General, Photography, Travel, Walking

South Africa 2008 – Day 8 Otter Trail Day 4 with a scary river crossing

Day 4 is by far the hardest of the Otter Trail. It is the longest leg at 13.8km and has the hardest river crossing at Bloukrans River. Apparently several people die each year crossing this river. However, Helen says last time she crossed it it was just a gentle stroll through water no more than knee high.

We set off early to make sure that we had plenty of time to plan the crossing. Unfortunately the low tide was at about 5.30 in the afternoon which meant we had to choose between a higher than ideal tide for the crossing and walking the last 4km in the dark. We had agreed that walking in the dark was not the preferred option.

For such a long leg of the journey, you would expect that the path would be nice and easy. Unfortunately after a nice easy first couple of km it reverts to its old tricks and starts going steeply up and down again. Rain has made everything slippery and I managed to take a proper fall on a down hill bit. Falling seems to have damaged my water bottle and filled the bottom of my pack up with orange flavoured drink. This necessitated a slightly comical dumping of all the stuff from my pack onto the path and tipping out all the remaining drink. Fortunately all of my clean clothes were packed in ziplock bags ready for the crossing but my dirty clothes were soaked in orange and had to be rung out! Of course this happened on a narrow part of the path with everyone behind me so I held every one up and gave them a good show.

We eventually made it to the river by lunch time. There is a very steep set of steps down to the river level, some wooden and some concrete. Without the steps it would not be possible to get safely down to this side of the river. From the top of the steps you can get a good view of the 3 places that are shown on the map as appropriate crossing points. The tide was still reasonably high and none of them looked possible let alone preferable from this vantage point.

Heike was waiting for us at the top of the stairs as she did not fancy doing the crossing on her own. We all made our way down to the beach and paused to make lunch and to contemplate our next step. Eventually we chose to take the mid-tide route. Helen and Neil went to check it out and found that the water was not too deep except for the last couple of metres where we would have to swim. Helen and Neil, being the most confident about the crossing volunteered to ferry the bags across so we could concentrate on getting ourselves across.

Crossing without a bag was actually very easy, once you got over the cold. The climb out after the swim involved some very sharp rocks covered in muscles and barnacles. Many of us came away bleeding after climbing up onto that. From there it was a relatively easy climb round to the path although it looked very daunting at first. By now of course it was raining hard so there was no chance of us getting properly dry.

We made sure that all of our stuff was as waterproof as possible.  Most of us had heavy duty plastic survival bags which we packed our rucksacks and everything else into.  I also sealed most of my stuff, most importantly my camera, into ziploc bags.  Some of us did not have survival bags with us so several trips had to be made, unpacking and carrying away the rucksacks at the far side while others went back for more.

The crossing must have been difficult as I didn’t manage to take a single picture of it or of anything else that happened for the rest of the day.

It is odd that while there is a large set of steps to aid the descent to sea level, there is nothing to help you get back up to the cliff once you are tired and cold from swimming across the
river.  I suppose that they don’t want to spoil the view but a couple of ropes or maybe a wooden platform would be a great help.

Once everyone was across and dressed we set off on the last 4km of the day. This almost immediately required some significant climbing and the only point in the walk where a rope is provided to prevent you from falling off the cliff. It was at this point that my trusty stick was abandoned after surviving the river crossing and being thrown into the sea and rescued I left it leaning against the rock at the bottom of the climb.

After this the path returned to its normal steep up and down which gradually wore away at my will to carry on. At least the heat helped to dry me out! We trekked across several beaches in the last section, all of them cobbled rather than sandy and steadily ticked off the markers for 11, 12 and 13km. This is the only leg of the walk with regular distance markers every km.  I suppose that this is to help you decide whether you will make it to the crossing in time for low tide.

The last 800m (after the 13km sign) seemed the longest ever and was so steeply down hill in places that I had to slide down on my bum for fear of tumbling all the way down. At the top of the slope we encountered a woodpile with a sign saying that we had to carry it down to the camp. We had left Krys and Neil behind after the crossing with a promise to have a roaring fire going for them when they got back so we gathered up loads of wood in my survival bag.

Finally we made it to the camp and I remembered that Krys had the firelighters and that the wood was all damp! Fortunately the lovely previous people had left behind some firelighters and candles and I managed to get a merry blaze going to dry out our wood store.

Krys and Neil were a long while joining us and it was getting dark so we decided to send out a search party. Almost as soon as they left, the search party returned to say that they were on the final descent. Soon we were all reunited round the fire and repeating yesterday’s drying ritual. Unfortunately I managed to get my socks a little too close to the fire and, unlike Dave’s hat the previous day was not able to salvage them in time.

We had the usual pasta for tea but with a treat of banana loaf cake and custard for dessert. Unfortunately one of the 2 sachets of “custard” that Dave had bought turned out to be instant, mint flavoured chocolate mousse. The instructions for making this mousse included “whisk for 10 minutes with an electric whisk” and “cool in a refrigerator for an hour”. Naturally this led to a discussion of whether there were any brothels nearby and if there were, whether the inhabitants would be willing to make the mousse for us.

Needless to say, the mousse went unmade and was left behind as a challenge for the next group.

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