Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fish River Hike - Run up and Day 1

I should have posted about this ages ago, but didn't so here I go. Hiking the Fish River Canyon in Namibia has always been a dream for me. It is the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in the US. The hike is only possible during the winter months when the river level is low enough and the temperature is cool.
Before late 2011 early 2012 I would never have thought it possible that I could do it. It's a very inhospitable environment. For much of the hike the only reasonable exit possibility is via helicopter, so you need to be quite certain you are fit and strong enough to complete it without putting your fellow hikers at risk. Having the medical condition I do I never believed it safe for me to do it. That has changed.
When a friend from Cape Town put out the call on Facebook that there was a possibility, I decided to do it, no questions. As it go nearer to the date of the hike in early August, Renalda (my girlfriend) and I started doing regular day hikes around Pretoria to make sure we were fit enough, taking heavier and heavier packs with us on the hikes. I also hiked most of the training hikes in my Vibram Five Fingers, which were awesome.
As we drove to Namibia the weekend before the 5 night hike, I started to feel like I had a head cold. This did not go away and with people talking about others not going because they had a cold, I got a sinking feeling that I should not do the hike. However, having a doctor and a pharmacist on the hike had it's perks, and they convinced me that I would be fine and should come.
We decided to take the bus to the lookout point and make the decision at the point of no return. As we got closer to canyon country I caught glimpses of the cliff faces we would be walking below. Once we arrived and after seeing the majesty of the canyon, there was no choice. We started down into the canyon.

So 10 of us started the treacherous descent climbing down to the bottom of the 550m deep canyon. It took us just over 2 hours and we had lunch at the bottom, being pleasantly surprised at the volume of water still in the river. There was already a boot casualty when we got to the bottom and I learned why duct tape is a hiking essential. I was feeling mostly good, elated that I'd come, hoping that I hadn't been stupid and wondering if I'd have to use the exit.
There is an "exit" on day 2 which is actually a massive hike back out the canyon. If I got really sick either I, or someone else would need to hike out to get to help. I hoped it was not going to be needed.
We hadn't gone very far by the end of the first day because the terrain was rough with lots of boulders. Of course the sun sets below the the canyon wall quite early, so by about 5pm it was getting quite dark and it was very dark by 6. I was given antibiotics by the medics just in case. We found some firewood, had some supper, made a sandy bed and got to know our fellow hikers better over a sip of whiskey or whatever else got passed around.

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