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Fish River Canyon Challenge – 2002

On 8 June 2002, two local endurance athletes, Russell Paschke and Charlie du Toit, set off on their attempt to run the Fish River Canyon hiking route of 84km in one day. The main objective behind the run was to collect funds for charity in conjunction with Hochland 154 Round Table. At the same time in the back of their minds, they had their eyes set on the current record set by two SouthThe Fish River Canyon Africans in 1990. Hereunder is a summary of the attempt as told by them.

In the Fish River CanyonFrom the outset we knew that it was going to be an extremely difficult proposition to beat the current record. The Fish River was in flow fairly strongly 4 weeks prior to our attempt, due to unexpected rains in the south. Speaking to hikers at Ai-Ais who had just completed their 18th Fish River Canyon hike, they mentioned to us that the river was at its highest level that they had ever seen it. This confirmed our worst fears as it meant that we were going to be faced with numerous river crossings which in turn would slow our progress considerably.

On the positive side, we had through Hochland 154 Round Table, managed to raise in the region of N$ 50,000.00 for charity and this alone made this attempt well worthwhile.

At exactly 6:05am on Saturday, 8 June Charlie and I said goodbye to our wives and faithful Round Table supporters and headed off down into the darkness of the Fish River gorge from the start of the hiking trail at the viewpoint. For the first 20 minutes we made use of torches to see in the darkness which made progress on the treacherous climb into the canyon slow. We reached the bottom in 30 minutes and set off running as much as we could. The terrain for the 1st 18km is made up of large boulders and loose river sand which made progress painfully slow and very difficult. We reached the sulphur springs in 2hrs45min, 45 minutes ahead of the time taken by the record holders on their run.

The next target time was that of 8hrs at the four finger rock landmark and we reached that in 8hrs 10min. So far – so good, but what was concerning us was the time that we were constantly losing due to river crossings. The further down the river you go, the more crossings you have as the gorge widens and the bends get bigger. This meant that we were losing more and more time later in the day after having been ahead of schedule for the first two thirds of the run.

Round Table FinishAnother major problem that we were encountering was that of the terrain which basically ranged from boulders strewn across the river bed, thick river sand and occasionally when lucky a track across the larger corners of the river. Nevertheless we pushed on and still had a realistic chance with 18km to go and 2hrs left to cover it in. The time lost on the remaining crossings however soon made us realise that we were going to fall short of the record. With 14km left to go, we decided to settle into a comfortable pace as there was nothing left to do other than simply finish.

As darkness began to fall, we once again took out our torches for the final stretch home. This obviously slowed us down to a walking Finish at lastpace for the final 6km which took us an hour to cover. The risk of injury from a twisted ankle made running a non viable option in the darkness at this stage as we knew we were no longer able to break the record. As we rounded the last bend in the river we heard a loud cheer as our supporters saw our lights in the distance. This was a huge boost and lifted our spirits for the last 500m home.

After words of congratulations and hugs alround, some finally gave us the “bad news” – the record was 11hrs 42min and not 10hrs 42min as we had thought. I say “bad news” in that had we known with 18km to go that we actually had 3hrs as opposed to 2hrs left to finish, we would not have slowed down at the end and would probably have made the time.

That however, is hindsight and cannot be changed. When all is said and done, we took 12hrs 29min to cover the 84km (5 day) hiking trail. We lost a total of 2hrs 24min on river crossings (the actual time taken in taking shoes off, crossing the river, drying feet and putting shoes on again), and only missed the record by 47minutes. It was so close, but oh so far (in more ways than one) – we will however be back, as in our hearts we know that the record was well within our grasp.

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