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Monday, March 8, 2010

Naukluft Trail
The BIG one, the AWESOME one, the BREATH TAKING and yet HUMBLING one. (Definitely a 'must do')

10 – 17 July 2001


Warm during the day but chilly in the evenings. Cool on the last day.


Don't know what I was doing here. I mean this is a serious hike for serious, fit and enduring hikers. But not knowing what was ahead of me, I didn't really give it much thought. I should really learn to think before doing things. Saves on a lot of suffering. And yes, I suffered, big time.
We all set off in high spirits descending along a boulder strewn dry river bed for quite a distance and it continued on..... and on.... and on ....and then you start wondering what was so great about this hike, and what is so strenuous about it. It is like any other hike. Huh! Double Huh! Boy was I in for a surprise.
The trail ascends once a park perimeter fence is reached. Gee, that was said so blithely. I mean the ascent, maybe wasn't totally vertical, but I could have sworn it was leaning that way after a while. By the time you reach the saddle you are already so exhausted that you just want to lie down and sleep. But you can't, because you have to follow the path which contours the mountain for a while (for a while? what an understatement), undulating over hills, down gorges, up dales, aaaand it undulates over hills, down gorges, up dales, aaaaaand it undulates over hills, down gorges, up dales, until eventually it enters a kloof.

You follow the kloof for a while before climbing steeply once more up the mountain - by this time you are in that mindless state where you are so exhausted that everything you do is automatic. You don't know how your legs are moving, they just are. Anyway, you follow the contour path to the head of a kloof before reaching Putte Shelter. I would have felt excited, I'm sure. Just too tired to feel anything, which included the small stones digging through your miserable thin mattress.

Day 2:
I didn't want to leave Putte Shelter. It was such a nice place. But it was either leave with the group or stay there by myself. Not sure what I was more scared of. Anyway the trail ascended to the top of the ridge and then followed a jeep track before turning inland. And this is where it got tough again. Not through anything strenuous but those eternal dry riverbeds. The stones in there are not big enough for you to hop from one to another and not small enough for you to just carelessly walk on. So you have to balance on these ridiculous sized rocks, which is ok in the beginning, but mile after mile of this and your feet start yelling at you - especially when you don't have the right boots on. And boy, did they yell. After a loooooong while you reach Ubisis Kloof, where you can stop for lunch at the Cathedral Fountain, at the head of the kloof. At least so I was told. I was back into my mindless, automatic mode again. The trail then leads steeply - so what's new - down the kloof with the help of chains. Bit scary if you suffer from vertigo but not as bad as you expected. You then follow another blasted dry riverbed until you reach the Hut, which is an old house equiped with bunk beds, mattresses, flush toilets (that didn't work) and a very, very cold shower.

Day 3

You retrace your steps back to the kloof and up the chain ladders. From here the trail branches off and you follow a kloof and - surprise, surprise - a dry riverbed, before crossing a plateau to reach Adlershorst Shelter. The route is quite easy and because you are getting slightly fitter as the days progress you are not quite in that mindless state you experienced the last two days.

Day 4

Leaving Adlershorst the terrain is fairly level for quite a distance until it enters the Tsams Oost River Gorge. The trail then takes you through the kloof and just as you are about to get really comfortable, it rises steeply to bypass a waterfall. I must admit, the views were magnificent and well worth the effort of the climb, and a climb it was.

The descent into the valley is equally spectacular. The final part of the trail entails a walk along a dry riverbed and then along a gravel road to Tsams Oost Shelter, passing an enormous moringa tree and a number of springs. Tsams Oost has a steel cupboard to store supplies in for hikers doing the eight day trail. If it wasn't for the fact that I would have had to wait 4 days there on my own, I swear I would have just parked off there but being stuck in the middle of nowhere was a bit scary, but the thought did cross my mind - a couple of times.

Day 5:
The day starts with a hard climb up Broekskeur and then undulates through several kloofs and valleys before finally, finally, a long descent to a valley and a disused windmill. A jeep track then guides the hiker across wide plains and across dry riverbeds (I really hate riverbeds) until a gravel road is reached, which takes you to De Valle Shelter.

Day 6:

From De Valle Shelter, the trail takes you up the valley towards the waterfall, before embarking on a short but veeeeeery steep climb up the mountain until a contour path is reached. From here the trail hugs the mountainside and then enters the top of the waterfall. A dry riverbed is followed for quite a distance to the watershed where it meets an old jeep track which it follows down to Tufa Shelter.

Day 7:
From Tufa Shelter the trail leads across the valley and then enters a steep kloof. An ascent up the the kloof is made with the help of chains including one of 28m, while baboons sit at the top and screech at you. You just wish that at that time, you had the energy to screech back. The trail then follows the riverbed until the mountaintop is reached. Here one has the chance of seeing some incredible views. It is at points like these you realise why all the effort - because it is worth it. The last part of the days walk leads across Kapokvlakte until the Kapokvlakte shelter is reached.

Day 8:

The last day of this amazing trail starts off the way the previous day ended, with a walk across Kapokvlakte. After what seemed like an endless walk (seemed - it was an endless walk) the trail started its descent, which was pretty steep in places, into the Naukluft River Gorge. The trail follows the riverbed back to the starting point at Hikers Haven, bypassing a number of pools along the way. At that point I just wanted to get home so I ignored all the pools and literally flew back to the hut.

My Thoughts:

I wasn’t ready for this hike, not only on a fitness level, but mentally. Naukluft has so much to offer and a certain degree of fitness is required to appreciate it. The stark but glorious desolation, the magnificent gorges, the eternal riverbeds, those plummeting descents and perpendicular ascents. I wasn’t ready, I don't think anybody can ever be ready for Naukluft, but I am so glad that I did it, because it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and the memory of it will be forever etched in my mind. Not only of the hike itself, (The bits that I can remember) but the stark beauty of the area.

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