Fish River Canyon

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Fish River Canyon - Flischfluss Canyon
IUCN category II (national park)
Fish River Canyon from Main View Point.jpg
Panorama from Main View Point
Map showing the location of Fish River Canyon - Flischfluss Canyon
Map showing the location of Fish River Canyon - Flischfluss Canyon
Map of Namibia
Location Karas Region, Namibia
Coordinates 27°35′20″S 17°36′52″E / 27.58889°S 17.61444°E / -27.58889; 17.61444Coordinates: 27°35′20″S 17°36′52″E / 27.58889°S 17.61444°E / -27.58889; 17.61444
Area 5,900 km2 [1]
Governing body Ministry of Environment and Tourism

The Fish River Canyon (Afrikaans: Visrivier Canyon or Visrivier Afgronde, German: Fischfluss Canyon), is located in the south of Namibia. It is the largest canyon in Africa, as well as the second most visited tourist attraction in Namibia.[2] It features a gigantic ravine, in total about 100 miles (160 km) long, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 metres deep.

The Fish River is the longest interior river in Namibia. It cuts deep into the plateau which is today dry, stony and sparsely covered with hardy drought-resistant plants. The river flows intermittently, usually flooding in late summer; the rest of the year it becomes a chain of long narrow pools. At the lower end of the Fish River Canyon, the hot springs resort of Ai-Ais is situated.

Public view points are near Hobas, a camp site 70 km north of Ai-Ais. This part of the canyon is part of the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The other 90 km of this canyon are privately owned.

Geology[edit]

Satellite image of the canyon

Upstream the river runs through horizontal dolomite strata. These strata formed part of the canyon about 650 million years ago when plate movement cracked the earth, the first process in the formation of the Fish River Canyon.

Lower down, a granite complex system is exposed to form a characteristic river bed that results in forms like Fingerspitze. In this area, a fault runs north-south, which accounts for the gorge-like channel and the presence of hot sulphurous springs.

The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail[edit]

Fish River Canyon Hiking trail
Fish River Canyon - Towards Wild Fig Bend.JPG
Length 90 km [3]
Location Fish River Canyon
Trailheads Hobas / Ai Ais
Use Hiking / Trail running
Elevation
Elevation gain/loss 620 m (Loss)
Highest point 840 m
Lowest point 220 m
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Medium
Season Winter in Southern Hemisphere
Months 1 May - 15 Sep
Sights Spectacular scenery, wildlife
Hazards Steep descent, boulders, rocks, deep sand, slippery river crossings, baboons, snakes, scorpions

The Fish River Canyon hiking trail is one of the more popular hiking trails in Southern Africa. The immense scale and rugged terrain has drawn many visitors from all over the world to experience what hiking or trail running the canyon can offer.

Apart from the 2 kilometre descent west of Hobas and some optional short cuts, the trail generally follows 88 kilometres of the Fish River through to Ai Ais and is usually completed within 5 days.[3] Although there are a number of footpaths through the canyon, the trail is not fixed leaving the hiker to decide where and how long to hike.

There are no amenities on the trail and hikers have to carry all their needs with them. Open fires are not allowed on the trail.[3]

In times of inclement weather, some shelter in a run-down building can be found at the Causeway (27°49′44″S 17°34′16″E / 27.829°S 17.571°E / -27.829; 17.571) but otherwise sleeping is outdoors.

The weather is usually mild and typical temperatures vary between 5°C and 30°C with little humidity. Extreme weather, such as flash floods, stormy winds and rain occasionally play havoc during the hiking season.[4]

Permits[edit]

Due to flooding and extremely hot summer temperatures reaching 48°C in the day and 30°C at night, permits are only issued between 1 May and 15 September.[5]

Prior to arriving at Hobas a hiking permit must be obtained from Namibia Wildlife Resorts [6] for groups not smaller than 3 and not larger than 30. All hikers must be older than 12 years[5] and a certificate of fitness, completed by a medical doctor must be presented at the offices of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism at Hobas.

In recent years the trail has become popular, particularly during School holidays and long weekends, and permits should be obtained timeously. Bookings for the following year's season open 1 May.

Trailhead camping grounds[edit]

Hobas (27°37′08″S 17°42′54″E / 27.619°S 17.715°E / -27.619; 17.715) houses the Ministry of Environment and Tourism[7] offices as well as Namibia Wildlife Resorts[6] offices and a little shop for curiosities and basic necessities. Camping underneath Camelthorn trees with ablution blocks is available for hikers who plan to overnight at Hobas.

The trail ends at Ai Ais where a resort with hotel rooms, chalets and camping grounds can be found.

A shuttle service runs approximately every three hours between Ai Ais and Hobas. It should be booked in advance through the offices of Namibia Wildlife Resorts[6] at Ai Ais.

The trail[edit]

Trail Characteristics
Descent - Sulphur Springs
Sulphur Springs - Three Sisters
Three Sisters - Ai Ais

The trail starts from the car park (27°34′37″S 17°36′32″E / 27.577°S 17.609°E / -27.577; 17.609) 13 kilometres west from Hobas. The descent is steep and chains are provided to assist hikers over the first 100 meters.[3] Thereafter the unmarked path follows a gravel trail to the beach at the bottom (27°35′17″S 17°35′53″E / 27.588°S 17.598°E / -27.588; 17.598). On the descent some misleading game trails lead to the north and should be avoided.

