Naukluft hike gone wrong

So, I’m not sure if this is in the right section. I was planning on doing a trail review/overview, but well… The hike didn’t go quite as planned so I’m writing this instead.

Day minus 2:

We are in Potchefstroom, getting everything ready for our long-planned, once delayed, Naukluft hike. We are a group of five.

We’ve taken our PCR tests and gotten our results: all negative.

We’re anxiously waiting on President Geingob to announce the new Covid-19 regulations. Our trip hangs in the balance. Finally, he speaks to the nation, Namibia, and also a few nervous foreigners (us). His message is mixed, it appears that the country itself is to remain mostly locked down, but with one important exception: tourists. He, however, doesn’t convey exactly how tourists would be exempt. After much late-night discussion we decide to place our hopes on this vague promise and decide to set out early the following morning for Namibia. The plan is to drive from Potchefstroom to Keetmanshoop where we will spend the night.

Day minus 1:

The day starts off well enough. Because of the last-minute nature of our final decision to continue the trip, we managed to catch ourselves off-guard and therefore we’re not quite as well organized or well rested as we would have liked to be. The important thing is that we are on the road and excitement is starting build up.

We arrive at Nakop border post. Due to Covid screening procedures and other hold-ups it takes us about four hours to get through Nakop and Ariamsvlei, after which we have an uneventful drive to Keetmanshoop where we have a room to sleep. We’re finally in Namibia!

We also hear that we need to get a permit from the police-station to get over the regional (internal) borders. We have to cross one to get from Keetmanshoop to the Naukluft hike.

Day zero:

We start off the day in good spirits. Just a quick stop at the police station and then it’s off! Or so we thought. We arrive at the police station to find nothing but a queue. We stand in it, hoping that it’s the right one. After about an hour the queue has become a crowd and we’ve heard via the grapevine that whilst we are at the right place. The only person who can write out a permit is the station commander, who is not there. Nobody knows where he is, nor does anyone know when he is coming back. Apparently, he didn’t even show up the previous day, meaning that no permits were given out at all.

After a few more hours of waiting we decide that we’re going to try another police station at the small town of Bethanie. After driving the 140 km to Bethanie, we arrive to find another missing station commander, also without any estimated, or guaranteed, time of arrival. We decide, screw it, we know we qualify for the permits, we have the proof of reservation and the negative PCR tests, we’re going to just drive to the Naukluft park and hope for the best.

We drive from Bethanie to the Nauklfut (via Maltahohe) without any issue. Namibia is as strikingly beautiful as ever. Arriving at the Nauklfut NWR Camp reception we are told that, yes, everything is in order but the daily conservation fees have doubled since a booked and we need to pay in cash. There is a card machine but it belongs to NWR, and the fees we need to pay are for the Department of tourism. We ask if there is an EFT account we can make a direct deposit to as we don’t have enough cash. We Our man at the desk says he doesn’t know, he suggests that we drive to Windhoek and pay there. After much frustrating discussion, we convince him to follow up on the EFT option with his superiors while we hike. We promise to pay after the hike. He agrees.

We set up camp. I’m already exhausted from the road to the hike. So many things that could have, and kind-of-did, go wrong. But none of that matters now. We are here, and we are going to do this hike. The payment and the road home are issues for another day.

Day 1:

We finally commence the hike. I won’t go into detail about the hike itself. I have hiked the route before, so I will write a hike-overview at a later time.

Our first day is without issue and we arrive at the hut, elated to finally be hiking!

Day 2:

Starts off well enough but one of our number has some ankle issues. Most likely because he started off with a 32-kg pack. We decide to sleep in the Ubisis canyon rather than going all the way down to the hut.

Day 3:

We wake to a miserably cold and windy morning. We have a close encounter with a baboon induced rockslide. All in all a good start to a Nauklfut day.

Except for one thing: I have a slight tingle in my throat.

It’s a short day’s hike and we soon the reach the next hut. I still can’t quite shake the tingle, and no-one has anything like a Strepsel or Andolex-c.

Day 4:

The next day we get off to an early start. I’m feeling well, but the tingle is still there. In fact it’s slghtly worse. I’ve had many throat infections before, caused by my frequent sinus infections. I’m slightly worried that it might become bronchitis but oh well, what can you do.

