There is much truth in the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Although the word ‘contempt’ is used in context most of the time and not in its literal sense, the implied result is often the same — disastrous. I consider myself an experienced hiker, or outdoorsman, with experience going back to my days in the military in 1968 and numerous subsequent hikes in different parts of South Arfica, from the mid-1970’s to the present. Yet, yesterday, I suffered as a result of ‘contempt’.
But let me explain …
A short distance from where I live, is a rock feature which, on old maps of the area, is called Lion’s Tail. It bears a remarkable resemblance to Lion’s Head next to Table Mountain in Cape Town, 350 km to the south. My theory is that someone with a sense of humour named this rock feature Lion’s Tail a century or more ago, with the distant Lion’s Head in mind.
On Saturday night I decided that a hike to Lion’s Tail would be a good idea for my last Sunday hike before the Big Adventure, Operation Leopard. Using the measurement tool in Quantum GIS, I determined that it would be a round trip of roughly 16 kilometres. Great! I can handle that quite easily by now, thought 64-year old Mr. Tough Guy, trained as paratrooper and taking no nonsense from anyone. But, in retrospect, I did not take into account the effect that stress caused by extraneous events has on one’s ability to think clearly and plan correctly. I suspect that the events of the past two weeks, leading to loss of income and having to urgently find work in the new year, caused me to overlook some essentials.
On Sunday (yesterday) morning, I packed some sandwiches, a few snacks, my multi-fuel stove and 4 litres of water. I took my time and left home at 08:15. It was already hot, and by the time I was halfway up the mountain, I was drenched in sweat. Consuming a lot of water, I continued along a contour of the Kobee. The going wasn’t bad — sheep had grazed there quite extensively in recent years and they had left behind several well-defined paths. I came across a spot that would make an excellent camp site should I ever wish to bring hikers to these parts.
But those ‘footpaths’ eventually disappeared and soon I found myself zig-zagging through the vegetation, virtually blazing a trial.
I continued north until I was opposite a saddle in the mountain ridge, due east. I couldn’t see Lion’s Tail at all, so I thought that going over the mountain to the other side, would give me a glimpse of where the peak might be. I started the ascent, bashing my way through dense vegetation and scrambling up rocks, only to come down again in order to find a better route.
Finally, I reached the saddle. I walked down the other side and looked north, but there was no sign of Lion’s Tail. At that moment my experience kicked in and I realized that Lion’s Tail was not for me. I turned my back on Lion’s Tail and concentrated on getting back, but this time on the other side of the mountain.
The going was tough. Within a short while my shins were bloody from scratches inflicted by shrubs and small trees. Then, suddenly, my leg muscles gave the first signs of dehydration — first my hamstrings, then my quadriceps. It was excruciating. I just stood there, locked into a ridiculous pose while waiting for my bow-string-taut muscles to relax.
Eventually, the muscles let go, and I sat down on a rock. Fortunately, I had brought along a few sachets of a rehydration product that I had bought from a local pharmacy a week ago. I filled a mug with water and emptied a sachet into the water. I drank it down and waited. Fifteen minutes later, I could get up and walk again.
My water supply was low, so I decided that the best plan of action would be to head for the nearest farm shed, where there was water. Fortunately, I had its coordinates as a waypoint on my GPS. The straight-line distance was 4 km, but that meant nothing, as I was to discover. The GPS device knows nothing about steep cliffs and rock outcrops …
I trudged along, legs battered and bleeding, bashing my way through dense vegetation. Now I know where that apparently beautiful, velvety, soft texture of a mountain side, viewed in the late afternoon, comes from. It is nothing but soft and velvety …
Suddenly, my legs seized up again. I drank some water, but this was the last — there was no more. A dark feeling of foreboding descended upon me, but I chose to ignore it. I looked at my GPS — I had 3 km to go. Not far, but anything could happen, and the terrain was unforgiving. I waited 15 minutes for the spasms to disappear.
This agony continued, with many pauses, waiting for muscles to relax. Eventually, I saw the track leading to the shed, and my heart lifted. I had a little bush bashing to do, then I reached the track. Carefully, step by step, I trudged in the direction of the shed, now only 1 km away.
The going was good, and my legs held out, until I reached a wire gate. I was so tired, I thought that going leg-over-the-wire would be easier than actually opening the gate. Alas! As I flung first one leg over the wire, and then the other, both legs seized up into the most agonizing spasms. The quads and hamstrings of both legs were taut as bow strings, and I just stood there, gripped in pain.
The pain subsided, and I trudged onwards with a parched mouth and, by now, drying skin. I was not feeling good at all. I reached the reservoir near the farm shed, and there, looking over the edge, I saw a tiny trickle of water from a pipe, dribbling clear spring water from a spring about 500 metres away, brought there by a solar pump. I drank about a litre, then I emptied two rehydration sachets into a 1.5 litre bottle filled with water. I drank this slowly while walking to the shed. There, I sat down and about 15 minutes later, I could stand on my legs again without cramps.
I made some black tea with a lot of sugar, and had the rest of my sandwiches. Half an hour later, I was fine. I started my way back home down the mountain, reaching home without mishap, but drinking a lot of water on the way.
I had learned a lesson:
- Enter your destination target as a waypoint on your GPS, so that you know how far to go.
- If you think 4 litres of water will be enough, take 8 litres.
- Pack a pair of long trousers for bashing through nasty vegetation.
As far as Lion’s Tail is concerned, I haven’t given up. It is there for the future …
For now, I am preparing for my 100 km hike. The lesson learned yesterday reminded me not to take any chances, no matter how experienced I might consider myself to be …