Grade 9 Trek [Part Two] – by Casper Venter (Grade 12)
The fun started on Monday afternoon once the hefty task of inflating and carrying 26 boats had been done. I was fortunate enough to join them as a trainee guide on the river part of their trek. Our put in was on the Steelpoort River roughly 10 kilometres upstream of confluence with the Olifants River. Thankfully for all the weary souls who were tired and needed a break the first day was only 8 km filled with only a few small rapids that gave a taste of the larger ones to come. Camp that night was situated on the banks of the river under a grove of fig trees that half hung over the river and provided much appreciated shade. The pristine campsite could have been taken straight out of a Wilbur Smith book. Despite how tired they seemed, the Grade 9’s still managed to play in the river for a good hour before being told to go and start cooking.
The next morning, I awoke to the chatter of excitement coming from the student’s side of camp. The first and second days on the water weren’t much different in terms of distance and even though none of the rafts flipped on the second day, the rapids were still enough to keep the adrenaline up and eyes wide open.
We arrived at camp at about 2 o’clock and filled the afternoon by playing in the rapid next to camp and filling up water bottles from a fresh stream on the opposite bank. That night the whole camp seemed to be full of a long-lost energy and were excited for the days to come. The next morning, we hit the river at nine o’clock. Day three was longer that the previous days paddling, yet just as exciting due to the ever-increasing number of rapids. It was on this day that we encountered our first named rapid, ‘Zuma’s Tea Party’. This was the students’ first chance to show us, the guides, what they were capable of. To my surprise, the rapid proved to be a walk in the park for all the students because none of them flipped or even fell out of their boats!
That afternoon we arrived at Baobab beach! Without wasting any time and in fear of what was coming tomorrow Mr. Haarhoff made all the students do swimming drills down the rapid above camp. At first the complaining didn’t stop but soon enough they were willingly swimming down the rapid with whoops and shouts of excitement, adrenaline and fun! After some time, we managed to get the students out of the river to start setting up camp. Baobab beach gets its name from the three enormous baobabs situated on the slope behind the beach. Surprisingly a few boys still had some energy and sense of adventure left to go and climb up into the highest branches of the trees. That night the students were allowed a fire in camp and so the soft sound of laughter and chatter could be heard from the guides camp all night long. I joined the Grade 9s around the fire until late in the evening and was surprised by the depth of their conversations. I guess trek brings out a different side to some people.
An early start the next morning indicated a long day ahead. The whole camp was packed and ready to go by half past six. After Mr. Haarhoff’s briefing, the bunch of anxious students hit the water. The first rapids of the day started only 50m from camp in the Olifants River gorge. The first major one being ‘Rent-O-Kill’. This name has struck fear into the hearts of many nervous paddlers over the years and so it was no surprise that when given the option some students walked around the rapid instead of running it. However, those who decided to run the rapid seemed to have a blast judging by the smiles on their faces. ‘Rent-O-Kill’ lived up to its expectations and claimed a few tipped rafts and empty kayaks.
From here on down, the river didn’t ease up because rapids such as ‘Long Drop’, ‘Double Trouble’, ‘Simple Simon’ and ‘Roller Coaster’ were still to come. Fortunately, no major issues occurred on the rapids to follow and everyone made it out the other side in good spirits and with silly stories to tell back at school. After roughly 20 km of paddling and multiple large rapids, we made it to the take-out point at the base of the Strydom Tunnels. At this point almost everyone was happy to be going home after a long trek but there were a few, including me, who were sad that it had finished so soon.
Trek can be one of the most painful and physically demanding activities of your junior years at Stanford. There is no sugar-coating trek, it is hard from the get-go. Your heavy bag, the steep mountains combined with uncomfortable hiking boots may lead to countless blisters. The rain soaks everything including your morale and to be honest, the food isn’t that great either. However, it is what you make of it that counts. It can also be the most fun filled adventure that you share with your peers and are guaranteed to remember and talk about for years to come. The hardships that you are put through on trek, bring the whole grade much closer as a unit, it brings a sense of unity and camaraderie that lasts through high school. You experience places that are way off the beaten track and get to share the beauty with your friends. Whether its swimming in mountain streams or floating down the Olifants, watching the glowing sunrise from Christmas plateau or sitting around the fire and talking the night away at Baobab beach. You are guaranteed to enjoy some parts of trek and in the end, you will definitely remember it all.