I have never been the most adventurous of souls, but in May 1993 I joined my oldest brother Doug and three others, clinging to a chain with a twenty Kilogram pack on my back, and descended the almost vertical cliff down into the Fish River Canyon in Southern Namibia.
So began a five day hike in the excellent company of Wally, Robin, Dave and Doug.
We had been transported to the start of the trail in the pre-dawn darkness on the open back of a truck (as you do in Africa). Before our descent, we posed for a picture.
My friend Dave on the right, was a geologist and a keen nature lover. While we pose for the photo (taken by Doug) in the pristine morning light, Dave finishes his sandwich and then, poker-faced, says “OK lets go ” and chucks the scrunched up tin foil to the ground. The 3 men who did not know him were in momentary disbelief. Then they realised they were sharing the next 5 days with a dry comedian with a sense of the ridiculous.
Reaching the base of the cliffs at the bottom of the Canyon was a surreal experience. The Fish River Canyon (FRC) is second only to the Grand Canyon in most respects. Having suppressed my fear of heights to perform the descent, I was now in a different world. There was no way out of the Canyon until about 2 days further along the hike where there was an “escape route” up the cliffs which in itself could present some challenges. 75 kilometres to go.
My co-hikers were up to twelve years older than I was. I was possibly the least physically fit and had back pain due to a prolapsed disc. I sometimes wore a back brace or corset which probably produced more sweat and discomfort than relief. One of our team kindly tried to coach me how to propel myself forwards more efficiently. Obviously I am a bit of a plodder. That’s me in my “corset” below.
We hiked until about 3pm every day, then bathed in the Fish River, dined and slept under the stars. A tin of sardines was relished as if it were lobster. I had a bottle of Scotch which I tried to jettison early in the piece to save weight. Dave was both astonished and horrified. He immediately took charge of it.
Dave, gazelle like, covered the ground faster than any of us and often ended up 50 metres ahead, showing us the best route across the rocks. When we caught up, the kind person that he was, he would be waiting with a dishcloth over his forearm, and a shot of scotch on offer for those of us who felt inclined.
Our camping areas were occasionally visited by wildlife while we slept.
Breakfast stop for instant oatmeal.
Chillingly we saw that no further parties had been allowed into the Canyon after we had been dropped off. In time, we discovered why. The river, usually just a stream at that time of year, was much higher than normal. We had to cross the river 16 times as we ran into sheer cliffs on the outside of each river bend. Usually, this would just mean wading through a shallow creek. This year, it involved removing your clothing, putting your boots, backpack and all your possessions into a survival bag and swimming across the current. Fortunately my adventurer friend Dave had a survival bag and we had a couple of them between us. This is a pic of Doug swimming across with a survival bag. Then the bag would be returned to the other side for the next person.
Then we caught up with the large group ahead of us. They seemed to be on a corporate team building adventure. We were able to loan them our survival bags to help get their stuff to the other side. Below is one of their number sorting out one of the bags while the rest of the 15 or 16 hikers can be seen on the other side trying to dry out their clothing and possessions.
In the Canyon, there are wild horses known as the Feral Horses of Garub. There are a few theories as to their origin including connections with the German army during the war. They have successfully bypassed their role as working or breeding horses. They are to a large extent independent of humans. We came across one of them (below).
And so onwards towards our destination Ais Ais. A wonderful German run hot Spa resort with very comfortable beds was beckoning.
Towards the end there was a sense of sadness to be finishing the trip. On the last day or two the canyon opens up with no difficult river crossings and we finish the walk in a relaxed mood.
And so finally the much anticipated ice cold Windhoek Lager and the soothing Hot Pools at the Ais Ais spa resort. Plus the most comfortable beds in memory, or so they seemed.
Acknowledgements and thanks: Wally, Robin and Doug for the photos, excellent company and organising the hike. To my brother Doug for convincing me to join him in this unique environment which he loves. To Dave who did his best to introduce my own kids to wildlife and adventure. He passed away recently and is sadly missed by me and so many others.
Photos: Contributed by all the hikers and shared after the hike.