Monday, 31 May 2010

Following Footprints Part Six

I said that day 5 was the least spectacular of the 8 days but the morning of day 6 was one of the most spectacular.
  Seeing the sun rise against the majestic Naukulft Mountains was a privilege which I know many will never get to experience. The range of colours and the immensity of the whole area was humbling.

The morning starts with a huge climb up (200m) to "Die Valle" (The Falls) and while it was dry, there were still some pools of ice cold water (no swimming - too cold). There were some chains to "help" with the steepest parts at the top, but it was a very technical climb which requires a lot of concentration and hard work. You have to find your own pace and "path". When you see the little mountain buck or even the baboons running up the side of a hill or mountain it looks so easy, but humans are not built for hills and especially not with a 15kg bag attached to their backs.

                       Here is the view from the top, those trees below were where we started the morning.
  Once you reach the top of Die Valle, you follow the side of the mountain and then along another river bed.

  I am still amazed at how the trees attach themselves to the cliffs and rocks in the hope of withstanding the river when it comes down in full force.
The second part of the day is spent descending into another valley to the Tufa shelter. The path made it "easier" than some of the descents which we had done, but it was still tough going, my feet were really burning. Today was our longest hiking day, 7 hours, and I for me it was the most tiring.

The well point was in the river and nothing more than a trickle of water. I did manage to have a wash in the river, but as the water is no more than 1-2cm deep, it was more like a stone washing.

The Tufa shelter was our home for the night and would be the last place we would be able to collect water for the remainder of our hike. It was also going to be the launching pad for the most dreaded day of climbing.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Following Footprints Part Five

I woke up 2 hours early this morning, lay in "bed" for an hour and then tried to quietly get my day started. Turns out I wasn't that quiet and managed to wake everyone and irritate all my fellow hikers. Looking back, I am very sorry for disturbing them, I just couldn't lie still and wait another hour for the sun to rise. It felt like the first day of school for me - the last 4 days were going to be the most punishing and I wanted get to started.

Eventually everyone got up, without holding back the insults on how irritating I was for waking them up (blush blush). We packed our bags and said our goodbyes, six happy hikers!

The forth day starts with a very steep climb,
 and then follows an undulating trail, until you get to a valley which you walk along for the rest of the day.

 It is the least spectacular day of the whole trail, except for the euphorbias and quiver-trees. 

 We also managed to see a few buck in the distance, but they wouldn't stand still for a photo shoot.
The official guide still speaks of filling your water bottles at Fonteinpomp - that is no longer an option, so you still have to carry enough water for the whole day.

We camped that night at De Valle Shelter. 

The biggest event of the day was Keith tasting some of team KZN's soya mince and declaring it "quite edible". I am not sure if it was the exhaustion talking, but he has agreed that it certainly makes sense to have it as a hiking meal. 

You have to make sure you fill your water bottles for the next day when you get to camp, before you "shower", because the water had mysteriously disappeared (the tank was empty) by the next morning. We had however managed to collect enough water the night before so we were not short.  

Day 6 is going to be a spectacular day, so be sure to keep "following footprints" next week.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Following Footprints Part Four

The fourth morning comes after an uncomfortable sleep. There really is no truth to the rumour that a yoga mat is all you need for comfort, especially when you're sleeping on a gravel floor. By this stage I have a huge welt (the skin was about to break) on my hip from my bag and bruise on the side of my buttock from trying to sleep on my side.

But life goes on, and complaining certainly doesn't get you sympathy when others have feet that look like they have been through a meat mincer. Lori's feet were not getting any better - and even all the blister experts (which all hikers are) could do nothing to ease her pain. What didn't help was that we had a hard 17kms of hiking along the Tsams River gorge, and a steep hill detour around a waterfall to get to Tsams Ost shelter.

