Navigate

Archives

Fish River Canyon Trail

“…in  the desert you can’t remember your name / ‘cos there ain’t no one for to give you no pain …” America’s Horse With No Name seemed rather apt as I reviewed the Go Pro video clips from this hike. The Fish River Canyon is a remote, ancient and dramatically harsh landscape as only a desert canyon can be. Here there are no signs nor sounds of civilisation, except the tracks of those who have gone before and a lost Vespa (more about that later). The night sky is bright and clear, unpolluted by artificial light, the only reminder of industrial society being the speeding specks of low-orbit satellites.


The video may not render in some jurisdictions.

The classic canyon photo
Ever since I gazed down on the canyon from the the viewpoint at Hobas and scrambled down to its floor in 1975. I have wanted to hike the canyon. It is one of the must-do, iconic hikes in southern Africa and for some it is the only backpacking hike they will ever do, while others return annually. The hiking season is from May to September during the winter and after the rainy season. Only 40 hikers per day may enter the canyon during the season. We were the second or third group to penetrate it this year and given that the canyon was closed during 2013 because of lack of water, we encountered a pristine, scoured environment.

Refelcting
The previous day a hiker was heli-casevaced out. There is only one escape route from the canyon proper, so either you are carried out or choppered out. The Namibian authorities try to minimise the risks by insisting on a medical certificate for each hiker, but I think that the biggest risk is that not all who challenge the canyon are experienced or conditioned hikers. Certainly I would discourage anyone who has not done a few multi-day, full-pack hikes and thus is uncertain in his or her own mind that the hike is within his or her capabilities.


The slideshow may not render on some devices, so go to the album.

Although the trail is described as a 90 km trail, in reality you will walk about 71 km unless you miss the short-cuts in the latter stages. My GPS recorded 68.9 km, but I did miss a couple of kilometres between battery changes. After the initial steep descent, the gradients are small. The net drop in elevation is about 560 m of which about 450 m represents the drop into the canyon. The first 18 or so km to Sulphur Springs requires a lot of bouldering and is strenuous, especially if water levels are high. According to Kevin we registered about 28 river crossings. After the boulders the trail alternately traverses gravel, sand and river rocks. Our average moving speed was 3.3 km/h. The difficulty of the trail can be determined by extreme heat (our first and hottest day registered a maximum temperature of “only” 36ºC), cold nights (we had balmy nights), sand storms (we were sand blasted during the second night), electric storms (we had some lightning and sparse rain), low or high water levels (the river level was medium), scorpions, snakes, mosquitoes and miggies (the latter two species nailed me thoroughly). Lastly, give yourself five days and four nights at least to complete the hike. A shorter forced march would make it less than fun. We drank the river water without purification or boiling to no ill effect, although this may be unwise as the water level drops and later in the hiking season.


If the 3D map does not render, download the kml file and view in Google Earth.

The stark canyon walls tell an ancient story of geology. Its geological formation commenced about 350 million years ago, but it cuts through old rocks that date back 1000 million years. The evidence of these massive mountains are visible in the gneiss and quartz formations at Ai-Ais. About 800 million years ago subvolcanic dolerite dykes, which are clearly visible on the hike, penetrated the ancient mountains. The birth of the canyon 350 million years ago started with subsidence along tectonic fault zones, the same faults through which Ai-Ais’ 60ºC hot water wells up (Ai-Ais means “very hot” in the Nama language). Glacial activity during the Gondwana period further shaped the canyon and with Gondwana’s break-up some 120 million years ago, the escarpment’s uplift increased the canyon’s gradient so that it gouged out the canyon along the existing meandering river loops. Today no evidence of the ice ages remains visible (paragraph paraphrased from Nicole Grünert’s Namibia Fascination of Geology: A Travel Handbook).Kevin contemplates the canyon

Soon after Pulpit Rock a rust-red Vespa scooter appears, incongruously propped up against some rocks.Vidi the Vespa - from 1968 It is the metal detritus of the 1968 Cape Town Vespa Club expedition. Quite what the club’s motivation was, escapes me. However, its website contains some excellent photographs of an idiosyncratic adventure, if ever there was one.

