The Bloukrans river crossing is usually the first thing that is spoken about by those hikers who have just completed, or are about to embark on, the Otter trail. There have been many stories about the difficulty of crossing a raging Bloukrans river. There have been some drownings that give testament to the challenge of getting across the river. For those who are unfortunate, taking the escape route may be the only safe way off the trail if the crossing is considered too dangerous (in which case the hikers will not be able to complete the rest of the trail).
The anticipation of crossing the Bloukrans can feel like a black cloud that hovers over those who set out on this most beautiful trail along the Eastern Cape coast between Storms River mouth and Nature’s Valley. One has to cross this river on the fourth day of the trail; so the unease and uncertainty lingers with you right from day 1. The crossing needs to be planned for low tide. The river is about 10Km from the overnight hut and you may need to start off very early in the morning when it is still dark in order to reach the river at low tide
If you have an experience for the first time, you have nothing to compare or contrast it with.
In December 2000, I did the Otter trail for the first time. It is a tough trail and you have to be physically fit to cope with the ups and downs as one moves continually from mountain to shoreline (and back again) on difficult, uneven terrain. However, the beauty of the trail is well worth the physical pain that one may have to endure.
My wife and I have just returned from doing our second Otter trail.
In our preparation for this trail, we pulled out some of our old photographs taken in December 2000. As I looked at the images of the Bloukrans river, my stomach turned. I could immediately recall the fear that I had to deal with when crossing the river. Although in the past; that fear was now staring me straight in the face. Doing the Otter trail required me to cross the Bloukrans river again. In 2000, the crossing of the Bloukrans was a taxing experience. Fortunately, there were some strong swimmers in my party that could assist weaker swimmers such as myself.
I have always advocated that you should do an extreme event at least twice. For example, I did the Comrades marathon twice and found the second time far more mentally challenging. The first experience is usually the easiest since you approach it with no pre-conceived ideas. No assumptions are made and you usually encounter the experience with a ‘beginner’s mind‘. There is a naivety in the experience.
As we approached the Bloukrans river in March 2012; my experience in December 2000 was strongly etched in my mind. I was worried. Unlike in the previous crossing, my wife and I were on our own this time. There was no one to assist us, if necessary. This heightened my anxiety.
We had planned our arrival exactly at low tide.
The crossing of the Bloukrans in March 2012 reminded me of a number of things:
- That in life the only constant is change itself and that no two experiences will ever be the same.
- That my tough first crossing had created fearful anticipations of what I was possibly going to encounter the second time around.
- I couldn’t stop thinking of what my reaction would have been if my experiences of the two crossings had been swopped – an easy first experience and then being shocked at the raging river for the second crossing.
- Having ‘no mind’ (clean slate), ‘open mind’ (receptive mind), and ‘beginner’s mind’ (dealing with what ‘is’ in a non-expert way) as a mental stance when encountering an experience for a 2nd or 3rd time helps to challenge the assumptions and anticipations that we may build up in our minds (as fantasies).
Being in nature, away from ‘the madding crowd’ always helps to restore emotional balance and reminds one of ‘one’s place’ in the bigger scheme. The trail is a humbling experience. I had an over-riding feeling of gratitude and joy to have had 5 days in such beauty.