Easily the most rewarding wilderness trail tips ever
Freelance SANParks Backpack Trail Guide speaks to Latest Sightings about taking people back to their roots. He declares, “These are much more than just backpacking trails, they infiltrate the soul, and this while the bush does all the work!” It is the African bush… and there is no format, in fact it is a moment where time stands still!~ Ashraf Garde
Backpacking & wilderness trail tips in the Kruger National Park
Excitement brews in his voice (a distinct smile visible) as he mentions how honoured he is to witness a significant inner transformation of trailists (sometimes solemn city-slickers) in just 3 nights and 4 days…
The Kruger National Park offers various wilderness backpack trails, and Ashraf chats best tips with us in preparation:
TB: First off, I am really intrigued; do you honestly bump into the Big 5 on these trails?
AS: Oh absolutely, we often get to see many of them on foot. But safety is always foremost, and we only approach as close as any situation allows for. Both guides are armed, but in all the time that I have been guiding (which is 7 years now) I have never had to shoot any animal.
TB: What terrain can a trailist expect on each of these trails?
AS: The Mphongolo Backpacking Trail’s terrain varies between mopane veld (shrubs with butterfly shaped leaves) and riparian bush (plant life and ecosystem that exists alongside a waterway).
The Lonely Bull Backpacking Trail is along the northern banks of the Lethaba River and comprises mainly of mopane veld.
Olifants Backpacking Trail is along the eastern banks of the Olifants River and the landscape varies from riverine, bush and gorges to the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains.
TB: What are the main differences between these trails?
AS: The Mphongolo and Lonely Bull backpacking trail has no set distance or route – the guides decide on this in consultation with trailists. And an early afternoon siesta amidst hiking is not uncommon.
On the other hand, the Olifants backpacking trail is more stringent with its routes and times, and requires a medical certificate to participate. It covers a total of 44km’s, therefore up to 15-20km per day at most.
TB: What equipment or item should you not forget to pack?
AS: (Ashraf looks puzzled and then laughs) There is no one item. Everything in your backpack is important! Well maybe the clothes are less so as you can wash in the river.
TB: Is there a trick to packing your bag?
AS: Easy! Try not to exceed 20% of your body weight. Heavy items should be packed towards the middle-bottom of the bag. Each day loosen your straps, sling on your pack and then re-tighten straps again as this will re-set the pack according to the (hopefully) reduced weight.
TB: Can you suggest what type of sleeping bag to take along?
AS: A light weight sleeping bag is advised even in the winter months. However nights may be bitter during mid-winter along rivers/riverbeds. Therefore dress warm!
TB: How do you obtain drinking water?
AS: We often dig for water exactly as elephants do. We scoop with cups creating mud wallows until the water becomes clear. We then purify and drink!
TB: Where do you bath/wash?
AS: We wash in pools of water away from larger rivers. And trailists must please remember eco-friendly products where possible.
TB: What are the biggest blunders you see people making while backpacking?
AS: There are a few things that I see:
• Trailists wearing new hiking boots thereby developing terrible blisters.
• Over-packing (especially clothes). Remember you can wash!
• Not speaking up when something is wrong (it only escalates and more often than not they have to abort the hike).
TB: What Survival 101 skills will people take away?
They will definitely walk away knowing how to make a fire using sycamore sticks!
Notably Ashraf mentions that these trails can be mentally and physically taxing, and that trailists may need to remind themselves about why they actually signed up! The best advice Ashraf can give is to be prepared and to listen to your body at all times.
As we finish our chat I admire Ashraf’s energy as he tells me how most mornings he listens to Toto’s song – ‘Africa’ – it ignites his wistful desire to return to the bush. As he is Johannesburg based I can almost hear the lyric’s, “It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you” amplifying within him!
For more information regarding wilderness trail tips visit www.sanparks.org OR
Contact Ashraf on email [email protected] / cell: 082 8888 279
Original source by Tracy Burrows, editor of Latest Sightings