Saturday, June 01, 2013

Into the Belly of the Snake

Greetings All,
We have completed our 4-day hike in Fish River Canyon.  Around 160 km long, 27 km wide and up to 550 m deep, Fish River Canyon is claimed to be the second largest canyon in the world.  Local legend has it that the canyon was created by a giant dying snake furiously hammering the canyon into stone with her writhing body.  We started our hike from Fish River Lodge, a private 45,000 hectare in-holding on the other side of the canyon from Fish River Canyon National Park.  We had originally booked a 5-day backpack from the National Park side but the government closed the bottom of the canyon due to the drought.

Fortunately there was an alternative - Fish River Lodge offers a fully-supported 4-day hike into the canyon.  Although not the adventure we were seeking, it still allowed us to experience the canyon. From the rim we had a rocky 500 m decent along a gully to a plateau below.

As we clambered down, two Klipspringers bounded off.  It's amazing how agile these antelope are on the steep rocky cliffs.  Once on the mid-plateau we got our first view of Fish River.  There was still water but in isolated pools only.

We were standing on wrinkled black rock resembling elephant skin.  We were told it was limestone.

We made our way around some cliffs and descended gradually to the river.  A lone Oryx ambled off and we spotted a Klipspringer family.  We arrived at the river and our campsite for the night.  Our camp staff had already arrived and had set up our tent and dining table with chairs.  I must admit it's nice having a cold drink after a long hike through the desert.

Here the river narrows as it cuts through limestone.  Pools remain full of catfish that are concentrated due to the drying river.

The next morning it was an easy hop on rocks across the river.

We climbed up over a bench and descended back down into the dry riverbed.  The terrain alternated between deep sand and water-polished rocks.  Despite the dry barren terrain, life manages to survive here.  Devil's thorn was blooming in the sandy riverbed and black beetles scurried along making distinctive tracks in the sand.

Our guide Colin told us about a lone Black Rhino that roams the canyon.  We could hardly believe that such a massive beast could survive on such scant vegetation.  We saw dried rhino dung heaps but they were very old.

We climbed out of the riverbed to our second camp site on the mid-plateau. Near the top was the dried skin and skeleton of a kudu that had broken her neck in a fall.  It was a poignant reminder of how harsh life can be here.  At our campsite we were treated to a glorious sunset over the canyon rim.

The next day we hiked back down to the river and picked our way through sand and rocks.  There were more pools here but they were drying up fast.  Amazingly, a variety of waterbirds were congregating here feeding on stranded fish and crustaceans.  White-breasted Cormorants, Sacred Ibis, Black Stork and Egyptian Geese flew off at our approach.

And then along one of the pools, rhino tracks!  The legendary creature does exist.

In another pool Black-capped Avocets and Black-winged Stilts were moving their bills side to side in the brackish water filtering out what little food remains.

We left the riverbed and climbed to flat black rocks with numerous pictographs.  Some appear to be old possibly created by the San and Nama people that once lived here.

Others were from a more modern age when farmers used to graze their sheep here.

We arrived at our third camp just above the riverbed.  That night were heard the eerie cry of Black-backed Jackals.  The next morning we were treated to a pair of African Fish Eagles that were nesting  on a cliff above the river.

We climbed back to the mid-plateau enjoying our last views of the river before reaching the Oasis and the end of our hike.  Normally there is water here but it has dried up.  A lone Kudu Bull sauntered off  as we approached.

We returned to the lodge via Land Rover encountering a 300 year old Quiver Tree along the way. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our experience in the canyon.  We hope the plants and animals that make this inhospitable place home survive yet another drought and that the dying snake survives.

To break up the long 750 km drive back to Windhoek, we spent last night at the Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge where we were greeted by Toffee, the resident meerkat.  He followed us to our tent and took a nap with me!

This morning we were treated to a game drive.  Some of our favorite photos follow.

Southern Giraffe
Black Wilderbeest
Eland Bull

Tomorrow we rejoin the working world at the Cheetah Conservation Fund's facility near Otjiwarongo where we will be volunteering for a month.

We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

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