The Mighty Fish River Canyon in Namibia

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May 6-12, 2019 was spent hiking the banks of the Mighty Fish River in Namibia. Even though the water was ‘low’ this year I am still calling it the ‘Mighty Fish River’ as it is a mighty, majestic power that has created and maintains this magical place. There is so much I want to say about this hike but not sure I’ll be able to find the words to adequately share what was experienced. I am not so into the technicalities of it but I really was feeling all the feels on this hike. I’ll get into that in a bit. But first, I have some advice I’d like to share with you which may make your Fish River Canyon hiking trip a more pleasant one…

1.) Check all passports before leaving home. One of our friends (we won’t mention any names) brought his passport but only found out 9.5 hours later when we were at the border of South Africa and Namibia that that was his old, expired passport. The passport did not have a corner cut out of it (like they sometimes do to expired passports) so he was none the wiser that his REAL passport was still lying at home in Cape Town until we arrived at the border. After much ado, we were all scrambling to think of how he was going to get his passport in time for the hike tomorrow. He phoned a friend and for a small fee (ahem, LARGE fee) his friend very kindly raced the passport up to him via car, and then he turned back and headed straight back to Cape Town. That is at least 19 straight hours of driving for him! Luckily he was in need of some extra cash, he had time on his hands and was able to help.

2.) Ensure you have trimmed your nails and have proper shoes, socks and gear. Another person in our group (again, no names) forgot to trim his toenails and by Day 2 was experiencing jammed toenails (from the steep downhill entry to the hike) and blistering on a few toes. Yee-ouch! A few others in the group also were experiencing blistering on multiple toes (in between the toes mostly it seemed). I can NOT imagine hiking the distances we hiked each day with that kind of pain on my feet each step of the way. No thanks! Your shoes should feel so comfortable on your feet. I am not one that thinks you need to ‘break in’ shoes. I think they should fit beautifully from the get go, like the story of Cinderella. I only buy hiking shoes that feel like slippers on my feet. Of course you should not wear brand new shoes on a long hike, but what I am saying is that your new shoes should feel so good on your feet right from the start.

3.) Don’t over pack. Less is more. I wanted to see if I could wear the same outfit the entire time and I did. I only used 1x short sleeve hiking shirt, one pair of hiking shorts, and 2x pairs of nice, thick socks. I washed them once on the trail and I don’t think they ever smelled at all, but you can ask my friends ☺ . I had another outfit for camp each evening which was the same every night (leggings, tank top, long sleeve thermal). So all in all 2x outfits was all I needed.

The things I wish I had more of on the trail:
• A few extra packs of 2 Minute noodles (we only brought two packs between the two of us. I would bring 5 packs between two people next time) or couscous to bulk up our dinners (which were mostly dehydrated packs from Backcountry), and more protein for breakfast. I was loving the droewors we brought along (dry sausage) and really wished I had brought along more to eat for breakfast along with my already packed instant oats.
• I found myself craving all the yummy salty foods like anchovies, capers, olives, Provita crackers. The loss of salts through sweating really takes it out of you.
• I will for sure bring chia seeds and fresh lemon to add to my water next time for extra nutrients and tastiness.

Next time I plan to bring along a small sewing kit in case something happens that duct tape isn’t able to cure.

A few things I was very happy to have in my pack:

• Night crème for counteracting the extremely dry conditions (thanks to Irene F for this very valuable tip!)
• An extra pair of hiking shoelaces (a mouse or something ate half of one of my laces one night)
• Sarong (this was key for keeping the sun off of my arms while hiking). I would dip it in the pools and drape over my shoulders as I walked. Staying cool is important and makes the walk so much more pleasant.
• 500mls of Del Maguay Minero (or any variety of Del Maguay products) Mezcal for sipping in the evenings and laughing away. Oh My, I wish I would have packed another 500mls of this. It warms your heart and soul, and your friends too ☺
• Buff for covering my ears and head at night. I liked knowing that it was difficult for any creepy crawlies to get into my ears as my Buff was protecting me as we slept under the stars each night.
• A small bottle of herbal remedy for colds from my Naturopath Dr. Renata Zijp (Ingredients: Salvia, Mint, Licorice and Olive Leaf). If we woke up with stuffy noses and sore throats this herbal remedy really hit the spot. It also was so nice and had a second use as a breath freshener. Anything that has a double purpose on the trail is worthwhile bringing along.
• Berocca once a day and Super C’s. Nice to have the sugar and energy, and something different tastes in your mouth besides river water (which is not bad).
• Groundsheet! I am SO happy we brought this simple but most needed little piece of fabric along. It helped us to not sleep entirely IN sand, just on top of it. It was absolutely perfect and I would do the hike again with just the groundsheet and sleeping bags under the stars.

