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Not the Fish but the ...
Blyde River Canyon, Mpumalanga

The Great Blyde River Caper

12 – 15th November 2004

Rod Alport lead the way

Article: Roy Watts


Somewhere on a steep climb, on the second 13km leg of the Blyde River Canyon trail I discovered that although the spirit was willing, the body was beginning to ask “Who me?’  I was a guest of the youthful section of the Johannesburg Hiking Club on this beautiful walk and they had generously agreed to overlook the stark reality of my birth certificate.

Going in to bat I have to say that association with the word Canyon had conjured up a range of expectations that differed from reality!  My last walk had been a ramble through the Fish river Canyon nearly two decades ago, and its craggy, wind carved boundaries, linked to the arid semi desert floor lent a biblical ambience.  By contrast, much of the Blyde trail is through lush green vegetation, with really spectacular vistas enhanced by a beautiful waterway. 

The walk itself had many contrasts, and at various stages there were similarities to other wilderness localities.  For much of the time the route followed a river similar to some of those coursing through the Western Cape.  In mid summer, its cool crystalline waters provide welcome relief from the blast furnace heat.  Then as the path wound up and over mountainous terrain, you would swear you were in the Cedarberg.  One stretch in particular featured a rugged jigsaw puzzle of jagged boulders, some as big as oil rigs and as a fitting finale, to a challenging and always interesting walk, there was the awesome climax of the world renowned Bourke’s Luck Pot holes. It would be a blasé tourist who was not completely blown away by this spectacular abstract sculpture whose smooth circular walls were carved by millions of years of vigorous river erosion.

In all my previous hikes I have walked with a couple of close friends and this was my first ramble with a large group, all of them strangers.  Early on I came to recognize the enormous appeal behind the social aspect of these ventures.  Over meals, on swimming breaks and just walking and talking there was a great deal of camaraderie.  This caused me to wonder about the motivating force strong enough to induce a widely divergent group of characters to take on a 35 kilometre hike under the yoke of heavy back packs and I figured that the glue that binds is a common love of nature, linked to a strong affinity for physical challenge and the need to escape from the pressure of work-a-day life on the commercial hamster wheel.  Within the assemblage of personalities on parade inhibitions soon vanished and humour was free flowing – even hoary old jokes from the distant past, were debutantes as they emerged in laugh fests around the camp fires.  Some random memories linger a week after the hike: -

      Veni’s infectious laugh (and does anyone know what happened to Vidi and Vici?)

Too many cooks are supposed to spoil the broth, but there was no sign of this in the frenetic culinary activity every night as gourmet meals appeared out of innocuous packets and tins.

Roger’s great powers of description as he guided his team to victory in a verbal charades card game (aided by some really dodgy dice throwing from Colin)

      The seemingly endless array of cool fashion gear that emerged from Stephan’s rucksack.

      Beverly’s single minded dedication to ensuring the free flowing success of the hike.

      How Joanne managed to lug a rucksack clocking a quarter of her 48kg weight uphill and down dale and still look like a fashion model at the end of the walk.

The greatest disappointment was being excluded from the ladies swimming parties at the end of each long day. I can’t help wondering if this wasn’t a breach of some clause in our far reaching constitution (which seems to cover most forms of discrimination.)

All in all it was a great experience and the doctor says I should be up and about by the end of the week (just kidding)  I certainly hope I meet up with all of you again, especially if anyone ventures South to the Fairest Cape.