26 December 2012 — Off to a bad start
The plan was to get to the starting point by 07:00, but I ran out of time as a result of numerous tasks that called for my attention during the days leading up to Christmas. Instead, on the morning of the 26th I was seated in front of my PC, printing out copies of maps of the area I intended to hike through. I made a set for myself and a set for Lana so that she would have an idea of my whereabouts. We had no means of communicating at all.
We managed to leave home by 08:15 and arrived at the Ouberg Pass by 08:35. My original plan had been to start at the waterfall about 5 km from the pass, but my pack was much too heavy — about 28 kg! So, I decided to eliminate an unpleasant struggle with a heavy pack up the waterfall track. I drove to the top of the pass, but Lana wasn’t very happy about the steep gradient of the last section, so I turned around and drove back to a place about halfway up the pass, from where she would be able to drive safely down again. We said goodbye and I set off up the steep pass at 08:45 on wobbly legs, weighed down by the heavy pack.
A short distance beyond the top of the pass I came to a farm house next to the road. The farmer happened to be outside and we exchanged greetings. He asked me where I was going and I told him that I was heading for the Doring River. He looked at me with disbelief and stared at the 9mm pistol that was hanging from my pack. I continued, little knowing that the farmer intended to inform the police of the presence of a ‘suspicious-looking’ individual in the area, as I learned a few days later!
The going was tough and I regretted the fact that I had decided to carry tinned food. Any experienced hiker knows that tinned food is heavy, but I had no option. I couldn’t afford the dehydrated meals that one finds at outdoor stores, so I had to settle for an assortment of tinned food, which added 5 kg to the weight of my pack.
By 11:00 I had covered 6 km when I reached a farm called Bodrif, situated next to the Olienhout River. The place was well kept but deserted, so I decided to rest next to the river which wasn’t flowing, but had a few pools of water. I needed to sit down and think about my next move. My original plan had been to reach the Gifberg Resort, which was 8 km from Bodrif. From there I planned to follow a trail along the Gifberg River down to the Doring River, a distance of 10 km. In total I had another 18 km to go, so I decided to stay over at Bodrif and to continue the following morning. I found a shady spot under an overhanging rock and lay down on my foam mattress for a nap.
Some time later I heard a vehicle. I sat up and saw a white Nissan pick-up crossing the river. About 20 minutes later the same vehicle returned and stopped where the road crossed the river. I decided to show myself, so I got up and walked over to the man who was getting out of the pick-up. He introduced himself as Pieter, manager of the farm, and I explained my presence on the property. He told me that he had been following my tracks for some time but couldn’t find them beyond the river. That was why he had turned around and stopped at the river to see whether he could pick up my tracks again. He claimed that he was concerned about stock theft.
Pieter invited me to his house and offered me a very welcome Coke. We chatted and he mentioned that there was a track from the house down to the Doring River, which I didn’t know about because it is not shown on the old map of the area, although I later saw it on a satellite image. This was good news for me since it meant that I could eliminate a detour of over 30 km via Gifberg. Pieter gave me permission to stay over for the night and to use the track to reach the Doring River the following day. I pitched my tent on a sandy spot next to the river and settled down for the night.
27 December 2012 — Down to the Doring River
When I woke up the sky was overcast but the air was cool — ideal for hiking. I had a quick breakfast and by 08:00 I was on my way, heading for the Doring River along a track that was very sandy in places. My legs coped with the heavy pack but I had to stop a few times to get the load off my shoulders which were being chafed by the straps of my pack. Eventually I had to place my towel between my shoulders and the straps, which gave a measure of relief.
After a 10 km hike I reached the Doring River at 11:45. I was surprised by the colour of the water — the unusually heavy rainfall in the area on Christmas Eve gave the water the colour of diluted pea soup. But I was prepared for this. As a birthday present Lana had given me a water filtration system comprising a micro filter and three water squeeze pouches of 500 mL, 1 L and 2L capacity, respectively. This turned out to be one of the best gifts I have ever received.
Across the river I saw a number of buildings. Evidently this is the camp that the river rafters use during spring when the river is in full flood. I surveyed the place with my binoculars. There were no vehicles and no signs of life; the place was deserted. I made a mental note to find out about river rafting in the area — there might be some adventure to be had in future.
