I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since we set off on the Fish River Canyon hiking trail in mid-June!
It feels like yesterday we were still gathering our gear and sorting out snack packs.
After Ryno and Chantel invited us to join them at the end of December, we had a good six months to get everything in place, do some training and prepare ourselves mentally for the challenge up ahead.
Despite the wealth of articles and guides available online, there were a couple of questions that I couldn’t really find a satisfactory answer to prior to embarking on the journey.
So, I thought I’d answer a few of them here.
1. Do I need to be super fit?
The Fish River Canyon is widely considered to be one of the toughest and most gruelling hiking trails in Southern Africa. And understandably so… I mean, it’s a multi-day trek through desert terrain, far-removed from civilisation and cell phone signal, and you have no choice but to carry everything you may – or may not – need on your back.
Despite all of this, I found it less physically challenging than the Otter Trail, which just killed my knees with its constant ascents and descents.
Don’t get me wrong, the Fish River does also have its fair share of challenging terrain – a steep descent on day one, boulders, soft sand, dunes etc – but my body definitely recovered more quickly than it did after the Otter.
I should also add that I had actually trained for the Fish River Canyon, which I hadn’t done for the Otter. So, that probably helped quite a bit too.
So, the simple answer to the question is: you don’t have to be an athlete to survive the Fish River Canyon. If you’re moderately fit, you will be totally fine. I found it to be far more about endurance – being able to cover long distances (up to 16km/day) without feeling too disheartened halfway through. If you’re unsure about anything, you can just ask your doctor when you go to them for medical clearance.
2. Wait what? You need to go for a medical exam before? How hectic is it?
Yes, so in order to do the Fish River Canyon, you NEED to get medical clearance from your doctor. I know. It stressed me out too.
But, you know what? It’s actually a really good thing. When you’re in the canyon, you’re really very far removed from civilisation and even a minor medical emergency (e.g. badly twisted ankle) would require helicopter evacuation.
So, seeing your doctor beforehand can actually provide you with some peace of mind… or may even save your life if they pick something up you didn’t know about.
During the medical, your doctor will check your heart rate and blood pressure before and after exercise, do a basic eye test, and take a urine sample to check for sugar and protein.
Here is the official Namibia Wildlife Resorts medical certificate you will need to take along for your doctor to fill out.
3. Should we do it in 5 or 6 days?
One of the great things about the Fish River Canyon trail is that you can decide how long you want to take to complete it. In other words, unlike the Otter Trail where you need to reach a specific overnight spot every day, you camp out just where you like on the Fish River. Within reason, obviously – which is basically determined by how many days you plan on staying in the canyon and how many kilometres you need to complete in a day.
We opted for five days (as most people do), finishing at about mid-morning on our last day. This suited me perfectly – I think six days would maybe have been a bit long in terms of meal-planning etc. However, we had a few older folks with us, who found the pace a bit stiff.
So, if you don’t have anything chasing you (like having to head back to work or kids or a pet) and would like to have more time to enjoy the scenery, the river and the hot springs, it might be worth considering adding an extra day to your itinerary.
4. Should we take a tent or can we sleep under the stars?
Initially, we hadn’t planned to take a tent. However, when my aunt – who had done it in June years before – advised that we do, we took her advice.
Fortunately, we managed to find a decent lightweight little dome tent at Makro for under R400 at the last minute!
In the end, we spent a couple of beautifully balmy nights sleeping under the stars on our lightweight hiking groundsheet. However, the tent did come in very handy on the last two nights, which were pretty cold and windy.
5. Do we need to take a water filter or will drops/tablets suffice?
Well this depends… How much of a germaphobe are you? And, second to that, would you describe yourself as a patient person?
Because let me just tell you: filtering. takes. hours. HOURS!
Aware of the dangers of drinking contaminated water, we equipped ourselves with a nifty little water filtration straw.
Basically, how it works: you fill a water bag (which we didn’t have, so make sure you get a filter with a bag) or alternatively, a pliable plastic bottle with river water, screw the filter onto the opening (like you would a lid) and SQUEEEEZE the bag/bottle with all your might until clean water trickles out into your drinking bottle or hydration bladder on the other side.
Honestly, it takes forever. And the novelty wore off pretty damn quickly.
By the evening of Day 2, we were filtering river water through a handkerchief and doctoring it with Aqua Salveo drops. By the next morning, we even left the hankey out of the mix and just relied on the drops.
Guillaume’s tummy was making funny noises at one point, but neither of us suffered anything worse than that.
Are you doing the Fish River Canyon soon? What questions do you have? Maybe I can answer them!