A few years in the past I heard a few mystical place, deep within the desert, the place water has hewn a towering chasm into the rugged quartzites of the Oemsberg Mountains, and nonetheless trickles from the excessive cliff-top to land within the desert sand of a magically encircled and silent campsite. I’ve needed to camp there ever since.
Phrases & Pictures Johann Lanz, gallo/getty photos
The Oemsberg Mountains are among the many most distant in South Africa. And among the many driest. Port Nolloth itself is a far-flung, windswept huddle of low buildings, clinging to the inhospitable western fringe of our nation. Nevertheless it’s nonetheless a full day’s journey from there to succeed in the top of the observe and are available inside a day’s mountaineering distance of the Oemsberg Amphitheatre.
I’ve heard, too, of Pieter van Wyk. Pieter is a surprisingly uncommon character. Born and raised on this north-western nook of the nation, he’s a self-taught botanist, speaker of a number of indigenous languages and intimately linked to this land. Pieter has three tattoos up his arm – of the three new plant species he has found right here – and he’s retaining house for extra.
Our journey into Pieter’s world is a uncommon alternative. Uncommon as a result of for the final six years there was inadequate rain to make a mountaineering journey into these mountains possible. Uncommon as a result of we witnessed the waterfall of the Oemsberg Amphitheatre in circulation and swam in a number of treasured, desert waters. Uncommon as a result of we have been met in these mountains by a wild, talkative botanist, with uncommon perception into this distinctive botanical wonderland.
We first meet Pieter within the cobbled stone coolth on the vacationer centre stoep in Sendelingsdrift. Pieter is the one carrying white wellington boots, a footwear selection that strikes me as odd for the desert. He’s wiry and dark-skinned, from time within the solar. His look is half moustached konstabel, half Bedouin. Under us, the broad, lazy brown of the Orange River slides slowly by, in distinction to Pieter’s effervescent enthusiasm for the place he’s sending us. Pieter can’t be a part of us because the native information as a result of the short-lived results of a wetter winter make it crucial that he’s on the market from daybreak to nightfall, recording the intricacies of plant distribution throughout the huge and rugged mountains that kind the southern boundary of the Richtersveld Nationwide Park.
His hike briefing is a cascade of engaging place names – Zebrawater, Koeskopfontein, Dreunbult, Gannakouriep. It consists of route info and recommendation, the situation of springs and water caches, and tidbits of fascinating info. His little path guide, out there from the vacationer desk, collates the knowledge in a extra typical means. Pieter will meet us within the mountains. He factors to a distant slope on the map the place we’re more likely to encounter him on the finish of our second day on the path.
The Venstervalle Climbing Path is Pieter’s ardour play – a script that unfolds in 4 acts over 4 days, and a inventive masterpiece for these of us who’re with an eagle-eye view of my fellow campers enclosed beneath me, and a magical, silently-echoing exploration into the just about inaccessible gorge feeding the water that falls to the amphitheatre ground, far under.
The blue porthole of sky is changed by a black one, studded with stars. Earlier than daybreak, head torches solid beams of sunshine throughout the ground and partitions of the amphitheatre. We are going to sort out Dreunbult whereas the early morning angle of the solar nonetheless covers it in cool shadow.
Our morning traverses excessive, undulating mountain valleys, recklessly embellished with flowers. These mountains are an island of upper rainfall inside a desert sea of utmost aridity and are house to the richest desert flora on the earth, which incorporates an array of very uncommon, endemic plant species. Within the little shady thicket of bushes round Modderfontein – the place we lunch and fill our bottles for the afternoon’s ascent up Langbult – we discover a delicate blue dove’s egg resting on the bottom.
To satisfy Pieter at Venstervalle, the place we in a single day, is way more than to easily meet an intense, wandering botanist within the desert. It’s to actually meet this place. It’s to fulfill the tiny, uncommon Conophytums or Bobejaan toointjies, the unusual, child-like rock artwork within the overhang close to the falls, the taxonomic secrets and techniques of the little oasis at Koeskop-fontein, and a plant species which will nonetheless be unknown to science. It’s to fulfill a real endemic of this place.
The sweetness in plant taxonomy is usually misplaced on me. I really like being among the many plant inhabitants of pristine landscapes. I take discover of the weird ones. I like the gorgeous ones. However I don’t must know their lineage. I’m subsequently extra fascinated by his relationship with this land and in how he has transcended the confines of the conservative tradition during which he grew up.
