Monday, September 15, 2014

Naukluft Hiking Trail #11 - The home run

I can't recall many specifics about the final morning on the Naukluft trail. We must have gone through the usual motions of rising just before dawn, getting a camping stove or two going for coffee water, doing our extremely basic ablutions, and having a functional breakfast. In-between there'd be bedding to be folded and packed away and a last check to see that nothing had been left behind. That was the daily routine; this had been our morning ritual for the past few days, but by now it had all become a bit blurry.

I seem to recall we did agree to sleep a little later than usual since it was a relatively easy 14km downhill walk home, but most were up at the usual pre-dawn hour. Such habits die hard especially if you're sleeping on gravel separated only by a thin layer of foam. (Note to self: Follow the example of person who brought with a plain, simple kid's lilo).

I put my Hi-Tecs on for the final time, after snapping a soulful image of them against the prevailing landscape. They'd served me well, but the soles had several deep cuts and the rubber was chipped quite badly. I'd have to pension them off when I return home.

The first few kilometers were spent crossing a section of the table top Kapokvlakte, and then we entered the final canyon that would carry us down almost right up to the door of Hiker's Haven.

The crystal clear stream we picked up along the way flowed stronger and faster as we descended. After so many days of seeing very little water it felt good, there's something reassuring in having a gurgling flow of water in close proximity on a hike. We lunched at a series of large rock pools below a small waterfall, and for most in the group it was hard to resist a quick plunge before the final seven or eight kilometers home. I'm not much for swimming in places where I have to share the water with floating objects that include dark green, slimy bits of algae and semi-drowned goggas but I thought I'd be a sport and join in. As to be expected the water was icy cold and I don't think I spent more than about four minutes before settling on a warm bank of rocks to dry out.

It was a nice, long and lazy break, but as soon as we started off again everyone walked faster and faster, expecting to see the final stretch after each bend in the canyon. The final stretch of a hike is always like that - just a little longer and further than you expect it to be. The short walk through the shady camping area and the dusty road leading to Hiker's Haven eventually arrived, and then, the final hundred meters to the compact little two-room building where we knew we'd find the Man Behind The Counter.

He looked slightly perplexed as he watched eight dusty, slightly beshevelled hikers file into the tiny office.

'You finished all eight days?'

No, you silly man. We camped just over the first hill, living for a week on Old Brown Sherry and Woolies chicken sosaties.

We asked about the hiking group we'd seen at Tsams Ost. He shook his head. 'Not finishing. We had to rescue them, one of the group developed a knee problem.' He turned the visitor's book over for us to sign.

'You're the first South African group to finish this year.'

I could be mistaken but I sensed a slight note of admiration in his voice.

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