23-Apr-2004 -- Since first discovering the Project on a BBC Prime TV magazine programme and then visiting the Confluence web site, my interest in confluence hunting has grown. Off I went to town and bought some maps to cover various Confluences, the Confluence always being on the corner of the map, four 1:50,000 maps for each site, I then started loosely planning trips. Already owning a GPS for use on the boat, a 4x4 vehicle and a keen interest in the bush and navigation, I now had everything I needed – or did I?
On the day in question I had to visit a farm with our son in law, James, which was about 60 kilometres from a Confluence. After the farm visit, James, my wife Julie and I had lunch at Halfway House, a popular roadside restaurant. We then decided to approach the Confluence and see the lay of the land; we arrived in the general area at 14:38. The Confluence itself is situated about 300 metres west of a river and from the map we could see the approach from the west was a farm road passing 2 and bit kilometres from the site. There were various tracks leading from the council road on the east which all stopped short of the river.
We decided to approach from the west. As we made our way down the farm road, we found only one track going towards the site, this we followed for about half a kilometre before it petered out at a ravine. We returned to the farm road and continued in a northerly direction but found we were going more and more west with any possibility of going off-road to the east, being ruled out by a huge granite kopje that looked decidedly uninviting. We continued on a bit more to try and get round the kopje but as we were getting further and further away from the site, decided to turn round and return to the council road and approach the site from the east.
We tried various tracks before we found one that took us to within 60 metres of the river at a point 1.587 km (as the Garmin crow flies) SSW of the site, here we abandoned the 4x4 and decided, if we could cross the river we would give it a go on foot. Carrying Pepsi, the dachshund with a sore foot, we found a rocky spot to cross the river, a crossing that was precarious, to say the least. It was here that I realised the asset value of a big strong son-in-law! Pushing on we crossed a vlei (marsh land), and then into thick 6-foot Hyparrhenia (Thatching Grass), there were no paths. Climbing all the time, we left the Hyparrhenia after about 300 meters and into the shade of a heavily wooded area of Msasa trees (one of our most beautiful, oldest and most useful local trees). The undergrowth was getting denser, the climb steeper, the ravines deeper and the going, with loose rocks and ant bear holes, more treacherous. If the approach from the west appeared uninviting, this was positively hostile.
It was now when I realised that I didn't have everything I needed! - I didn't have anything like that level of fitness needed for this sort of thing.
We pressed on, albeit very slowly, in fact slow enough that the "Go to"-arrow ceased to function correctly, requiring a change of page to reading the longitude and latitude directly. Not long after this we hit 18.00000°S but were still at 31.99870°E. It was here that my huffing and puffing deprived the last remnants of oxygen from my brain and I shouted: "It's only 130 metres to our left." This of course was straight up the side of the kopje and to me could have been a sheer cliff face. After lots of encouragement from Julie and James, I dragged myself up there, collapsed on a large flat rock and once I started breathing again, looked at the GPS to find, of course, that we were now 260 metres away. It was 16:48 and according to the Garmin, sunset was due at 17:37. We also found we now had sufficient altitude to get weak cell phone signal and took the opportunity contact our daughter Alison, to warn here we would be very late home. This phoning and my learning how to breathe again took us to 17:02 when we started to scramble down the kopje. We found that the going got easier and easier as although still downhill, it started to level out a bit.
Eureka, we found the Confluence in a slightly clearer area of the woodland at 17:20. With the sunset due, compounded by the kopje between us and were the sun should be, it rapidly started to get dark. We still had 1.6 kilometres to get back to the car so panic set in, the "zeros dance" was very short indeed, some of the pictures are underexposed and those of the GPS very unclear. Placing the GPS on the ground was a non-starter as this resulted in too much reflection to read anything. We couldn't wait around long enough to record all the zeros and the best we could do was 17.99996°S, 31.99997°E with an EPE of 19 metres.
Been there, done that (no T-shirts on sale), we headed back, this time sweeping around to stay on lower ground and then following the river back to our crossing point. We crossed with the last vestige of daylight and arrived at the car in the pitch black at 18:10, very relieved but completely shattered. Not only was Julie carrying the dachshund (a duty she shared all the way with James), she still had her handbag over her arm as if returning from the shopping mall.
- Start much earlier in the day.
- Pick a more user-friendly time of year – shorter, sparser grass, less undergrowth – less water in the rivers and vleis – not right at the end of a prolonged rainy season.
- Get more sons-in-law and always be nice to them.
- GET FIT!