Walking in a river bed is very hard, at times you have to climb over boulders (which exhaust you) or walk over very sharp rocks (which make your feet burn like fire). It takes a lot of concentration and twisting ankles are the order of the day. You might wonder how I can walk for 7 hours and have relatively few photographs? Simple - I was in survival mode and not part of a National Geographical team, with no Sherpas and seconds to help.

We started the day walking along the river bed. As I have explained this is hard, but manageable. We passed some spectacular trees and a dead Zebra. We also spotted the baobab-like phantom trees, possibly named because their white bark looks ghostly in the moonlight.


We had to take a detour from the river, which was extremely hard. It was a steep hill mountain and then a very tricky descent, down a shale path (and I use the word path very loosely). Every step you took, you would slide 2 further and not always feet down - which you would think makes going quicker, but no. Every time you slide, you have to stop yourself from going straight down, head first, bag following, pushing you harder towards you goal - with only thorn trees and boulders to "help" slow you down. Here is the picture of the "hill" which which descended, don't be deceived by what looks like grass - it's not, they are little thorn bushes (sorry about the lighting).

We stopped at the bottom of the hill to have lunch and view the waterfall, the reason we could not have continued down the river gorge.

The worst was over, we now only had to follow the river for another 1½ hours and we would be at the shelter.
We were about 45 minutes from the camp when we were met by Norm and Lucy, who were very surprised to see us so early. It was a relief to see that they had arrived safe and were doing well.
We continued to walk and after 20 minutes we spotted two angels on the road in front of us - Werner (Verry) and Raymond, and would you believe? Werner was actually carrying a backpack filled with cold beer!

We had a wonderful evening round the fire that night, all 11 of us were re-united again. We all had our war stories to tell and blisters and wounds to compare.

Lori treated her blisters as best she could, but things just weren't going to get better fast enough. Jenny could not hike any further with her injured knee (and blisters) and Lucy who also had some blister problems, but  mostly concern for her sister stopped her from continuing. Raymond was defiantly not interested in multi-day  hiking, he was enjoying the day hikes at the base camp. Werner's (Verry) boots had broke, and even a trip to the tyre repair shop in Solitaire wasn't enough to convince him that his "good looking" boots were going to hold up against the terrain we still had to cover.

So, there I was the only girl left, for the second year running! I didn't mind, hiking with guys is lots of fun and they really tell funny jokes. The only problem was, now I had no girls to talk to and once again got the reputation of "talking too much". Men just don't talk, they like to sit or walk in silence and that was just too hard for me.

We had a great meal of biltong stew with lentils and smash and some of left over wraps from the KZN team - huge treat.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Following Footprints Part Three

After an adrenaline pumping day 2 followed by a cold shower, a great meal and a good night's sleep we were all ready to head off on day 3 with bang!

We passed the Quiver Tree forest. The tree gets it's name from the fact that the Bushmen used this tree to make their quivers with the bark.

The first part of day 3 was back-tracking up the Ubusis Kloof we had descended the day before.The chains were less daunting going upthan down and it was wasn't long before we had reached "Bergbos" the half way mark for the day.

I need to show you the unfriendly side of hiking in Naukluft - the trees. Everyday you walk through and past thorn trees, firstly the Camel Thorn Tree - which has huge thorns, but are "relatively" harmless if you notice them in time and turn your backpack to them to catch their wrath.

And then the Hak 'n Steek (Hook and Stab Tree), where the thorns are shaped like fish hooks, and if they grab you, you have to stop - or else they will grab a piece of skin right or whatever else they grab right off.

We had only 12kms to cover today. After climbing the chains, we only had to cover a "fairly" flat plateau to the shelter at Alderhorst.

The amazing (I'm running out of adjectives already) trees which are found in the river beds really caught my attention. In the rainy season, the river flows with so much force that huge tress are pulled right out and sent tumbling down the river. Some survive and grow enormous, winding their roots into every possible safe hold they can manage - but in the end the river will always win, even if it takes many many years.