4.) Having our food in big ziplock bags labeled and designated for each day was very helpful. This way you knew how much food you had for each day and there is no way of overeating unless you start digging into the next day’s food (which you would never do as this would screw you the next day). We had plenty of food for snacks and lunch. Powdered soup + biltong shavings was a winner for lunch. It seems crazy in a desert to have hot soup at the hottest time of day but it really hits the spot.

5.) I highly recommend boosting your immunity before embarking on this trail. Make sure you have not run yourself into the ground before starting this. Supplement with immune boosting foods and vitamins like Vitamin C, Echinacea, etc. for a few weeks before your departure. Hiking the Fish River Canyon is something that will take you to another land…literally and figuratively. You will be sleeping outside and will have no shelter from the elements (which is a fantastic thing. Imagine watching a shooting star show every night). Your body is likely to react to the extreme ‘slow down’ from the fast pace of our frantic city lives to the peacefulness it finds itself in on this trail. You know the thing where you get sick when you go on vacation? It’s like your body finally has time to rest and decompress (not that there is a huge amount of physical rest on this trail) and when it does all the things you’ve been pushing aside come to the forefront and the body starts to shut down/get sick/really decides now is the time for the big break? That’s what I’m saying can happen here. Also, any old niggles or injury is likely to pop it’s head out to say ‘hello, old friend…remember me??’ as you are carrying an extra +/-15kgs (33lbs) on your back each day mostly through sand. This can wear your body down and little compromises in alignment occur and old injuries resurface.

6.) Take a swim at lunch time, and any other ‘rest time’. I found it 100% necessary and amazing to dip whenever I had the chance. That perfect water was calling me. It is such beautiful water that cools and refreshes you to keep going.

7.) This is a 5 day/4 night venture into the wilderness. When I thought about hiking the Fish River Canyon I thought….’Everyone does it. We just follow the river. We probably don’t even need a map.’ And I am a MOUNTAIN GUIDE by profession. Shame on me for even thinking we wouldn’t need a map. Of course we need a map. You ALWAYS need a map. We did have a map thanks to my awesome husband Jonty. Basically I got a little bit cocky thinking that since it is such a popular hike that A.) Anyone can do it and B.) That we will be fine, of course. Do NOT take this hike as lightly as I did as that is how people get hurt and lost. However, I do think anyone can do it that is in good physical condition but you DO need to be well prepared as you are 100% self reliant, and you are a liability to others if things start to head south for you.

8.) We did the hike in 5 days/4 nights but I would recommend rather doing it in 6 days/5 nights. This means heavier packs at first as you are carrying another day and nights food but I think having another day would have been amazing. We were ‘working’ the whole time it seemed. Of course there was time to sit and admire the rocks and chill but not for too long as we needed to prepare food, wash up dishes, get firewood (thanks to Nick for mostly being our fire starter/wood gatherer), get our bags packed up (we wouldn’t leave our bags unpacked at night as little critters ate through some of my things on the first and second nights (my hydration nozzle and shoelace), and by that time it was dark and time for a small bonfire and then bed. I wish we would have had a bit more ‘chill time’, and even perhaps one day do the extra distance to include ‘Lost Bend’ which is more remote and sees less human interaction so there are more animals and untouched land there.

Now onto more of the magic of the trip….

