There is Just No Good News

It started on the 7th of August 2010.  The team consisted of Johan Bakkes, Doc, Kallie, Kokkie, Bonte, Paul and I. Before the hike commenced there were several e-mails flying between the lot of us, and it boiled down to one specific point:  All had to be intensely aware that water will be the main problem once we start the hike.

The idea was to hike down the Kuiseb River, from the bridge to Homeb.  The main limiting factor would be water, or rather the lack of water.  At about 17:00 the team were dropped at the bridge, and camp was set up around the first bend in the river. Our very first sighting were a small herd of young kudu, and it is a good indication that there is water around.  So it was, an open pool of stagnant water, slightly brackish to taste.  Food was prepared and we still had 20 litres of clean water, and it was used to good effect.

That night I had a good look at the men that would join me on this hike, and to be blunt, some of them seemed a bit old, what a surprise I would later get!!

At 05:00 Kallie awoke the camp with a lively “Good morning friends”.  This was to be the wake call every day.  At 06:00 we were off, and what a flying start.  All of us carried at least 7 litres of water and more, as well as a variety of other tools like spades, pots and other camp gear.  The rucksacks were heavy to say the least.  We would walk, at a very good pace, for half an hour and then rest for a while.  The first 2 hours we hiked in the shade of the canyon, and then the sun started beating down on us. At the 3rd stop of the day, Kallie and I started comparing distances with our Global Positioning Systems, and since then there were not a lot of good news.  Our distances were totally different, and would stay that way until we hit the Gaub River.

Lunch started at 12:00 and ended at 14:00.  After lunch we will walk for another hour or until we get a good water source.  On that first day, we found a pool at around 15:00.  While I and Kallie and Paul were discussing the virtues of the pool, the rest of the gang arrived.  Death were seen in there eyes, and by that I mean, some of the big men were tired, really tired.  Camp was made not far from the pool, and a “gorra” was dig next to the pool, in order for water to slowly cipher through. The pool was slightly reddish in colour, with a strong taste of Rock Hyrax urine, and an after taste of Mountain Zebra dung.  The pool was thus aptly named “Rock Hyrax Urine fountain”.

Day 2 saw us heading further into the canyon.  Thus far we have seen Oryx, Mountain Zebra and even some Klipspringer, so game were quite plentiful.  Slowly the canyon started narrowing as we walked south.  Underfoot it was extremely deceiving.  Smallish pebbles covered most of the ground, but once you set foot onto them, they will give way, and you will end up in very soft sand.  To avoid the pebbles you could walk in clearly soft sand, so we were between the devil and the deep blue sea.  The pace did not drop however, and my respect for these men grew as the day draw on. Kallie was in the lead most of the time, followed by the rest of us.  As we neared a bend in the river I could hear Helmeted Guinea fowl making some noises and whistling a lot.  Suddenly I saw the guys ahead of me stop, and as I looked ahead of them, I saw a Leopard running away into an inlet branching off from the main river.  All the guys were stunned into silence, and one could see the awe and happiness in their faces about this sighting.

Lunch on day 2 was at a beautiful big pool, the best one we have found thus far.  There were even some small fish in the pool and it was really cold and clear.  Sadly that was not our camp for the evening.

Again at about 15:00 we found a relatively big pool, and decided to camp here.  By this time there have been several discussions about going on further down the Kuiseb or trying to take a detour via the Gaub River.  The main reason behind this was that as soon as we pass the Gaub river inlet, the Kuiseb River starts to open up, and the pools of water will disappear quickly.  We can still dig, but we would have to dig to a depth of 8 metres or more.  The decision was made to walk out via the Gaub River.

At this stage Kallie and I were very nearly agreeing on how far it still was to the Gaub and how far we have come thus far.  Several mathematical calculations were used, sometimes add 40 %, sometimes add 120 %, but in the end we came to the same conclusion.  Doc and Johan Bakkes are the really clever guys of the group and they doubted the distances severely, but kept walking, like true men.

08:00 the next day we reached the Gaub River inlet, and started hiking up with it.  The idea was to reach the Gaub fountain for the evening’s camp.  I have been to the fountain 11 years ago, and it would come back to haunt me badly during that day.  The Gaub canyon started very narrow and very spectacular.  At one bend we found a Zebra digging a “gorra”, totally oblivious of us.  For a while we stood there, watching nature unfold in front of our eyes.  The sun was in our faces and the wind in our hair, the beauty of the Gaub was in our eyes, and we could smell the bushes and grass in the river.  We were slowly becoming one with nature.

Later in the day we came upon a big herd of Zebra, and from there the wildlife increased dramatically in numbers.  Lunch was had in the shade of a high cliff, and yet no fountain was in sight.  We started of again, water running low in our water bottles, but still firm in the believe that the fountain is near.  Two rest stops later, still no good news, as there were still no fountain.  Baboons in the hills, and a lot of animal paths indicated that there must be open water somewhere, but we just could not find it.  Finally we decided that we would walk for another half an hour and then start digging for water.  At this stage we only found 1 pool of water, so water in the Gaub was even scarcer than in the Kuiseb River.  As we came around a bend, the fountain appeared.  What joy there was in my heart, because I was doubting myself immensely by that stage.

Open and cool water and a brilliant camp site we found.  I, Kallie, Bonte and Paul walked upstream to realise that the fountain is nearly 1 kilometre long, with very fresh water near the start of the fountain.  Birdlife in abundance, and Mountain Zebra coming down to drink, as we sat and watched the sun set.  That evening there were some song around the campfire, and one could sense that the mood was light and cheerful.

The next day we reached the low water bridge at about 07:30.  We walked a total of 60 kilometres during the 3 days.  Andre van Niekerk of Wild at Heart Safaris collected us from the bridge.

What a hike it was. It was hard, and the pace set by the team was never less than 4 km/hour, at times 6 km/hour.  Each member of the team contributed in his own way.  The banter taking place and also the serious chats around the campfire will always stay in my mind.  Johan Bakkes with all his stories of his travels, walking stronger every day.  Doc, a man that does not hike that often, yet was always there when we rested.  Bonte, the oldest of the group, walking with his easy pace, seemingly not sinking into the soft sand.  Paul, the nature lover, always walking by every pool to look for tracks, eyes always scanning the sky for birds, and then Kallie, the quickest of us all. A long stride and never seeming to tire, he led us most of the way. Kokkie got blisters on the first day, treated them, and never looked back.  I could see he was limping at one stage but never had I heard a word of self pity, he bit on his teeth and kept going.

Although the news was not always good, this group of men were hikers of extreme competence.  To be honest I think the best I have walked with thus far, and I already did some serious hiking in Namibia and elsewhere. It was a soul enriching experience for me, and I will use the memories to provide me with fuel for my mind when on long and lonely hikes in Namibia.

Kobus  Alberts

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