Another phenomena are the sociable weavers, who build enormous nests in the Camel Thorn tress, this is an example of a relatively small nest. The communal nests can measure up to 6 meters long and 2 meters high, and can weigh as much as 1,000 kg while housing up to 300 birds. The nests are built with insulated walls to maintain a stable temperature inside the nest to keep the weavers warm at night and cool during the day.

We stopped for lunch at about 12.30pm, and spent an hour talking about how far we still had to go until the day's end.  After packing up and heading back to the path, we were in for a huge surprise - we had had lunch less than 5 minutes walk from the shelter!

Getting to the shelter so early, gave Aldred "Boomslang", together with his wood collecting assistants, enough time to find enough fire wood to launch a satellite!

Because we had so much time that evening, I decided it was a good night to serve dessert - stewed fruit and custard.

Here is Lori and I enjoying some rest time outside the shelter before facing the long day 4, where we would face some tough climbing and descending before reaching the half way mark tomorrow. There was a further worry that night, Lori had now developed some very bad blisters that weren't healing and causing considerable pain - a hikers nightmare.. 

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Following Footprints Part Two

The first night's sleep in the Putte Shelter was an intimate experience. Sharing close quarters (while hiking) with 9 strangers, introduces you to more about their personal habits than some couples share in 10 years of marriage. You very soon learn who snores (and how), who has "night winds" (not pretty) and then other personal habits (careful), which remain certain hiker's secrets ("what happens in Naukluft, stays in Naukluft). 

Keith left the shelter some time during the night to sleep outside, he found his snoring was no match for the  log sawing done by the more experienced.

Day two, we packed up camp, filled our water bottles, ate breakfast, said goodbye to Raymond and Werner (Verry) and headed out for our 2nd day of hiking. It started off "relatively" easy compared to the first day, with a few undulating hills, but nothing too strenuous.The views and scenery were again breath taking, and I am already starting to wonderful what other adjectives I am going to use later in this diary, as everyday brought us new wonders beyond my imagination.

It was during this time that Jenny hurt her knee, and realised she was unable to continue further down the kloof (ravine). Norm, Jenny and Lucy (Jenny's sister) turned back and headed for the day 3 shelter - rather than risk the chains and the harsh walking required in the kloof (ravine).

After lunch we where in the Ubusis Kloof (ravine) headed down a river bed to the first set of 3 chains. I am not a novice to chains - I have climbed Lion's Head many times, so I was prepared, until I got to the edge of a cliff with a foot print facing directly down!
Keith said he was willing to make camp right there, as the thought of climbing back up those chains (with a full 8 day backpack) the next morning had us all a little worried (there were other "words" used, but I think I'll keep this polite). I had to remind him that we can't stop - we had to get to the next shelter otherwise where could we get water.

Thank goodness Werner was there and gratuitously took Lori's and my bag down the first set of chains, as well as coached us where to put our feet as we descended. After this first set of chains, I regained my confidence and managed to do the rest carrying my own bag -  I will admit that I certainly could not have managed this without Werner or the 7 months of Boot-camp training I had done.
Lori was a real trooper, she is terrified of heights, and she surely conquered that fear.

After 15 km of walking, 7 of us survived and arrived at the Ubusis shelter, which had once been a holiday home. We were greeted by a sign that said " Please leave the shelter in the condition you would like to find it". Well, that was a little rich, since none of us had thought to bring a plumber, a roofer or an electrician on the hike, not to mention an exterminator.

We did all manage to have a cold shower and thanks to Lori's, Dr Bronner's Magic Soap, we left smelling of peppermint and feeling completely refreshed. Thanks Lori!

Then, the biggest surprise of all, Werner took 2kgs of wors (sausage) out of his bag and 4 briquettes! I had to photograph it as proof that you can never underestimate the lengths South African men will go to, to have fresh meat! My contribution was a rice dish with lentils and beans, cooked on a working gas stove we found  in the shelter.