1.) We saw more animal prints than human ones! I have never been to a place where I have seen so many animal prints. Some of the prints were embedded in the dried mud and looks like they could have been there awhile…how long though? We are not sure…weeks, perhaps months? Some of the prints were in the soft mud from the days or hours before we arrived. It was SO AWESOME knowing these incredible creatures were all around us. We saw prints of small cats, caracal, leopard (BIG prints), kudu, ostrich, mice, birds, baboons.
2.) The flora was very dry, shrubby, desert-like plants which easily survive in the 30-40+ Celcius temps (86-104 Fahreinheit). Some looked a bit like the Spekboom with smaller leaves, some looked like the pea family, some looked like Lessertia Frutescens family, some Pelargonium types. I really want to get a Namibian flower book which will help identify and familiarize myself with what it out there. I remember an amazing book shop/diner in Springbok that I wanted to stop at on the way home but it was just a bit too far outta the way so we skipped it. They had the BEST books for rocks, flowers and all things natural the last time I was there in 2014.
3.) Being out in the wild with 10 others is intense. I love it and could have stayed for at least another week if I had the supplies. But it does bring up some vulnerabilities. There is no place to hide. You see one another for who you are…your strengths and weaknesses are more easily shown. It is a good thing and that is how I wish we all were in daily life. Vulnerability is a strength, we just don’t usually see it as that. If you or someone in your group happens to get hurt it is going to be difficult to reach help even if you have a satellite phone. Next time we are for sure taking out Travel Insurance. We were cowboys and girls to not do that. It is R80,000 Namibian Dollars (+/-5500 USD) to get helicoptered out of there for medical reasons. A bit much if you don’t have any insurance cover.
4.) The rocks are like something you have NEVER seen before. Yes, it looks like a dry, rocky canyon from the pics…but those rocks…up close…OMG. This is stuff from the centre of the Earth that we never see unless at a crystal shop. I saw some powerful Quartzite wands, Onyx looking arrowheads, and others that reminded me of Unaklite. I’ll be looking more into what they actually are in the coming weeks and I am hoping to identify them. But actually it doesn’t even matter to me what their names are. The power they hold is what you can feel. Rocks hold that ancient earth energy and by being out here surrounded by such powerful stone pinnacles and walls the feeling is pretty palpable.
5.) On a trip like this you are most definitely with the group but you also have loads of alone time on the trail as everyone walks at a different pace. It is so freeing to feel disconnected from the cellphone (our phones didn’t work outside of SA and definitely there is no signal in the Canyon in any case), emails, family life and all the pressures of modern society. I will NOT forget this trip for the time it gave me to reconnect with myself, the land, my ancestors (I felt the spirit of my recently passed Grandma and my Dad’s Mom & Dad too out there. They all loved the Western USA which this place reminded me of, and they all loved rocks), the stars, my husband and friends. I am thankful for making the time to do this. It was the perfect way to recharge and reconnect and it has reminded me to be more in alignment with my true self in many ways.
6.) The first night I had a dream about 4 leaf clovers. I remember seeing some of them in real life when I was younger but it was not often you would find one. Then, the very next day (in real life-not dream life) as Brett and I were hiking along the river boulders I spotted a very small patch of clover, about the size of my hand which caught my attention. I went in for a closer look and upon closer inspection the ENTIRE patch were ALL 4 leaf clovers. Have you ever even heard of this before?! I mean I could hardly believe my eyes. I took one clover and took a photo of it so I would remember and have documentation of this. Unfortunately I did not take a photo of the whole patch but luckily Brett was there as an eye witness so when I think back and think ‘was I crazy? Did I actually see that?’ I will know, and Brett will know. How utterly incredible is that? I consider that a really cool gift from the Universe. I’m glad my eyes were open.
7.) Sleeping out under the stars was magical. We would see between 5-15 shooting stars each night. We heard owls on both sides of the Canyon on Night 3 throughout the night. I felt surrounded by good, protective energy while this happened. Every morning we gathered in a circle and asked the ancestors and energies around to welcome us, guide us and protect us along our way each day. I think this was key as we really were so exposed out there, and definitely not alone.

A special thank you to Tim Lundy for booking the trail and dealing with those logistics. Sheesh there is a lot of paperwork to get sorted for this one. And also for getting this awesome group together. It was a nice mix of old and new friends. Thank you to my husband Jonty who was my partner in crime out there. We hike at completely different paces but I loved being with you, knowing you were always there, going on little side adventures together to check places out, sleeping under the stars each night together, and being camp partners-sharing food and duties. And a final thank you to the rest of our AWESOME crew…Sanet (she’s done the Fish 6 times and was the most experienced Fish hiker in the group), Aubry, Mel, Bart (Brett), Scott, Ath, Nick and Lauren. What a team!! Thanks for the good times and memories.

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