Another well-known landmark on the trail is the grave of Lt Thilo von Trotha, who was killed in 1905 during the euphemistically named Nama Uprising.Von Trotha's grave However, a revised history relates the story of the genocide perpetrated against the indigenous peoples by colonial German forces. It is well researched and told in Casper Erichsen’s excellent The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of NazismIt lends a different context to the grave than the traditional sad-romantic notion of a young colonial soldier’s final resting place in a lonely, remote corner of the colonies.

Dusk near Pulpit Rock

 

8 comments to Fish River Canyon Trail

  • Lilianne van Liebergen

    Hi Ralph, Absolutely cool pictures!!!!
    It was great time joining you en rest of the group!
    Regards, Lilianne and Kees

  • mogamat

    absolutely an awesome hike
    been there plenty times (7), and everytime it captivates me
    going into a zone where time stands STILL
    young choice of song is most appropriate for the video 🙂
    sunrsie morning clips are stunning
    doing the fish again this year 3Aug2016 – can’t wait
    ‘revised history”, will surely do research on this
    we do 32 crossings, and had 43degC in 2009 just pass sand agaist slopes
    gps distance, ave moving speed – very interesting info and something new

    looks like you had a wonderful time in the Fish River Canyon

    great package put together

    regards mogamat williams, ct

  • Glad you enjoyed it Mogamat

  • Dude, awesome vid en photos. We’re doing it now June16, 2016. Absolutely can’t wait. Did the Amatola last year, so this will be a stark contrast to the Eastern Cape. But looks amazing.

  • Mogamat Williams

    Refer my reply 3 Feb
    This is some feedback to our Fish River Canyon hike in August 2016 – We’ll 2016, I was fortunate to do the Fish River Canyon twice, yes … twice.
    (May and August 2016)

    Some feedback on the August trip –

    FRC Aug2016

    Date 3/08/2016 to 7/08/16
    Trail Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail
    Group FRC Aug2016
    Nasme, Nabu, ABenn, Ernest, Lucielle, Charlotte, Faldi, Shahiema, Clive, Jack, Leon, Fadlu, Farha, Tashmeer
    Faghmie, Kashiefa, Nazeem, Aliyah, Fuad, Gavin, Rabia, Mogamat.
    (From … Laingsburg, Vredendal, Mosselbay, BredasDorp, Strand, Somerset West, Kuilsriver, Goodwood, Heideveld, Heathfield, Mplain,
    Grassy Park, SchaapKraal)

    The Prep –
    Prep hikes – KloofCorner hike, Silvermine, Milnerton Beach, Home Gym exercises, Light weight ideas, Meetings, Many emails,
    Group Chat FRC., Cancellation , New hiker Clive, Jack came along ready.
    Equipment checks, Shopping, Bags packing, Passports, Medicals, Transporter Bus details, Share ideas and info, Payments, Contact list,
    Passport numbers, Motivation letter, Pickup points details, Green lights and all GO GO.

    Departure – Final departure from Goodwood +- 00h30 Tuesday.

    Bus,Hobas – 1 Spare only , panic , slow pace, careful, and estimate late at Hobas.
    3 Medicals not properly filled in, delays, plse plse sorries, and OK. Quick change of regalia, final packing, pass the main view point to the start.
    Photo session … and off … into the Canyon.

    depart, canyon widens and the mercury start rising – 26degC. Reedbush, 20 km the place for the late afternoon tea break. Time to get the
    head thinking “camp”. ReedhenBush. In the river bed, dry, we hit the 23 with almost no water – 3 PUDDLES – Jack, Charlotte, Tashmeer recce,
    but settles at the “puddles”. It was going to be tough down river as the river stopped flowing, we only have muddy, muggy, green river puddles
    Thanks for FILTERS.16h20 we set up camp EARLY, and the best one we had. Huge bon-fire set the tone in the middle of the DRY-RIVER.
    Camp … the Swaars en Oom – Ernie Lucielle Charlotte – Brinks, Abrahamse, Jack and Jill, Kamals in the easy tent, Wiliams and Mays, 0.km /Camp – Descent commenced at about 16h30pm, extremely steep, loose rocks, one step at time, many slips, pushing to get pass the “Middle-Rock”
    Rock formations of bizarre awkward ancientness, and a sudden total darkness, with team work at its best. Disappearance of strangers.
    Led illumination, the path was clear as there were lights.
    2 Hours down the canyon wall and the rendezvous with the 50mil year old Fish River. Welcome by the Oom with the green tent … waiting …
    … a huge smile and glad to share Zero base with 20 hikers. Okm became 21 and alive, first night under the stars.
    Rush to refresh, cook, not much conversation, and time to count the stars.

