Rudderless in the Richtersveld

At the end of June I joined my brothers in South Africa for a jaunt to the border of Namibia and the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. It’s a harsh and barren landscape, with the tail end of the Orange River providing the only evidence that water ever reaches the area. The 80 km of super-corrugated mining roads at the end of our drive reminded us repeatedly and shakily that we’d left the city.

When we arrived, the very frantic park ranger told us that he didn’t think there’d be any water in the entire area, so it might not be possible to complete the hike. We decided to shorten our target to three days, ditched any non-essentials, and loaded about twelve litres of water into our bags.

It’s a two hour land cruiser drive to the trail-head, along some pretty serious 4×4 roads. Most of the way is completely barren, but as we neared our destination a few grand quiver trees and low bushes started to appear.

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Golden quiver trees punctuate the sparse brush.

We investigated the Zebrawater river(bed) on the first day, and unsurprisingly, there was no water to be found. We were still treated to a stunning view of Dernberg, one of the most attractive peaks in the park.

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Matt and Zoom investigate the bone-dry Zebrawater, with the majestic Dernberg in the background.

Our first short day of hiking ended in the Amphitheatre, and my iPhone camera and mediocre photography skills fail to do justice to the place. It’s the end point of the valley we hiked up, terminating on all sides  (except the one we came in on) with sheer 100 metre high cliffs.

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Inside the stunning Amphitheare

Zoom and I went for some scrambling up the least steep section, and the perfect acoustics meant we could talk to Matt back at the bottom without raising our voices, even from around 100 metres away. It got dark pretty quickly inside there, so we got a fire going and enjoyed our sparse few rusks and sips of whiskey. The complaints about discomfort and cold from my less camping-n-hiking-smitten brothers were kept to an impressive minimum.

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Zoom and I doing some scrambling

We started off bright and early the next morning, after I’d had a bowl of oats, and Matt and Zoom had their Futurelife and Aeropress coffee. Constantly counting the droplets of water we used, to make sure our twelve litres would last (no spitting after you brush your teeth).

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When in doubt, heel hook.

But then we found water! A murky little spring, too small and still to be very inviting, but definite potential if we ran out of other options. We dumped our bags there and set off for the Venstervalle (the namesake of the hike), stopping for a group self timer on the way.

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The happy hiking trio.

The Venstervalle is a beautiful arch, with a waterfall (dry now, obviously) flowing out underneath it with about a 50 metre drop.

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The Venstervalle, with Zoom in the bottom left and me on the right lying down

We pushed on to God’s Window, but it wasn’t very impressive and it’s an overused name anyway, so we returned to camp to enjoy the most peaceful sunset possible. No people or running water for at least 50 km in any direction, and barely an animal either. Really intense silence, followed after by sunset by the starry Northern Cape heavens opening above us. The night was colder than the one before, so some time after midnight Matt knocked on the tent door and came to join Zoom and me on the (not actually so) cosy inside.

The next day we’d set a rendezvous time with the park rangers (back at our original starting point, so we set of early to wind our way back out of the valley. Stopping only to summit Dernberg! Matt opted out of the slightly hairy scramble to the top, so Zoom and I enjoyed our panoramic view before rushing down to make the rendezvous on time.

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The view from the top of Dernberg!

It was a really fun brotherly trip, made more awesome by the sheer remoteness and aloneness it offered. ‘n Veldie was nooit beter gewes nie. By the time the land cruiser picked us up again, we were completely out of food, water, rusks and whiskey, and very much looking forward to the relative civilisation offered by Sendelingsdrif border post.

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