THREE WOMEN AND THE FISH RIVER CANYON
Three women, Frau Ulrike, Frau Elisabeth, Frau Gerlinde Pinter and myself as guide, descended into the Fish River Canyon in Namibia during the morning of the 15th of July. The descent is about 420 metres, and it was slow going. The morning was chilly, but with the excitement in the air, everyone was warm and ready to get walking.
Initially the going was good, but soon the weight of the rucksacks started taking their toll. Luckily for me all three ladies were in good shape and fit enough for the walk. Gerlinde and Ulrike took the lead, while I and Liz kept up a steady pace as we went down into the 2nd biggest canyon in the world. At about 13:00 we reached the bottom of the canyon, and once everyone had lunch we started the hike in all earnest.
Before I carry on with the tale of the hike I must just first mention the other hikers that would grace our walk. As we descended several young men passed us, and they were part of a group of 7 hikers from South Africa. In front of us were a group of three hikers, also from South Africa. During our hike in the canyon we will get to know these people really well, and I could sense a real sense of camaraderie between hiking groups as we passed and overtook each other.
After lunch we walked for another 3 hours before we found a nice little beach where we pitched camp for the night. After collecting some wood, water was filtered and collected and soon the pot was boiling for coffee and tea. The spirit in the camp was slightly tense, as we discussed what lay ahead, and the pace that we were currently setting. Liz was really struggling and looked tired after the descent. I had to make a call, and after discussing the route and what lays ahead in detail with all three the ladies, the call was to carry on. (In the end it turned out to be the correct decision!)
Day 2 saw us heading off at 08:00 after a quick breakfast of Muesli and coffee. The terrain underfoot was a mixture of sand and rock, and every now and again we had to cross the river to get to the other side. A routine was set and the plan was that we would walk for an hour, and then rest for 10 minutes. At first it did not work, as the ladies were still a bit tired and tried to drag out the rest periods. Later in the week, this routine paid dividends.
Following the twists and turns of the Canyon is not always easy. As soon as you have a walking rhythm going, you have to negotiate boulders and the pace would drop to about 1 kilometre per hour. I tried to keep a pace of at least 4 kilometres an hour going, but this proved to be quite difficult. Our aim for the day was to pass the Sulphur Springs, or to camp nearby. After a long lunch we set off again, and at 16:00 arrived at Sulphur Springs. The ladies dearly wanted to bath, so the decision was made to camp there. Not the most scenic of campsites, but the hot water flowing from the spring into the Fish River, proved to mend body and soul. The morale of the group clearly was much higher than the previous night.
The same ritual as the previous night was held again, collect fire wood, collect water, then some coffee and tea. (The ladies clearly did not like the taste of the water on the first day, but at the end of the second day, they were much more used to it, and realised it a necessary ingredient, if they were to complete the 85 kilometres.)
The third day saw us leaving camp at 07:30, and that really lifted my spirit. The group of students passed us again, and as before we will pass them again later in the day, stopping for a chat and some laughter, and that was to be the same every day. Later we got to know them by their names, and it was very good fun to hear the banter between the groups.
It did seem like the canyon were become slightly wider at places, and crossing the river became easier as we slowly moved south in our quest. Passing the sandy slopes we steadily made our way to a campsite about 3 kilometres before the first short cut. Game and birdlife were not too abundant, but we did see a Fish Eagle and 3 Klipspringer that were quite tame, or rather used to people.
After a good nights rest, we were off again at 08:00. (The ladies were getting used to sleeping under the stars, and although there was some snoring to be heard, they always slept well.)
As we started walking we came upon another group of 6 women that we did not previously knew of. After a chat we found out that they were a day late already in their hike, and some of their group have lost a sleeping bag and they found the going very tough. Of course it lifted our morale even higher, because the ladies realised they can do this hike. (I just must add here that the youngest of the three women were 51 years of age and the oldest nearly 60, so they were a very mature group that I led.)
The first shortcut took us over a jutting rock outcrop, and saved us quite a lot of hiking in the river bed. At this point I realised that the ladies, hailing from Austria, were much more used to the mountain trails than walking in the river bed. Our pace drastically increased. Descending into the river and straight into the next shortcut, we came to the German war grave, where we also had our lunch. By this time we had passed the group of three that were in front of us for the last 4 days, and that says a lot about our routine and keeping up the pace. Late afternoon we found a lovely little beach right by the water. All realised this will be our last camp of the hike, so spirits were high, and all four of us sat around the campfire until quite late for our standards.
The last day saw us leaving camp again at 08:00. Before we left I had a final talk with the ladies, just emphasising that they need to keep concentrating. Most accidents happen in the last 10% of a journey.
Today it was Geraldine’s turn to be tired. All through the walk she was fine, but today I could sense that she was getting tired, and to know that the end goal is so close, yet so far was demoralising. It was quite a mission to keep the ladies walking and at one stage I was about 1 kilometre ahead, just trying to keep them moving all the time. After a rest at 11:00 I told them that if we can walk for 1 hour solid, we will be in Ai Ais at 12:00.
We walked into Ai Ais at 12:05 and officially completed hiking the Fish River Canyon. What a sight it was! After drinking an ice cold beer the ladies headed for the hot water swimming pool to soothe sore limbs. Not a single person developed blisters. There were days when the going were slow, but by keeping a steady pace we succeeded in finishing the 85 kilometre in 4 and a half days. In the process we left the group of students behind, overtook the group of 6 women, and also overtook the group of 3 that were ahead of us all the time. Not that the hike was a race, but it just showed me again what routine and a steady pace can do.
So, to the ladies:
Liz, you were always in the back of the group, yet you kept on walking. You felt bad and sick at times, yet you kept walking. A strong and determined will kept you going.
Ulrike, the youngest of the group, your high spirit and always ready smile kept the tempers down, even in the heat of the day. You helped your friends more than I could ever hope for.
Gerlinde, the eldest of the three ladies, your steady pace, not going faster or slower, just a steady pace, made this hike possible. Your strong leadership qualities also proved to be a helpful tool at times.
Thanks to all of you and to Stefan van Deventer as well, for providing the cold beer at the finish line.
Kobus Alberts – Wild at Heart Safaris