    Day.1, 7km Nature alarms started going off at 5am , crawling from the sleeping bags, morning, seeing the river that will be our life-line for the next 5 days.
    7h30 Did not work, and engines got started at 8h15, with the tail still packing. FirstRestPools our first break, water quality not so good
    but drinkable, filters and pills had to do the trick. Rapids , SweetThorn and pushing for the VespaScooter and lunch. The most beautiful rock
    formations on this section of the trail. This 2000mil years crack opens to a geological wonders. Amazing, we now share that space.
    Heat +- 22degC, lucky to have some clouds. Huge boulders, granite, 45deg angle terrain, all impacts on the slow pace and only doing 7km on
    the first day – Camp at WildFigBend – Same procedure for the next few days, … wash, setup camp, supper, stargazing 🙂
    … oh yes, add massages, blister tendering, boot repairs, rehydrate – Farha the Guys the Camp fires.

    Day.2, 23km Early morning up, a surprise drizzle at 6h30, and team was ready to go, Rabbits off at 7h30, around WildFig pass the 10Km, looking at the
    magnificent WallsOfJerico. Break at the Emergency Exit point, 1, 2 more corners. “Kashifa check left and up”, the cool palms greeted us.
    PalmSprings was the lunch spot, and a dip in the super natural Sulphur Springs. A magical stop for all Canyoneers. No-one in a hurry to
    Domingos-Esacks on the flat river rock, perfect bedding.

    Day.3, 43km Late up 5h30, and at 7h30 there was no tail, only Rabbits. Team on a mission to hit 40+kms by the eve. Departure from MountainChatRidge, skip
    Hercules , hit tea at the granite of ZebrPools around 9h30. The old gravel route proofed to be quicker than the river route, TableMountain,
    Klipspringer and rest on the Ridge. 30km’s covered Temp ave 28degC. CapeRobin was too early for lunch, dash towards Sand AgainstSlopes,
    and the smallest trees was pause for the midday meal (NabuRock). Also called point Mercury. Water bottles filled, VasbytBend in one go … ,
    with a long rest at PenknifeBush, perfect shade, 40km’s under the belt. Hand sprinklers to cool-off. Saddling up is not easy, a final push for the
    day towards CAMP. 43 km’s covered, all got there, camp in the Dry-river-bed. A lonnnggg day

    Day.4, 72km Camp was up at 5am, porridges coffees, fill bladders, chock chippies ready for the longest day, planned camp past the 72 km mark. Engines
    started and around the 1st shortcut towards BaboonMountain heading for the 50km Kooigoedheights. Photo session and a good 2nd breakfast tea,
    filling up to cross the dessert plains for Barbel pools. 3 Finger rock transforming to 4, mercury hitting 39degC. Steep accent, for a visit to
    Thilo Von Throta. Share a flower for Shane. Photos with this century old landmark, river paved by aero. Midday and a tough push from deep
    towards the PinkLady (Cokeshop). Kara and Karl meeting, how they tried to link up with us, then heading off on their own. All invited for
    lunch on the STOEP. Slog back to fill water bottles, at Causeway, final crunch up the last shortcut for camp beyond. Foolsgold at sunset was our
    last camp, tired aching bodies, now a complete team, celebrating the eve. Madame Colours supplying the music.
    Camp-On-The-Rocks, 72km’s covered .