The trail can be divided into three notable sections:

  • The descent down to Sulphur Springs (also known as Palm Springs) will take the hiker through the narrowest section of the canyon, layered with big boulders, rocks and deep sand making hiking slow and laborious resulting in an average hiking speed between 6 and 10 kilometres per day.
  • The route from Sulphur Springs to Three Sisters is mostly on firmer ground with plenty river stones and frequent river crossings. Average hiking speed between 15 and 25 kilometres per day.
  • From Three Sisters to Ai Ais the canyon widens out with some sections reachable in 4x4 vehicles. Average hiking speed between 25 and 35 kilometres per day.

Optional short cuts are available. They offer little in beauty but may be a welcome change of scenery and terrain. Popular short cuts are found at:

The river[edit]

The river flows stronger early in the season and by September usually dries up to form a chain of stagnant pools. Water is safe to drink, however water purifying tablets are recommended by park officials.[3]

River crossings are a notable feature with more than 20 crossings over the course of the trail, and crossings may become a major consideration when water levels are high.[4]

Emergencies[edit]

There is no mobile phone reception in the canyon and only two emergency exits are available. Evacuation from the deep canyon is done via stretcher on foot or helicopter and vehicles in the later parts of the trail. Emergency exits can be found:

Trail running in the Canyon[edit]

Documented running through the canyon started in 1990. A group of hikers in running gear attempted to complete the 5 day, 90 kilometer hiking trail in 24 hours. They achieved their goal in a time of 11hrs 42min. In August 2003 this time was lowered to 10hrs 54min.[8] Then in August 2012, after a previously abandoned attempt in 2011, Ryan Sandes completed the course in 6hrs 57min.[9]

Hiking records[edit]

Date Record Time Hiker(s) Country
13 July 1990 11hrs 42min Bruce Mathews, Ronnie Muhl  South Africa
16 August 2003 10hrs 54min Russell Paschke, Charlie du Toit, Coenraad Pool and Tommy van Wyk  Namibia
3 August 2012 6hrs 57min Ryan Sandes  South Africa

The Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon[edit]

A contestant facing one of many technical sections through the Fish River Canyon 27°39′00″S 17°36′40″E / 27.650°S 17.611°E / -27.650; 17.611

Unofficial running through the canyon has subsequently evolved into the annual Fish River Canyon Ultra Marathon which held its inaugural race on the 27th of August 2011.

This technical marathon follows most sections of the current hiking trail,[10][11] testing the athlete's capabilities to the extreme.

The route starts close to Hobas and after a short section on the rim of the canyon steeply descents 500 meters to river level. Thereafter the contestants mostly follow the river to Ai Ais. They are allowed to plan their own routes and take short-cuts through the canyon provided they reach a number of predefined checkpoints. Shortcuts may greatly reduce the total distance of the race[12] but may also cost the contestant dearly in effort.

Due to the remoteness of the trail, all competitors are required to be self-sufficient for the duration of the event and are expected to have adequate nutrients as well as the stipulated survival gear. Water is generally sourced from the river which is always close by.

Previous trail runners have commented on the difficulty of the terrain: "The canyon is one of the most beautiful places I have seen but at the same time is one of the harshest environments I have run in. I really battled in the canyon due to the extreme heat and terrain and running in there was one of the toughest days of my athletic career."[8] “This canyon is not for the faint hearted and an attempt to run it should not be taken light-heartedly”.[8][13]

Winners[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Namibia Tourism Board (2009). Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. Retrieved on 19 May 2009.
  2. ^ Matador Trips - 27 of the deepest canyons you can experience.
  3. ^ a b c d e Ministry of Environment and Tourism - Hiking the Fish River Canyon: http://www.met.gov.na/Documents/Ai-Ais%20Fact%20sheet2.pdf
  4. ^ a b Hikers trapped in Canyon http://allafrica.com/stories/201105091163.html
  5. ^ a b Ministry of Environment and Tourism - Ai-Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park: http://www.met.gov.na/Documents/Ai-Ais%20National%20Park.pdf
  6. ^ a b c Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR): http://nwr.com.na
  7. ^ Ministry of Environment and Tourism http://www.met.gov.na
  8. ^ a b c Ryan Sandes after Racing the Planet - http://www.sport24.co.za/OtherSport/Sandes-eyes-Fish-River-record-20110314
  9. ^ The Beauty of the Irrational - http://www.vimeo.com/47355798 The Beauty of the Irrational
  10. ^ "Full version": Starting at the Race Village 27°39′07″S 17°37′19″E / 27.652°S 17.622°E / -27.652; 17.622 close to the Emergency Exit to descent at the Hiker's descent 27°34′41″S 17°36′22″E / 27.578°S 17.606°E / -27.578; 17.606.
  11. ^ "Lite version": Starting at the Main View point 27°35′20″S 17°36′54″E / 27.589°S 17.615°E / -27.589; 17.615 to descent at the Emergency Exit 27°38′35″S 17°37′01″E / 27.643°S 17.617°E / -27.643; 17.617.
  12. ^ In 2011 Lisa de Speville's chosen route was 64 km as measured with her iGot-U tracker
  13. ^ Charlie du Toit, Comrades Marathon silver medallist

See also[edit]

Additional References[edit]