It will be remembered as the day I nearly took on more than I could handle in my explorations around Arandis: a lesson learned not to take anything for granted in this terrain.
As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts, I soon wish to make a 2-day overland backpacking trip about 45-50 km from my home in Arandis through two dry river canyons to the Goanikonties-Oasis rest camp I visited a few weeks ago. A study of the topo maps and Google Earth suggested several possible routes into the Khan River Canyon but I felt the need for a reconnaissance trip on my bike to determine the best route on foot. It so happens that same direction would also take me to the relatively small but dramatic mountain ranges I had seen only from a distance in past treks into the desert south of Arandis so it seemed a perfect opportunity to meet two goals in one day.
The weather forecast called for moderate temps and helpful prevailing winds (easterlies in the early morning turning westerly by noon) so I was excited as I headed out Sunday morning for what I expected to be a ride of about 25-30km, back in time to meet friends at 2:00.
In my time out here on the desert and plains, I’ve learned to approach any high ground before a shallow depression a bit more slowly and quietly than in my first excursions, laying down my bike and crawling on the ground in order to see the herds of game before spooking them away. I was still upwind so my scent never let me get close enough to photograph them well, but I came across two large herd of Springbok and a small flock of ostriches (which are larger than the antelope!). Both animals have the interesting behavior of taking turns to graze and to keep watch: at all times, several of each group kept a lookout for predators.
Soon enough I came to the edge of the plain on which Arandis sits and could look down upon the arroyos and canyons that ultimately feed into the rivers.
It took some moving back and forth to find the best side canyon into which I could ride down, or climb down and carry my bike, though it was immediately apparent that it would be a one-way trip: I wasn’t strong enough to carry my bike back up those same climbs. From my research, I knew that these side canyons all fed into the Khan and that further down that river I would find a road on which I could ride out, so I proceeded. All that research proved true, but it was quite a bit further than I had estimated from the satellite views.
In the course of making my way, I happened across what I suspected (and later confirmed) to be the main pipeline pumping water to the Husab Mine of the Chinese-owned Swakopmund Uranium Company as well as an abandoned outpost that I later learned had been the original Khan Mine. The tracks from quad bikes and trucks could easily be seen but with such rare rainfall as we get, such tracks in this environment can last for years.
The silence was almost overwhelming, broken only by the high-pitched cicadas that could be heard now and then in small bushes from several hundred meters away, and the baboons high on the cliff tops whose grunts and chatter resembled laughter at my situation.
I finally reached the main, paved road that lead me out of the canyon. It also happens to be a road that, in the opposite direction, would take me further into the massive Namib-Naukluft National Park. I climbed back up nearly to the elevation of the upper plains before finally seeing the first human being I had seen in hours. Unfortunately, he was a security guard for the Husab Mine politely telling me I had to get off their private road. I was too tired to argue how it could be off limits while being signposted to a national park (granted, the Chinese company had paid for it), so I turned back into the desert to make my long way back to Arandis.
At the end of the day, after 8.5 hours (instead of the 4-5 I had planned), and nearly 50km (instead of the 25-30 I expected), I was happy and relieved to finally get home – and more than a little exhausted! My phone’s GPS tracker tells most of the story (it wasn’t on all the time). What it doesn’t say is how there was no cell signal while I was down in the canyons and that whatever ore the rocks contain completely messed up my compass. At one point, with the sun directly above me removing all shadows, I found myself turned around 180-degrees and almost started to go up river.
Now that I’ve had a few days to recover, I’m pleased to have met my two goals for the day, but chastened by not being fully prepared for the unexpected. Running out of food and water, and cramping up, still with 15km to go, I can’t say I ever felt in any real danger. But the discomfort is certainly something I’d like to avoid in the future.
Following are a series of photographs taken along the way…