Aller River – From Behind the Steering Wheel

Hugh McGibbon, back up crew, tells the story of the Aller River walk from a different perspective:

Having driven about 70km planning the pickup points for the walk, with fun diversions into the heart of Cleremont with Solomon and Phumelele, I was full of anticipation when I picked up the walk team spot on 6am on day one of the walk. I knew the team was going to battle through some sections and there was a certain amount of worry that they may not be able to do a few. Little did I know that the worry would turn into some serious anxiety at times over the two days!

The first section from the source was deceptively easy and I enjoyed observing the miniSASS and other team activities.

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Once the three adventurers had disappeared into the jungle, I took time off for a cup of coffee before waiting anxiously at the exit point. I heard them coming … hack, hack, hack .. but never saw them until they emerged from the bank just below me!093025After a well-earned rest break preceded by hand cleansing with waterless soap, I directed the team to the short little section before they again disappeared into the jungle along the industrial part of New Germany.

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Then the real worry began at Dinkleman road. While I was sitting in the shade waiting, (I did a lot of waiting over the two days) a friendly local warned be to move away from the area as real baddies were living under the bridge. Luckily, Justine and Phumelele were able to drive to the local Police Station and within no time we had a police escort.

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The police were concerned about the ‘sugar boys’ about 500m downstream so accompanied the team past that spot. This was one of the sections where the water quality made it too dangerous to walk the river so I drove the team to a few spots along the next kilometres of river.

It was hot! We had lost Justine, who’s car got caught in traffic, and we were unsure of the next section. I think we were close to quitting for the day, but the 3 adventurers decided to give it a go!

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I thought we had agreed that Mark would phone-in a report as to whether the section was a go or not, but the call never came so after the agreed period of time I moved to Pickup point 4. After lots of patience at Pickup point 4, the support team felt the walk team was overdue. We were really worried so I called. The walk team was parking off having lunch!

A while later I decided to walk back up the river to meet the team and came across an impassable sewerage spill. More phone calls and the team was diverted to the opposite bank. Once they reached Pickup point 4 we agreed they could not cross to the Cleremont side,

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so 10km and 20 minutes later I fetched them on the top of the hill on the Reservoir Hills side. Luckily Solomon had pointed out this alternative on our planning trip. Well, that was the end of an exhausting day 1, and besides the traffic, there were no more obstacles to getting the team home.

Day Two started with great expectations as I had scouted the first couple of hundred meters below Pickup point 4 and we felt it would be easy.

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Not so, but luckily I had decided to wait a bit longer before leaving the drop off point… the three walkers suddenly appeared, having been unable to proceed.

We tried other routes to get down to the river a little further on without success. One member of the community directed us to a path but others said it was a dead end – which it was. So it was into the vehicle again and down the 4×4 trail to the next Pick-up point. Here we were more successful. The team was able to walk back up the river a fair way and then after crossing on the water pipe they headed off on the last 2km section.

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Again, feedback could have been better (there was none) and after the 2 hrs agreed wait time, all alone at the bottom of the valley, I headed off to the Umgeni. Here the worrying really started. Mark eventually called to say they were not sure where they were, and they were surrounded by reeds twice their height…

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Mark gave me their co-ordinates and I was able to tell him they were on the uMngeni, downstream from the Aller. After an exceptionally long wait I started heading up the uMngeni to find them. After a few calls and shouts we miscommunicated perfectly. Mark saying they were downstream of me across the other side, whereas they were still upstream. I came to the conclusion they had gone up some other river!

Patience is the biggest attribute a support team needs, and eventually I was most relived to spot the three in my X10 binoculars. They were heading more or less towards me, but failed to see my waving until they were very close. We were all very glad to be reunited!

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One more 4X4 section up a steep path, with diff lock and low ratio, got us back onto the road home and a welcome for President Paolo waiting at Mark’s house.

Penny has the last words:

A huge thank you to the eThekweni Conservancies Forum for enabling and supporting this walk – Paolo Candotti for the vision and support; Mark and Cecily Liptrot for accommodating and feeding us; Justine Saunders and Phumelele Moroka for all the pre-walk mapping, contacting all those landowners(!) supply of cold water and apples whist we were walking as well as finding our police escort, and Solomom Dlamini for showing Hugh some pretty complicated vehicle routes, short cuts and valuable alternate pick up points.

I just have to say thanks to the people in the best organisation I have ever had the privilege to work for: The Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust, who always support and encourage our river walk work.

And lastly to my long suffering ground crew: Preven Chetty who has walked seven rivers with me, Mark Liptrot our newest walker who had a baptism of fire (water/sewage????). And to support driver Hugh McGibbon without whose phone calls, roundabout routes and spectacular pre-walk reccee we may well still be wandering around down there somewhere.

Thanks for sharing our adventures – see you on the next river.

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About Nikki Brighton

I live in a Magic Cottage near the mist-belt forest with my African dog, Dizzy. We enjoy long walks in the fields to gather wild greens, sitting on the verandah with a pot of tea, and harvesting vegetables outside the kitchen door.
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