    Day.5, 86km Rise 5h00, easy breakfast, last day, could smell AiAis, taste the ice cold cokes from this distance. Across FlatPlain, another million river
    rocks at StockKraal straight into StinkWater. The setting of the Beach movie. Photos at the great 80km’s. 3 crossing to go. Alien datura took a
    beating. FishEaglePools, distance shorter across AlmostThere, heads down for LastRest. Oom Benn with the Cokes 🙂
    The Valve and long grey Pipe indicate civilisation. Celebration, rejoice, comradie, under the sticks, awesomeness into Aiais.

    Many questions, lightweight, more, less, corners, times, distances, water, shades, trees, breaks, lunches, camps and what lays ahead the next day …
    A gruelling 86km trail covered, a success story of good times, hi-fives, extraordinary trip, extreme conditions, wonderful people.
    What a successful team, pulled together, made good choices collectively, adventure completed encompassing the beautiful feeling of achievement.
    Lets dream big , plan again about our next trailing adventure.
    Hiking is absolutely an incredible activity. “cuotm”
    081 570 2883 / 021 415 85 92 / mogamatw@luckystar.co.za

  • Mogamat Williams

    FRC Aug2016

    Date 3/08/2016 to 7/08/16
    Trail Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail
    Group FRC Aug2016
    Nasme, Nabu, ABenn, Ernest, Lucielle, Charlotte, Faldi, Shahiema, Clive, Jack, Leon, Fadlu, Farha, Tashmeer
    Faghmie, Kashiefa, Nazeem, Aliyah, Fuad, Gavin, Rabia, Mogamat.
    (From … Laingsburg, Vredendal, Mosselbay, BredasDorp, Strand, Somerset West, Kuilsriver, Goodwood, Heideveld, Heathfield, Mplain,
    Grassy Park, SchaapKraal)

    The Prep –
    Prep hikes – KloofCorner hike, Silvermine, Milnerton Beach, Home Gym exercises, Light weight ideas, Meetings, Many emails,
    Group Chat FRC., Cancellation , New hiker Clive, Jack came along ready.
    Equipment checks, Shopping, Bags packing, Passports, Medicals, Transporter Bus details, Share ideas and info, Payments, Contact list,
    Passport numbers, Motivation letter, Pickup points details, Green lights and all GO GO.

    Departure – Final departure from Goodwood +- 00h30 Tuesday.

    Bus,Hobas – 1 Spare only , panic , slow pace, careful, and estimate late at Hobas.
    3 Medicals not properly filled in, delays, plse plse sorries, and OK. Quick change of regalia, final packing, pass the main view point to the start.
    Photo session … and off … into the Canyon.

    0.km /Camp – Descent commenced at about 16h30pm, extremely steep, loose rocks, one step at time, many slips, pushing to get pass the “Middle-Rock”
    Rock formations of bizarre awkward ancientness, and a sudden total darkness, with team work at its best. Disappearance of strangers.
    Led illumination, the path was clear as there were lights.
    2 Hours down the canyon wall and the rendezvous with the 50mil year old Fish River. Welcome by the Oom with the green tent … waiting …
    … a huge smile and glad to share Zero base with 20 hikers. Okm became 21 and alive, first night under the stars.
    Rush to refresh, cook, not much conversation, and time to count the stars.

    Day.1, 7km Nature alarms started going off at 5am , crawling from the sleeping bags, morning, seeing the river that will be our life-line for the next 5 days.
    7h30 Did not work, and engines got started at 8h15, with the tail still packing. FirstRestPools our first break, water quality not so good
    but drinkable, filters and pills had to do the trick. Rapids , SweetThorn and pushing for the VespaScooter and lunch. The most beautiful rock
    formations on this section of the trail. This 2000mil years crack opens to a geological wonders. Amazing, we now share that space.
    Heat +- 22degC, lucky to have some clouds. Huge boulders, granite, 45deg angle terrain, all impacts on the slow pace and only doing 7km on
    the first day – Camp at WildFigBend – Same procedure for the next few days, … wash, setup camp, supper, stargazing 🙂
    … oh yes, add massages, blister tendering, boot repairs, rehydrate – Farha the Guys the Camp fires.

