Fish River Canyon hike 2016

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The Canyon, seen from the starting point

Our group of 8 people started the Fish River Canyon hike  on the 4th of July 2016 and finished on the 8th of July 2016.

We covered a distance of about 74 kilometers over just over 4 days, slept 4 nights under the stars, carried way too much food, drank river water and survived despite aches, pains and blisters.

Will I do it again? Yes!


Notes on the admin around the trip:

  • I booked the permits in May 2015, R300 per person from NWR Cape Town.
  • We stayed in Ai-Ais the Sunday evening before we started, as well as the Friday evening after the hike (Camping fees per person – R169 per night)
  • We found 2 willing gentlemen who drove with us to the start, and brought our vehicles back to Ai-Ais. We decided not to make use of the shuttle service, which was a bit expensive at R260 per person.
  • At Hobas, we had to pay an additional R60 per person conservation/park entry fees. The whole fee structure is still a bit unclear to me.
  • I did not know what to expect of the condition of the Ai-Ais Resort. There were various reports of issues at the resort. I found that service was friendly, all was in working order, the restaurant food was excellent and the kiosk was well stocked.
  • Important… there was cold beer and they were willing to serve plates of chips on request.

3 July 2016 – On the road

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In the bakkie – all still awake. It’s a long drive. We decided to drive straight to Ai-Ais without sleeping over.
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The road is long, but the landscape varies from winelands, semi-desert, and 90% desert.
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Northern Cape – You know it’s hot when you see two crows sitting in the shade of a telephone pole.
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Crossing the border into Namibia.
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Namibia – nothingness. Beautiful nothingness.
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Looking back.
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The road towards Ai-Ais.
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Setting up camp at Ai-Ais. Park your car, find a place to sleep. Easy!

 

Notes on our trip to Ai-Ais:

  • We left Cape Town at about 6:30 am
  • Distance to Ai-Ais, about 800km.
  • The gravel roads in Namibia are mostly in an excellent condition. But ensure you have a spare wheel and a jack!
  • The border crossing at Vioolsdrif and Noordoewer went without issues. Take a pen to fill out forms in Namibia. Also ensure you have all your vehicle docs with you, as well as money for RAF in Namibia.
  • Arrived at Ai-Ais late afternoon (17:00 +-)
  • Informal camping arrangement. Just pitch your tent – anywhere!
  • Braaied enough boerewors to eat for dinner of day 1. Well, we had enough for day 2 to 4 as well. Had to discard the leftovers.

4 July 2016 – Towards Hobas and down into the Canyon

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Getting ready. Checking everything. Throwing out stuff that feels too heavy.
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Compulsory selfie. I was emotional. And nervous. Hiked the canyon about 16 years ago. Would I make it. Would it be as I remembered it for 16 years.
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Me, Lelani, Mathys, Elsabe, Franco, Johannes, Cesco, Elaine.
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Not a leisure walk. It’s hard. But good for body and soul.
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First steps. Follow the chain.
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Lots of loose stones when you start the footpath down. It was dry and dusty.
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Looking back towards the starting point.
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Going down. All smiles.
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Down by the river. The water was cold. We took a long lunch-break before carrying on.
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On our way. Getting used to the different types of terrain. Soft sand, rock plates.
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The beginning is a lot of up and down and finding your way on the slopes. The canyon is still narrow.
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Last sunlight.
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First overnight stop. Whisky time!

 Notes on Day 1:

  • We left Ai-Ais at 8am. Only started the descent at 10am. Could have started earlier.
  • We saved a lot of time not having to bring the vehicles back to Ai-Ais.
  • Had to do admin at Hobas and pay fees. They don’t take cards. Take cash.
  • The descent is tough on the legs. Take your time!
  • Had a good rest once we reached the river. Maybe too long, but we enjoyed it.
  • Did not have the GPS tracker on for the day. Should’ve done that.
  • Used the offline Google map and GPS on my cellphone to pinpoint our location on the printed maps.
  • Slept on a high sand bank. Good thing / bad thing. Had to climb back up every time you went down to the river to get water.