After a supper, we had a huge bonfire and thanks to Aldred (Boomslang), we were kept in fire wood late into the night.

 I had a good night's sleep, on a bed with a mattress, I did however cover my mattress with my ground sheet, as I certainly didn't trust what could crawl out of it during the night.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Following the Footprints - Part One

Last year when I completed the Fish River Canyon , I shared the 6 day experience in a series called "A Girl in a Canyon". That week changed my life, I discovered how little you need to be happy and that life is really about the simple things - where the more you have the slower and heavier life is.

This year we headed back to Namibia, further North, to the mountains in the South West of Namibia. We spent a year planning, thinking, dreaming, preparing for 8 days of hiking, to what is considered by many seasoned hikers to be the 2nd hardest multi-day hike in Southern Africa.They weren't kidding!

It starts with a very simple sign, and a series of painted footprints, which you follow for 8 days.
There are times when you loose the footprints and then the entire group spreads out and searches for the trail, lucky for us (actually talent mostly on the part of Werner and Aldred) this didn't happen too often, and only once did it cost us about 30 minutes. 

Let me start with introducing the group, we were 3 groups thrown together by the powers that be at Naukluft. We met for the first time the night before we started hiking. There was team America : Lucy, Jenny and Lori ; then there was team KZN, Werner, Corneels,Werner (also called Verrie, like in "Very Very Naughty") and Raymond and finally team Cape Town / Canada which was Keith, Aldred, Norm and me.

The first morning was a mad rush, when we made our booking we were told that we were to start hiking on the Wednesday morning - on arrival the park officials said that we had to start the next morning, being Tuesday -"the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray"!

We managed to get away by 9am, and started what is described in the brochures "as covering easy terrain"I think not!  It has 2 very steep assents, and what is called the Zebra path, could only be a path for those lucky enough to be Zebras! But we managed to get to the first shelter, mostly in one piece - but scared to death for the days they were described as difficult.

While I have made it sound like hell, the views were absolutely spectacular and our introduction to the immense vistas which we would face over the next 8 days were breathtaking. The concept of no pain, no gain would be repeated everyday.

The sight of the day's shelter was always welcome and never more than that first day.

In true South African style, we had meat (lots of it) for supper, it never takes much motivation for us to carry huge amounts of fresh meat, light a fire and cook it.

We "lost" two hikers on that first day - Raymond, who became severely dehydrated and just couldn't see making it through another 8 days and Verrie who decided to walk Raymond back to the start the next day

Friday, 7 May 2010

So Long, I'll see you all in 2 weeks

This is my last post before I leave for Namibia and my hiking trip.I'll be back with lots of pictures, and all the adventures.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Packing Light, Eating Well

I now have only 1 day left before I leave for Namibia, and the epic 8 day 120km hike in the Namib Naukluft Park.  There is little else going on in our home but hike preparation. Yesterday I set out and packed each day's food (snacks not shown).
 Once you put it all out, you realize just how much 4 people will eat over 8 days. It wouldn't be that bad if it was only the food, but then you have to make space for clothing, sleeping bags, pots, kettle, plates, cups, first aid kit, toiletries, the list just doesn't stop....and all this has to be on your back while you walk and climb your way through 120kms and then if your thought it was over - you have at least 2 litres of water for drinking during the day.

I did manage to make dinner last night, something easy that didn't need my undivided attention. I once again turned to my bottle of preserved lemons, which I am loving. I have to apologise for the photo - I didn't have time to do any food styling (except for the hiking food above) last night and by the time we were ready to eat, the sun was long gone - so no natural light either.

Preserved Lemon and Chilli Roast Chicken

1 Whole Chicken
1 Preserved Lemon
1 Red Chilli
1 Clove Garlic
10ml Sugar
10 -15ml Olive Oil
1 Extra Preserved Lemon for the chicken cavity

Take the lemon, chilli, garlic, and oil and sugar and pound to a paste (you can also use a food processor).
Carefully lift the skin from the chicken, working slowly and being careful not tear the skin.

