Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Naukluft Hiking Trail #5: The Legendary Chains

All legendary hiking trails have quirky features and unique curved balls that, when they're talked about in general conversation, cause a tingle of apprehension, and raises the eyebrows of the uninitiated. Most of these mystical features can be distilled to one word, and in the case of the Naukluft that word is CHAINS. Note the multiple, it's intentional.

The guy (it would have been a guy) who developed the Naukluft route was probably a Marlboro Man type of character - tough, rugged, up for the challenge and convinced that everyone can keep up with his bundu bashing pace. So while on his treks to establish and lay out the route that would become the Naukluft Hiking Trail, he did on various occasions choose not to go around a natural obstacle but simple climb over it. Clearly his thinking was that future hikers, carrying their 15kg backpacks, would have no problem scaling 25m high dry waterfalls with nothing more than a pinch of courage and two bare hands. Fortunately sanity prevailed and he installed chain sections at the two dozen places en route where hikers have to climb over asteroid-sized boulders, shuffle precariously along canyon walls and find their way down cliffs that even the brave Naukluft dassies shy away from.

And here we were on the second day of the trail, staring down a rock face over which dangled a section of smoothly worn chain that was the gateway into Ubisis Kloof. Two members of our group were, fortunately for the amateurs among us,  seasoned mountaineers who on several occasions saved the more clumsy among us from falling to our deaths, or at the very least helped keep the skin on our knees and elbows. They were already at the bottom of the kloof, merrily waving back to us and shouting encouragement. So one after the other the remaining six of us took hold of the chain and gingerly lowered ourselves, helped along by advice from below - a little to the left, a little to the right.... Almost there! I got down with no more damage than a scraped elbow and a finger pulled out of joint when it got tangled in a  chain link at about halfway.  As each hiker reached the bottom a cheer went up from those already there.

And so it continued during most remaining days on the Naukluft, up and down those legendary chains.

Are the chains really worthy of 'legendary'? I think so, yes. Many hikes have ladders, steps, and railings that make the trail easier. The Naukluft chains aren't there to make the going easier, they're obstacles in themselves, there to challenge you again, and again, and again. Well, that's the way it was for the majority of us who lost our climbing instincts at the age of seven, more or less at the time we discovered elevators and escalators.

It doesn't look that high, but the base of the cliff is about 30m down.

But, back to the hike. Three days  (that now feels like an eternity (ago) when we set off on this little junket, the Man Behind The Desk warned us, with a rather wilting apology, that the former holiday home we'd be staying over on the second day wasn't in as pristine condition as it may have been in its heyday, thirty years ago. Sure, the dilapidated four room building had bunk beds, a shower, and an outside toilet, but to cut a long story short we took one look at the filth that presented itself to us, and rolled out our sleeping bags under the stars on a slab of bare cement besides the erstwhile holiday house.

Most of us disappeared behind the bushes, spade in hand to do the necessary rather than utilise the doorless toilet, and apart from one or two hardened souls everyone skipped the shower and washed out of a plastic bucket. Thus, we ticked the third day off as having no accommodation.

And did I mention no water? About an hour after we arrived and started merrily washing up, filling water bottles and generally splashing around the one single outside tap that had water, it suddenly ran dry without warning. While everyone had a litre or two in their hydration packs to get by on, not having a water supply meant we'd have to skip breakfast and climb back up the chains into the top of the canyon where there were a few pools with drinkable water. This was a bad sign for me, since I'm a breakfast type of guy. I don't do mornings on an empty stomach well.

As always, the best workable attitude on the Naukluft also applied here: We'll wait and see how it goes.

You can see all the pics from Naukluft in my Flickr gallery.

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