I saw my life flash by

Climbing over peak after mountain peak of ancient eroded granite, shale and loose gravel, we finally reached the canyon. Below lay the majestic yellow river, snaking through some of the most beautiful breathtaking massive cliffs I have ever seen. We decided to climb down to the river and then follow it to our GPS meeting point with the crew. Descending down, the cliff was brittle and crumbling under each step. From time to time I could feel goosebumps on my neck as a rock would give and crumble, rolling and bouncing down the rock face below me. I did not have a good feeling about this, but once we reached the river, I reassured myself it should be easy.

The river was flowing strongly, its muddy yellow colour giving me the feeling of a Cobra wriggling past me, it was like a teasing warning sign, “Don’t try and swim me”, I could see it was impossible, too wide and too strong a current. Absorbed in the tranquil beauty I walked along the bank photographing the contrasts of colour and the sheer magnitude of the canyon. Rounding the next bend, a goat lay crushed on a rock jutting out into the river; I focused on it and took a picture. As I lowered the camera I looked up, sheer cliff above me. No! It could not have happened! (The goat plummeted to its death) Was this a warning, should we turn back? William had also mentioned to us to avoid this terrain. Nothing, just mind games, I thought to myself.

A long, flat beach lay ahead, we jogged for a few hundred meters as we only had 2 hours of light left, we had to pick up the pace. Rounding the bend, the beach seemed to transform into a mirage, a hazy twisted form seemed to be growing out of the river, slowly it seemed to gather its shape, and a massive rock- face towered in front of us. Our fear had been realised, there was no way around, it was either back (we had no time left and we could not cover the dangerous terrain in the dark) or up and over the top! I looked up the steep cliff as it narrowed and got steeper to the top, like a massive needle of a volcanic plug. Up and over seemed to be our only option (and me with a fear of heights).

Slowly I clawed my way up, concentrating on each step, every second hand grip was coming loose, and my footing was also giving way every now and then. The rock was so soft; I can only describe it like a “Flake Chocolate.” Braam had dropped back as I was showering him with debris, as well as to try and get a better angle to guide me.

The face had now got steeper, and the situation was getting panicky for me. The gradient had got to the position that it was nearly impossible to maintain grip as we had to apply too much pressure on the soft rock. Each step was now risky, I had to level out and find a lesser gradient. I moved over side wards and began to traverse to my right. The progress was better. The ledge was narrowing, but looked solid. There was a slight gap and then a fairly large platform that I could rest on. I stretched out with my right leg and pushed towards it.

The rock flaked off under my left foot, I could feel my self slipping, and I tried to slow myself by pushing my inner thighs against the gravel slope. I looked down, 300m of rock face and the river (I saw myself bouncing down the rocks like a rag doll). My life suddenly flashed past me, I felt nauseous, and began to sweat, I could hear Bram shouting. Nothing made sense. I spread my body flat against the rock and shale, trying to claw in with my fingers, nothing helped, it was all in slow motion. My rucksack buckle had now been ripped open and the weight of it was over balancing me and pulling my shoulder away from the rock, I released my right hand to free myself from it, as I did this every thing seemed to break . I was enveloped in dust and rock gravel, not knowing how far I was going to slide. I have no recollection of what went on. I think I just shut down. The next thing I heard was Braam’s shouts echoing around me. I had come to rest on a ledge 8 meters below, my left shin wedged in a gully below me.

Braam climbed over to me and we sat in silence for a while, none of us daring to look down or say anything, nor assessing the damage to my leg.

Gathering our senses, we slowly assed our position, we had to continue as there was no way down. We had to continue up. It took us four more hours to get up and out to safety, finally arriving at the camp at about 9 that evening.

I am off to the hospital, injury report to follow.

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