We make excellent progress in the early part of the day, and soon we’re at the day’s major climb. I’m starting to feel slightly unwell but I can’t quite put my finger on it. We commence the rather steep climb and I soon realize that something isn’t quite right. I just don’t have the energy to climb as I should. I eventually reach the top, take a rest, write in the cache-book, and soon we’re on our way down. Onnce down we stop again to admire the large dried-out waterfall from below. I realize that I’m starting to feel worse.

We continue on from the waterfall and as we progress, I feel progressively worse. Eventually, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other. I suspect that my throat infection has elicited immune response and fever and that this is causing me to feel unwell. After resting for lunch we push through to the hut (Tsams-ost).

Feeling worse than ever I resort to medication. The most fitting medicine we have on hand is Mypaid, which is a pain-killer that also suppresses fever. I take one and feel much better. This all fits into my throat-infection theory.

Day 5:

I wake up, hoping that the infection would have run its course, or at least be retreating (my immune system is responding after all). Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I Still feel horrid. Oh well, nothing a Mypaid can’t fix. I drink one and it works very well.

We start off the day with another, even steeper climb. I take it slowly, pacing myself. The Mypaid is managing my symptoms, but I can sense that I’m not well. I just don’t have the energy that I should and my throat is now very much in pain.

As we continue the day I drink more Mypaids to manage the symptoms, but it’s a losing battle. I try to walk as slowly as possible but it’s still a long day’s walk. Soon I’m just following one of my fellow hikers zombie-style, barely aware of anything around me.

By the time we reach the hut (die Valle) I, once again, feel absolutely horrid and my throat it is killing me. I’m not sure that I will be able to continue the following day, but I hope for a miracle.

I try to make camp as quickly as possible, foregoing dinner, and lie down to rest. That night I can’t really sleep, even though I’m dead tired. a Cold wind keeps blowing in the shelter, troubling my throat and upper-airway.

Day 6:

The next morning, I wake up and try to get up. My usual morning routine on a hike involves sitting up on my inflatable hiking mat, stuffing my sleeping bag into its sack, deflating the mat whilst sitting on it, rolling it up, and stuffing it into its bag as well. This morning I struggle to sit, and soon after starting to stuff my sleeping bag I effectively collapse. If one could die just purely from feeling horrible, I would have.

I make the call. I hoarsely call over to one of the others and I inform that them that this is it. I can’t hike on. an emergency meeting is called, and it’s decided that one person would stay with me, and the three others would try to finish the next three days as quickly as possible, get the cars and drive around to pick us up at the hut (this one luckily has a decent dirt-road leading to it).

I spend the rest of the day in a semi-conscious state just lying down, feeling sick. At this stage I still live in the irrational hope that I will magically recover soon enough for us the continue the hike, following after the others. As the sun is setting, I make peace with the fact that my hike is over. I also remember that I know of someone of who has a farm not to far from the hut where we are. I ask my caretaker/fellow hiker to take the satellite phone (which we luckily have) and try to make contact with the farmer. He succeeds after walking a few kilometers to get a signal (LOS on the geostationary satellite). My throat feels as if I’ve swallowed a set of razor-blades. My teeth start to ache unbearably and I realize that it’s because my throat hurts so much that I’m grinding my teeth every time a swallow.

Day 7:

After another difficult night day breaks to find me still feeling horrible, and surrounded by bloody pieces of toilet paper, as well as a bloody washcloth (a last resort after I ran out of toilet paper in the night). My body is sore all over, although I suspect this is from spending so many hours on the hiking mat. I can’t find a comfortable position lying down, nor is there any comfortable way to sit (no chairs or backrests in the Naukluft).

My general malaise is, however, soon interrupted by the beautiful sight of a single-cad land-cruiser pulling up next to the hut. Turns out our farmer-contact is actually right at the border of the park, about 20k away. We hastily pack up our things and jump onto the back of the bakkie. We soon arrive that the farm which, it turns out, is actually a guest farm! Joy abounds.

We book in and I take comfort and rest in the much under-appreciated glories of hot water and soft furniture. We also contact the park reception to tell them to let the other party know of our situation. Later that night, at about 8-ish, the rest of our party arrives at the guest farm. They look like they’ve been in a warzone. Having walked the last three days in two, getting lost along the way without water, they then didn’t even stop to shower at the Naukluft camp before taking one of the cars and driving all the way over to us.

Day 8:

The following morning, much refreshed (I’m still sick but feeling much better after a shower and a real bed). We depart for Solitaire. Turns out a week wasn’t enough the get the EFT thing sorted. We have to drive to Solitaire find an ATM, and then drive back to the Naukluft camp to pay our outstanding (ha!) fees. Thankfully we did find a working ATM in Solitaire.

