Saturday, September 13, 2014

Naukluft Hiking Trail #10 - The last night

We woke up early on the morning of our second last day with everyone in a hurry to start walking. Normally we left the shelters in one group, but today everyone followed their own lead, and by the time Adeline and I saddled up we were the last to leave, the others having gone ahead. This had us speculating that the trail may just be a little too long, that six days rather than eight may be more ideal to prevent burnout and this sort of 'social disintegration' setting in. But that's idle speculation. The Naukluft is a solid eight days long whether you like it or not, and it's not getting shorter anytime soon.

We steadily gained height during the course of the morning until we reached a rock pile at the highest point of the trail. We were on top, so to speak!

Everyone knew from here on it was pretty much plain sailing and that the canyon slogging of the past few days had come to an end. So we enjoyed an extra long pause to have lunch and absorb the last amazing view of the outstretched valleys before we start on the final leg home. That would be plateau, and then a slow decline down to the starting point at Hiker's Haven.

The afternoon's walk was a long stretch crossing Kapokvlakte. After six days of mountains and deep valleys, we were now in a dramatically different landscape - a perfectly flat table top blanketed all the way to the horizon with kapokbosse - a dusty green shrub covered in pearl-sized, cotton-like balls that gave the plain its name.

Shallow indentations hinted at pans of water during summer, and here and here I spotted patches of mud and sludgy water with hundred of hoof indentations pockmarking the edges of the dark pools. Small herds of springbok broke the horizon now and again, the little ones playfully hopping and bouncing along.

Our final shelter, appropriately named Kapokvlakte, remained hidden behind a massive clump of bushes and trees until we were literally a few yards from it.  Later, as we were preparing the last of the food in our bags for dinner, we were treated to the most spectacular bright orange sunset. Those who still had battery power left in their cameras scurried into the surrounding veld to capture this highlight of the trail. Having slept mostly at the bottoms of canyons the past few days, the sun would leave us quite surreptitiously and unnoticed every night, as it faded behind the mountains. Finally seeing the quintessential African sun set behind the horizon here on our final evening seemed like an appropriate goodbye from all of beautiful Naukluft.

By now temperatures had risen somewhat, and tonight wasn't as cold as it been at the outset. Or perhaps my skin had grown a layer or two of extra protection. I decided to for the first time ditch the thermal underwear that had kept me from freezing to death on previous nights, and slept soundly until 7am,  two hours later than our normal rising time.

As we set out on the straight footpath leading home I turned a last time and looked at the last of the familiar stone shelters that had kept us, sort of, protected during the trail. Across the plain a few springboks were watching us walk away, curious about these strange animals that kept trekking through their territory.

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