When Pieter talks about his grandmother, his eyes have the identical sparkle they do when he talks in regards to the vegetation of the mountains during which his ancestors lived. He has proven us outdated fields up the valley, final tilled many a long time in the past, a rusting plough, the ruins of the easy, impossibly distant farmhouse during which they should have eked out a harsh dwelling. Pieter’s grandmother, he tells me, was a siener (seer). She was the member of his household with whom he most linked, and he or she is the inspiration for his personal uncommon path via life. I sense that Pieter would have talked all night time if he may have, however there are drained hikers already of their beds beneath the celebs.
Day three begins with a spectacular dawn espresso spot that Pieter has organised for us alongside the path. Later, on the prime of an increase, earlier than we attain God’s Window, Pieter leaves us for the urgency of recent taxonomic discoveries. He makes use of the Nama farewell, !Gâise !gû re. Journey nicely.
Bababaddens, our lunch vacation spot, will not be a spring. It’s a sculpted slab of easy quartzite into which the sporadic circulation of a small desert stream has patiently worn a deeply grooved chain of potholes. These are the caretakers of deep, clear swimming pools of treasured water that they in some way shelter from the highly effective, desiccating forces of desert evaporation. And they’re past great to swim in on a sizzling day on the path.
Pieter’s sense of what’s adventurously attainable right here might be slightly above your common hiker’s. The path map exhibits an non-compulsory route down the Armanshoek Gorge as ‘briefly closed’. The route requires, amongst different issues, discovering and crawling via the slender, hidden entrance into the darkish of Reinhardt se Gat to descend a vertical part of the gorge. Sadly, the expense of placing in ladders thwarted Pieter’s aspirations for sharing these extraordinary locations. However the daring mountaineering sorts in our group take pleasure in an exploratory aspect journey down the Gat and into the jumbled, vertical, quartzitic world of the Armanshoek Gorge, whereas the remainder of our get together lazes at Bababaddens.
What our subsequent level on the journey, Panorama, lacks by way of inspirational title, it greater than makes up for in panoramic supply, perched on the sting of the steep drop-off overlooking the broad Armanshoek Valley under. We’re gratefully distracted from the steepness of the descent by a small gathering of halfmense alongside the trail. We mingle with them, us a shabby bunch compared, unshaven and soiled in three-day-old mountaineering garments, whereas they’re like Nama churchgoers of their Sunday finest. I’ve met these halfmense of the Richtersveld on different journeys however I’ve by no means earlier than seen them within the full flower of their crimson headdress.
By the top of the descent, our get together is exhausted.
A dry, dusty desert wind is gusting. Our water is all however carried out. Pieter has left a water cache on the veepos for which we should flip downstream but it surely appears an unappealing camp choice, out on the windswept flats. And so we flip upstream into the gorge as a substitute, to search for the Armanshoek Spring. We’re nicely rewarded and replenish our water at nightfall among the many big arum lilies that shelter the spring and we accept the night time in a protected spot beneath bushes in a thicket on the fringe of the dry watercourse.
Our final day is lengthy and, as a result of we descend to the plains under, sizzling. The ultimate afternoon down the dry Gannakouriep River is for much longer than we keep in mind it from the best way in. However the vagaries of reminiscence have a nice shock for us as nicely – a granite enclosed rock pool of deep, cool water that makes the distinction between an unrelenting slog and a refreshed, impressed end.
The forerunners of our get together are out forward. And so we arrive within the night gentle to a welcoming cooler field of chilly beer and a circle of snug tenting chairs set out within the riverbed round a flaming fireplace, for a remaining, celebratory night time collectively beneath desert stars.
We miss it on the best way in however my spouse, Sandra, and I make sure that, as we exit the gates of Narnia, to kiss beneath the arching bough of the Shepherds Tree that crosses the trail. It’s straightforward, with hearts full from 4 days of untamed magnificence and inspiration, to totally imagine Pieter’s lore that in doing so, our love will final perpetually. Or if not perpetually, not less than so long as the practically two billion year-old Rosyntjieberg quartzite.
From Cape City, up the N7 it’s a two day drive to the path begin. In a single day in Port Nolloth (many self-catering and B&B choices). Arrive on the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park workplace in Sendelingsdrift earlier than noon to obtain a hike briefing, earlier than driving via the park for a number of hours to Hakkiesdoring Camp the place the hike begins.
Concerning the Path
It’s open from Could to September, relying on climate and water availability. Just one group on the path for the five-day interval (4 days of strolling plus first night time at Hakkiesdoring). R290 for the primary two per day; R180 pp per day for additionals (as much as a most of 10). R72 per day conservation payment (lined by SanParks Wild Card). sanparks.org/parks/richtersveld.
Keep Right here
There are a number of extremely advisable campsites and hutted lodging choices throughout the park, each alongside the Orange River and inland. Loosen up at one in every of these after the hike. sanparks.org