and be picked up. It was with apprehension that we went to bed that night. Day 4. After the usual breakfast the team hit the trail again. The canyon was still very narrow, but I was very sure it will open up later in the day. At about 09:40 we caught sight of a sandbank again, and what a pretty sight it was. We could now see that slowly the canyon was becoming wider again. The quicksand and mud also became less frequent and that helped the team a lot. To aid us further in our progress we could also make use of “corner cutting” One could see where the river was flowing, and by using game trails cut big corners of the walk, instead of sticking to the riverbed the whole time. As the River opens up, the game numbers increase, especially the bird life. While I was walking in front I nearly stepped on a Horned Adder. Luckily it was a small one, and not too much bothered by us. It lazily moved away. Just around the next corner I once again walked right into a juvenile Western Banded Spitting Cobra. He was much more agitated and showed it y standing upright and showing his hood. Luckily he also moved away after a while. By now the team knew they could finish this adventure the next day, and this simple thought kept us going well into dusk that day. The team covered 27,17 Km during day 4. Day 5. The last coffee and breakfast were enjoyed with gusto and laughter. The team realised that the river will not become narrow again, thus the walking speed could be increased. And increase it did. Mark is a tall guy with long legs so he really stretched them, and I had to keep up. Also keep in mind that by this time most of our food was gone, so our rucksacks were much lighter than what we started with. The South bank of the Kuiseb was now mainly covered with the red sand of the Namib, and the North side, boasted gravel plains and mountains. To please the photographer in the team we climbed out of the river into the dunes, and once we had to get back we really struggled to find a pathway as the bank is totally hemmed in by plants and trees. The river widens and this leads to more plant life. The last 5 Kilometres we thought we will have a good walk to Homeb, but once again the “Lord of the Kuiseb” had other plans. Instead of quicksand or deep mud, our next obstacle was extremely slippery mud. To further fool us, this mud was covered in leaves and dry sand so it looked really good to walk on, until you step onto it. Slipping and sliding the last couple of kilometres were to be our destiny. The team reached the settlement of Homeb around 18:15 on the last day. The distance from Camp 4 to Homeb was 32,23 Km. Our back up team in the form of Andre van Niekerk, of Wild At heart Safaris, arrived with a cool box full of cold beer, and thus our adventure down the Kuiseb River ended.

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