Earth Walk – Slackpacking In The Second Largest Canyon In The World

27 Jul 2021

by Ron Swilling

There are some bucket-list experiences in life - and if you are a hiker yet enjoy some creature comforts along the way - Gondwana’s Fish River Canyon trails may just top your list.

While die-hard hikers may prefer the 85km trail beginning at Hobas and ending at Ai-Ais, the others can experience the magnificence of the Fish River Canyon with a hot shower at the end of each day, a cosy kitchen cabin and a soft mattress at night, and - and this is a biggie - your gear being transported from camp to camp.

We began the Gondwana Fish Eagle trail - which covers 35km in the northern section of the canyon - at the Klipspringer Base Camp, an old-fashioned farmhouse, which oozes charm. Hiking boots that had covered many a track in their time hung from the beams of the large veranda among horseshoes and farm implements, watched by several robust quiver trees abloom in yellow.

With gear packed in tin trunks and drinks and firewood ordered for the next three nights, we headed for bed and prepared to be dropped off for an early start at a rocky river gully. Mother Nature has conveniently carved out rocky steps over the aeons. Fossilised river ripples decorating rocks reminded us of the antiquity of our earthy surroundings and flashes of green rosy-faced lovebirds added their touch of avian beauty.

Reaching the canyon floor, we set off on our route following the Löwen River to the confluence of the Löwen and the Fish rivers, and then let the Fish be our guiding star for the next few days. It would take us along its sandy and rocky shores, etched with animal tracks - even those of the elusive leopard - and invite us in to its cool waters for refreshing swims.

The days unfolded into walking along the banks and at the foot of the scree slopes flanked by mighty canyon walls - meandering through millions of years of Earth history - and ending up at the camps with rustic cabins that welcomed us after our day’s walk. Baboons barked their indignation from above, Hartmann’s mountain zebra and klipspringer watched us from the rocky surrounds, a black eagle soared in the true-blue sky and time slowed down as we tuned into the beauty of the natural world. We skinny-dipped and relished our lunch stops on the river’s edge, while fish jumped from the water as if in mutual merriment, punctuating the silence with their gentle splashes. By day three we were pausing in mid-stride to watch a cormorant take off from the sparkling water as the busy-ness of the world stopped and made way for wonder.

A long first day, balanced with a shorter second and third, some easy river crossings and steep climbs, provided enough exercise for those lazy muscles and tender toes to make themselves known in the mornings, and enough time to laze with a book in the late afternoons.

Highlights of the trail are: the three camps - two perched on the rim of the canyon with superlative canyon views and the third in a grove of tamarisk and ebony trees on the riverbank; carrying beds out to sleep under the stars; and the absolute privilege of walking through an ancient and pristine environment.

The trail’s sublime gift: allowing time to declutter and reattune to nature.

It culminates at Horseshoe Camp, overlooking a horseshoe bend in the river. And there is simply little to match this awe-inspiring camp and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have this exceptional scenery all to yourself.

When we recovered from the steep climb up a zebra track to the canyon rim, we poured drinks in celebration and triumph and disbanded for a while to appreciate our wooden cabins before showering on the canyon rim in an open-air bathroom that has been praised as being one of the best in the world – for good reason.

On the last night I couldn’t resist carrying my bed out one more time and lying in my warm sleeping bag under the glistening stars a few metres from the edge. I fell soundly and deeply asleep with a peace and contentment rarely felt in the city. Out there, in nature, I was washed clean, dipped again in God and new created (to quote DH Lawrence) and feeling supremely safe in the generous arms of the universe.

(For more information click on here)

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