5 July 2016 – Day 2

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Morning, day 2. Finding the most comfortable path along the river. Choice of high sand or big rocks
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Looking back
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The way forward
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At the Vespa
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A friend left a note and Fastbar for us at the Vespa
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Same Vespa, same friends, 16 years later
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Big rocks, small rocks
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Lunch break
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Lunch break in the shade. It gets hot when you’re walking
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Taking a rest
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Baboons. We saw a few, but none bothered us.
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Nap time
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Walking again
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Gravel paths
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Water. Although the river stopped flowing, there was more than enough water and we had no issues drinking it. We did use purification drops (sometimes)
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Day 2 overnight stop. Palm springs. The temperature is about 48 degrees where it flows into the river. We reached the spot a bit late, but some braved the hot water and cool wind.
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Palm Springs / Sulfur springs
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The way forward
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Enjoying the hot water
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Day 2 route – 13km

Notes on Day 2:

  • We started a bit late, so we reached Palm Springs a bit late to really enjoy the warm water. It was already near sunset, which is early in the canyon.
  • Sleeping at Palm Springs – choose carefully, because everybody stop there, there’s a toilet behind every bush.
  • There were driftwood, so we could make a fire for the evening.

6 July 2016 – Day 3

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Packing up. Ready to tackle day 3
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The way forward.
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Palm Springs.
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Wild horses. They were in a good condition, despite the dry landscape.
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Easy terrain. We even had a few drops of rain during the morning.
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Canyon views.
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Sand and rocks.
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Tea break.
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Gravel path.
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At a big rock.
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One of my favorite shots
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Table Mountain (I think)
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These boots were made for walking. Didn’t have any issues. I would recommend good quality hiking shoes.
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Sandy plains
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High sand
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Gravel footpaths – better than sand and boulders
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Sometimes you walk far from the river
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Overnight spot – day 3
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Supper in the making
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Nothing like sleeping under the stars, on the sand!
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Day 3 route – 21km

Notes on Day 3:

  • Slept under the stars again. Nice!
  • A sandy spot that feels soft and looks level, does not feel the same when you’re in your sleeping bag.
  • Started hiking at about 8am.
  • Followed the river and other footprints, with a few shortcuts at river bends.
  • Overnight spot was a bit far from the water. But on day 3, I must admit swimming / bathing wasn’t my top priority. Cleanup, eat, sleep!
  • We could once again make a fire. Didn’t see any spider, scorpions or snakes.

7 July 2016 – Day 4 (the day of the shortcuts)

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Morning view of the area around the overnight spot
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It was a bit chilly. Some needed a beanie and a hat!
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On the road – early morning boulder hopping
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Canyon sunrise
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Mathys and Lelani looking strong!
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Walking along the mostly hard sand in the river bed
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Shortcut!
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Shortcuts on day 4 means cutting km’s. But it involves a bit of up and down.
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Going up
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That’s Four Finger Rock, seen from the back
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Fun in the sand
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Four fingers at Four Finger Rock
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Lunchtime nap
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At the grave of Lt von Trotha. Pic taken by patrolling park rangers. I didn’t want to see a bakkie and other people. Wasn’t ready yet!
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Bit of boulders
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Cesco and Elaine at the low water bridge
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Gravel road just after the kiosk. No, the kiosk does not operate any more. No cold beer!
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Taking on another shortcut
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Overnight spot day 4
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Day 4 route – 20km
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Altitude map – day 4. The last shortcut was a bit tough!

 

Notes on Day 4:

  • Started at 8am
  • The day of the shortcuts. That means cutting km’s, but a bit of up and down.
  • It was a long day – 20km.
  • Slept at the point just before we had to cross the river at the ‘skaapkraal’ shortcut.

8 July 2016 – Day 5

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Morning, day 5. Getting ready to hit the road.
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Navigating around the big pool to find a place to cross without getting our feet wet. At the end this meant we missed the whole ‘skaapkraal’ shortcut.
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Wet sand can be deceiving. You have to cross quickly, or sink in.
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The wide open open canyon
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Sand art
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Ai-Ais, that way!
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At the 80km mark for the Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon
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Reflections
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Almost there. The last stretch is almost a bit disappointing.
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At the water tower. Almost there. Just a few steps to go.
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Been there, done that! Beer and chips at the restaurant.
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Day 5 route – 12km

Notes on Day 5:

  • Started at 8am
  • Followed the river for most of the time.
  • Reached Ai-Ais at about lunchtime.
  • Had some chips and beer
  • Set up camp and had a soak in the warm swimming pool
  • Had supper at the restaurant – Springbok ‘lion’ with ‘randy pudding’. Very nice!
  • The ground at Ai-Ais is not softer than in the canyon.

9 July 2016 – Back to civilization

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On the road again – Filled with gratitude – Blessed – Till we see you again

Notes on our trip back:

  • Left early – probably 7am
  • Had coffee and rusks in the car (and other leftovers from the trip to Nam)
  • No issues at the borders
  • Lunch at Wimpy Springbok
  • Reached Cape Town at about 18:30