I walked down the last section of the track and took off my backpack with a sigh of relief. While looking around for a suitable place to camp for the night, I experienced a feeling of disappointment: it became clear that it would be extremely difficult to negotiate the rugged terrain while carrying a heavy pack. In my immediate vicinity the river was lined with large boulders. I could imagine how easily an ankle might be sprained or a leg broken while boulder-hopping with a heavy backpack.
I returned to my pack and took out my stove to make a mug of coffee. While sitting on a rock, sipping my coffee, I reviewed the situation. I decided to set up a base camp there where I was and to explore the river to the east and west without the heavy backpack. Having made this decision, I felt better, although it meant that I had to forget about my original idea of reaching the Kobee River, which was still about 20 km away to the east.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing under a tree and replenishing my water supply. There was no shortage of water, but I had to boulder-hop for about 100 metres to get to the river and fetch muddy water for filtering. The filter had to be backwashed after every 2 litres as a result of the high silt content in the water. Backwashing is done by filling a large 60 mL syringe with clean water and forcing the water back through the filter. After repeating this three or four times, the filter is clean again.
After a dinner of tuna mixed with my own homemade sun-dried carrots and onions on rice, I crawled into the little tent as it was getting dark. It was still cloudy and cool, but there was no wind and it was dead quiet.
28 December 2012 — Signs of leopard
I awoke at about 04:00. It was still quiet and I lay there in the tent, enjoying the absolute tranquility. Then, suddenly, I heard a single, distinct rasping cough. Leopard? It was very likely, since there were certainly no people around. This was exciting and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay awake and when it became light enough to move around, I got up and made coffee, followed by a breakfast of instant oats.
After breakfast I set off to explore the river to the west, armed with water bottles, snacks, binoculars, tripod and camera.
Thorn trees, Acacia karroo grow all along the river, and in summer these trees are covered in sweetly scented yellow flowers.
In several places there were small beaches of clean white sand on both sides of the river.
As I made my way over boulders and through trees I came across a patch of sand, and there they were — leopard tracks! Unmistakably. There are no wild animals in this part of South Africa with a spoor that size.
29 December 2012 — Exploring to the east
I was particularly curious to explore the river to the east, since I still entertained some hope that I might be able to get to the Kobee River. But what I saw confirmed that it would be foolish to try to negotiate that terrain with a heavy backpack. Clearly a different approach would be required: light rucksack, dry rations, no tent (sleeping in the open), no extra clothing or luxuries. Now that would be an adventure!
30 December 2012 — The long walk back
I was up at 05:00 and prepared for a long hike back to Ouberg Pass. By 07:00 I was on my way back to Bodrif. The idea was to fill all my water containers (total capacity 5.5 litres) at Bodrif in the event that I might not find water again the following day on the long, 28 km hike home from Ouberg Pass.
At Bodrif I rested for half an hour after filling my water containers, then I continued. As I approached the farmhouse near the top of the pass where I encountered the farmer on the first day of my hike, I saw a vehicle approaching. By coincidence it was Pieter, manager of Bodrif. He was surprised to see me, so I explained that it wasn’t possible to hike along the Doring River. He then told me that the police had been in the area, making enquiries about the ‘suspicious-looking’ person reported by that farmer whose house I was about to pass. Of course I thought it was funny.
When I reached the place where Lana had dropped me off on the 26th I rested for about two hours. My pack was somewhat lighter as a result of my tinned rations having been depleted, but the 16 km hike had nevertheless been tough. While resting it occurred to me that I could make my way to the waterfall resort which was only 5 km away. At 16:00 I started walking and reached the resort by 17:30.
To cut a long story short, I was received with typical local hospitality and spent the night there. The following day, New Year’s Eve, I was saved the trouble of walking home (a distance of 25 km) when a guest and his wife at the resort offered to drop me off at home, since they had to go into town anyway. This was very kind of them, because it meant a detour of 16 km.
I arrived home safely, and the first thing Lana told me, was that the police had been there to establish whether the suspicious-looking person was indeed I!