Using your hands place the paste between the skin and the flesh.
Place the extra lemon in the cavity. 
Roast at 180ºC -200ºC until cooked.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”. The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” 

 Tree of Knowledge, painting by Lucas Cranach

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil has been artistically portrayed for centuries as being an apple tree, with big red apples, perfectly ripe and juicy. I have come to believe that it was not an apple tree, but a lemon tree. I base this not on anything theological but my culinary knowledge only.

To me the lemon is the perfect fruit - it has the power of both good and evil. It can hurt and heal, it can add to a dish and over power with just a simple squeeze. It is medicine to the doctor and poison in the wrong hands. You can have it in a desert, a savoury dish, an ice cold lemonade or a hot toddy and you certainly can't live without it in your kitchen.

After my first evening at The Cooksplayground,  I learnt to make preserved lemons. It is so simple to make and after a month of waiting patiently, my lemons are now ready for me to use and well worth the wait.

Preserved Lemons

1 Sterilized preserving jar (The bigger the better)
As many perfectly ripe yellow lemons as you can fit in your jar
Sea Salt (not iodized or your lemons will  turn pink)
Boiling water

Slice the lemon in quarters lengthwise, but not the whole way through to the bottom.
Stuff as much salt into the lemon and place in your jar, pushing down to release some of the juice.
Add extra salt in the layers as you place the lemons tightly in your jar.
Once your jar is full of lemons, add boiling hot water all the way to the top, covering the lemons.
Seal the lid and store for at least 1 month before using.
You can add new lemons to your jar,  adding salt and water as necessary.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Hoerikwaggo hike

This weekend Keith and I joined 10 other hikers to do 2 days of the Hoerikwaggo hike.

 We started at Silvermine, at 8.30am on Saturday morning. It was really cold and misty, but once the mist lifted it turned into a beautiful day.

Our first stop was the lookout at Silvermine, overlooking Houtbay and Chapman's Peak drive.

We then descended Blackburn ravine,

 past the manganese mine then north through unspoilt fynbos with stunning views of the Cape Peninsula,

 and Constantiaberg, we then climbed Vlakkenberg to Constantia Nek.
 This first day is a about 17kms, of hiking.

We overnighted at the Orange Kloof forest, a beautiful, rustic but luxurious camp with hot water showers, open fires, and fully equipped kitchen.

After a good night's sleep we headed out at 8.15am Sunday morning, ascending Table Mountain via Orange Kloof

up to the Woodhead and Hely Hutchinson Dams.

 We then continued to climb up through to Echo Valley, ending at the Cable station.

The second day was only about 9.5kms, with 90% up hill - so get ready for aching thighs and calves. The most rewarding part is the being presented with your ticket to take the cable car trip down the mountain.

The hike is guided and both the guides are well informed. I learnt so much about the flora on the mountain as well as the history of many places such as Hout Bay, the manganese mines and Chapmans Peak, to name only a few.

One interesting and very useful tip for anyone walking on the mountain, when you come to a plant that looks like this

DO NOT TOUCH! It is called the blister bush, Table Mountain's answer to poison ivy. It causes bad blistering of the skin (and what I've been told results in a 7 year itch!) if you come in contact with it.  The effect is triggered by sunlight: in theory, if you do come into contact with it and cover the site of contact immediately, there will be no blistering. Let me know if you are brave enough to put this to the test! The plant is a member of the carrot family. The leaves look remarkably like celery leaves

I would highly recommend this hike for those to want to get out on an overnight hike, yet still have the luxury of portage, hot showers and comfortable beds at the end of a hard day's hike, without having to leave the city.

Jeremiah 17: 7-8

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water."

It is not your business to succeed, but to do what is right : when you have done so, the rest lies with God.
C.S. Lewis

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