    Day.2, 23km Early morning up, a surprise drizzle at 6h30, and team was ready to go, Rabbits off at 7h30, around WildFig pass the 10Km, looking at the
    magnificent WallsOfJerico. Break at the Emergency Exit point, 1, 2 more corners. “Kashifa check left and up”, the cool palms greeted us.
    PalmSprings was the lunch spot, and a dip in the super natural Sulphur Springs. A magical stop for all Canyoneers. No-one in a hurry to
    depart, canyon widens and the mercury start rising – 26degC. Reedbush, 20 km the place for the late afternoon tea break. Time to get the
    head thinking “camp”. ReedhenBush. In the river bed, dry, we hit the 23 with almost no water – 3 PUDDLES – Jack, Charlotte, Tashmeer recce,
    but settles at the “puddles”. It was going to be tough down river as the river stopped flowing, we only have muddy, muggy, green river puddles
    Thanks for FILTERS.16h20 we set up camp EARLY, and the best one we had. Huge bon-fire set the tone in the middle of the DRY-RIVER.
    Camp … the Swaars en Oom – Ernie Lucielle Charlotte – Brinks, Abrahamse, Jack and Jill, Kamals in the easy tent, Wiliams and Mays,
    Domingos-Esacks on the flat river rock, perfect bedding.

    Day.3, 43km Late up 5h30, and at 7h30 there was no tail, only Rabbits. Team on a mission to hit 40+kms by the eve. Departure from MountainChatRidge, skip
    Hercules , hit tea at the granite of ZebrPools around 9h30. The old gravel route proofed to be quicker than the river route, TableMountain,
    Klipspringer and rest on the Ridge. 30km’s covered Temp ave 28degC. CapeRobin was too early for lunch, dash towards Sand AgainstSlopes,
    and the smallest trees was pause for the midday meal (NabuRock). Also called point Mercury. Water bottles filled, VasbytBend in one go … ,
    with a long rest at PenknifeBush, perfect shade, 40km’s under the belt. Hand sprinklers to cool-off. Saddling up is not easy, a final push for the
    day towards CAMP. 43 km’s covered, all got there, camp in the Dry-river-bed. A lonnnggg day

    Day.4, 72km Camp was up at 5am, porridges coffees, fill bladders, chock chippies ready for the longest day, planned camp past the 72 km mark. Engines
    started and around the 1st shortcut towards BaboonMountain heading for the 50km Kooigoedheights. Photo session and a good 2nd breakfast tea,
    filling up to cross the dessert plains for Barbel pools. 3 Finger rock transforming to 4, mercury hitting 39degC. Steep accent, for a visit to
    Thilo Von Throta. Share a flower for Shane. Photos with this century old landmark, river paved by aero. Midday and a tough push from deep
    towards the PinkLady (Cokeshop). Kara and Karl meeting, how they tried to link up with us, then heading off on their own. All invited for
    lunch on the STOEP. Slog back to fill water bottles, at Causeway, final crunch up the last shortcut for camp beyond. Foolsgold at sunset was our
    last camp, tired aching bodies, now a complete team, celebrating the eve. Madame Colours supplying the music.
    Camp-On-The-Rocks, 72km’s covered .

    Day.5, 86km Rise 5h00, easy breakfast, last day, could smell AiAis, taste the ice cold cokes from this distance. Across FlatPlain, another million river
    rocks at StockKraal straight into StinkWater. The setting of the Beach movie. Photos at the great 80km’s. 3 crossing to go. Alien datura took a
    beating. FishEaglePools, distance shorter across AlmostThere, heads down for LastRest. Oom Benn with the Cokes 🙂
    The Valve and long grey Pipe indicate civilisation. Celebration, rejoice, comradie, under the sticks, awesomeness into Aiais.

    Many questions, lightweight, more, less, corners, times, distances, water, shades, trees, breaks, lunches, camps and what lays ahead the next day …
    A gruelling 86km trail covered, a success story of good times, hi-fives, extraordinary trip, extreme conditions, wonderful people.
    What a successful team, pulled together, made good choices collectively, adventure completed encompassing the beautiful feeling of achievement.
    Lets dream big , plan again about our next trailing adventure.
    Hiking is absolutely an incredible activity. 081 570 2883 / 021 415 8592 / mogamatw@luckystar.co.za
    “cuotm”

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>