Saturday, August 18, 2012

Richtersveld: Richtersberg to Gannakouriep

Rolling out of our sleeping bags at an unearthly hour we gulped down some coffee, and headed off, about an hour and a half before sunrise. We had given ourselves about an hour to find the place in the dark (with no paths to walk on), and we planned to be there in time to catch the pre-dawn glow, and hopefully pink in the clouds just before sunrise, and then even more hopefully the strong pink / red glow of the mountain as the sun catches it for the first few minutes of the sunrise.

After 20 minutes of walking along the road in the dark, Dave asked ‘Isn't this where we are supposed to get off the road and head along the river bed?’ Checking the tracks from the previous day on my GPS I assured him we weren’t yet supposed to get off the road, it must be a bit further. 10 minutes later I had to concede I was following the wrong track, and we have to do a U-turn.  Once off the road, and with the first hints of light in the sky and a sunrise which waits for no man, I feared I may have messed this one up!  With headlamps on maximum brightness, we scrambled along the rocky river bed as quickly as we could (cursing the heavy camera pack even more).  

We arrived 20 minutes before sunrise, with the first glow of dawn already visible on the mountain. With patchy clouds in the sky, it will only be a few minutes before they get lit up, and the first 'prime opportunity' may be lost. After a rushed set-up, it was just a few moments before the clouds turned a magnificent pink, and the mountain glowed a very subtle pre-sunrise pink. Snap, snap, snap, and the colour in the clouds was gone. 

Morning pink
Richtersveld: Morning Pink at Richtersberg
 Now to wait the 10 or 15 minutes for sun to make an appearance and cast its first direct light on the top of the mountain. 10 minutes, 15, 20, and still no sun on the mountain top. Sadly, the bank of clouds that gave us our brilliant pre-dawn colours obviously extended a lot further than we could see, and was blocking the rising sun.  By the time it did make its appearance, the colour was gone, and the effect lost. As it happened, that pre-dawn image turned out to be in my 'top 5' of the trip, so worth the effort.

Packing up camp for the third time, we departed for a day's driving, with the eventual destination being the luxury of hot water and a bed at Gannakouriep Wilderness Camp.

Based on information we received when entering the park on Sunday that the best of the early flowers were in the south west of the park, we chose not to head to Gannakouriep directly, but rather first drive further west in the direction of Helskloof (through RT 17, RT 7, and on to RT14).  The information proved to be correct, and we started to see a lot more flowers and colour than we had seen at either Richtersberg or Kokerboomkloof.  Getting out of the car to explore the veld revealed an incredible variety of flowers. Looking closely at a small patch of yellow flowers showed 5 or 6 quite different shapes, sizes, and markings of yellow flowers. We were apparently a little bit early for the full flower season, but we still spent hours exploring a few patches of ground.

Variations in yellow
Richtersveld: Variations in Yellow
Variations in yellow
Richtersveld: Variations in Yellow
Variations in yellow
Richtersveld: Variations in Yellow
  Reaching junction RT 14 in reasonable time, we decided to head north (towards RT13) to continue enjoying the flowers. Not checking the main maps I was carrying, we didn't realize we were about to go into the Domorogh Pass, probably the roughest patch of road we were to encounter in the park.  Even with the Forresters's 'low range', to maintain enough momentum to climb the pass I was forced to tackle the rocks and holes a bit faster than I would have preferred (or overstress the clutch). But even with all the shaking around, I was impressed that there were no clunks or bangs from under the car, and we exited the pass completely unscathed.

Driving further north turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, as the flowers had largely disappeared, and we were in a rather open, featureless, plain. We considered returning the long way around to avoid having to go down the Domorogh Pass, but it would be too far to get back to the camp in time, so, after exploring the variety of red, blue, orange, yellow and white flowers at the top of the pass, we crawled our way back down. Relief again once all four wheels were on stable ground.

Domrogh Pass gardening
Richtersveld: Domrogh Pass gardening
With one more stop at a small field of orange flowers to take a team photo, we then targeted the hot water showers of Gannakouriep Wilderness Camp.

Gannakouriep Wilderness Camp is a camp with four chalets ( two beds each), each with a solar geyser, solar panels for (limited) electricity, and gas for a fridge and cooking, but as with all the other places in the park, one has to bring in one's own drinking water.  What a pleasure! Located in the southern part of the park, Gannakouriep is in a completely different type of mountain range, which I hoped would yield some equally different looking photographs, compared to the rest of the park.

Looking south from the camp, we were facing a wide, flat mountain range in the distance, running approximately north-west to south-east, so much more a morning photograph than an afternoon one.  The soft light of late afternoon was instead ideal for exploring a few of the local plants

Little fat fingers
Richtersveld:Little Fat Fingers

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