Leaving Solitaire we’re stopped by a policeman, we want to see our documents, permits, passports, etc. Which we don’t have. All our passports are in the other car and we don’t have a cross-border permit, we only have a (poorly spelled) letter from our man at reception explaining our situation. Luckily some smooth-talking and the letter do the trick and he sends us on our way.

After arriving at the Park reception (We’ve now driven about 120km already) we make payment and convince our man at reception to write us another explanatory letter so that we don’t have to go hunting for another phantom station commander. This takes a long time.

Finally, we hit the road to Keetmanshoop where we plan to spend the night, again. Soon we have Namibian cell reception (at Maltahohe) and I discover that our stopover in Keetmanshoop is now no-go: our host has Covid. We have another emergency meeting and decide to head for the border, hoping to sleep over at friends in Upington.

The day on the road is uneventful, I’m still unwell, but much recovered. Eventually, we arrive at Ariamsvlei border post. The exit procedure is quite painless, and we are through the border post in about 20 minutes. We arrive at Nakop and report to the Covid rapid-testing station. I test positive, as does one of the others. I’m quite surprised. I was really convinced that I just had an out-of-control throat infection. But just like that, we’re thrown into a new crisis.

Ironically, going through the Nakop border post after testing positive for Covid rates was the easiest border crossing of my life. After testing positive, a very friendly man in a hazmat suit came over to me, took all of my documents, and instructed me to wait in the car while he did all the border-admin for me. 10-minutes later we were cleared to go through.

Also, ironically, the only possibly place/s that I could have gotten infected was during the many hours spent queuing for Covid related permits and admin.

Seeing as two of us had tested positive, and the rest having been in close-contact, we promise (sign a document) to go straight home. And by straight home, I do mean, straight home without any stops. Home being Potchefstroom. At this stage, it was about 21:30. So, after another emergency council, we decide to split the cars between the sick and well, and head on to Potchefstroom through the night.

Stopping in Upington for fuel, however, we realize that we had another problem. The station attendant doesn’t want to give us fuel without an essential worker permit as it was past curfew! We realize that we don’t have any kind of documentation (apart from the positive covid tests) from the border post clearing us to drive after curfew. We are in a pickle as we can’t stop over anywhere, nor can we (technically) be on the road. After yet another council meeting, we decide to risk it and drive on (it was a 3/2 split in the votes). Luckily, we manage to convince the fuel-station manager on duty to give us fuel, which he does very hesitantly.

(We cross over into day 9 somewhere below)

Into the night we drive, some of us sick (the other hiker who had also tested positive is also feeling unwell), all of us exhausted. We drive in shifts, watching carefully for any police or traffic officers, luckily, we see none. At about 3 AM we decide that we were just too tired to drive safely. We pull over next to the road somewhere between Olifantshoek and Kuruman and try to sleep for about an hour and a half. At 4:30-ish, I think, we set off again. At least it’s after 4-am and we don’t need to worry about the curfew any more.

We arrive in Potchefstroom at about half past seven, after about 1700 km and 26 hours on the road, where we go our separate ways. Unfortunately, another member of the party soon became sick as well. Luckily, we eventually all recover.

And that’s the story of our Naukluft hike gone wrong! It wasn’t pleasant, but it was still an adventure and it could have gotten a lot worse. If I had gotten sicker, I could have been in real trouble. So, a note of warning: Know that if you are planning a hiking trip in Namibia during this whole Covid thing, it might work out perfectly fine, but it might also become a completely different kind of adventure. Make sure that you prepare accordingly.

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What a nightmare. Glad you all ended up fine.

An aside: having been to Naukluft, someone still needs to explain to me why anyone would want to spend more than 3 days walking through that terrain, as beautiful as it is.

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Eish Naukluft has been put on my list. I contracted Covid upon returning from Namibia - Not sure where I picked it up, but It may have been in Namibia or at the border crossing - I cant imagine trying to walk whilst in those 6 miserable days (or the lack of energy afterwards)

Naukluft 2023 for me!

For those interested - if youre part of an organisation that undertakes any environmental or ecological work, it is possible to obtain an Essential service travel permit - talk to your organisation. I et that an SA permit might not carry weight in Namibia Zimbabwe or Botswana but we do have ecological or environmental reciprocal working rights with these countries.

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Brilliantly written… i could feel the sore throat :slight_smile:

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