18-Nov-2003 -- This is without a doubt the most fun Confluence we have ever done. I would highly recommend to anyone that they visit this one just for the fun of it.
It was a bit of an adventure getting there. We were heading south from Kaokoveld (see the previous confluence report for 19S 13E) through Damaraland. We drove through the bleak Skeleton Coast and drove inland towards the Ugab River Campsite. The road was the usual rocky road, nothing out of the ordinary for this region, but we managed to get 3 holes in the two rear tires. 36,000 kilometers on these tires with only 2 previous leaks and then 3 in one day! All 3 holes were easily plugged without even removing the tires, but 15 minutes down the track and we had a complete blowout -- a huge rock had impaled the tire. A quick spare change and then I saw that the old tire was showing metal in half a dozen places, the inside rim was totally split, and so the rock was just the last straw. I guess I pushed those tires just a bit too far – that is why we carry two spares.
We arrived at the Ugab River Campsite at dusk just as a gentle rain started falling. The drive in is through an incredible stark canyon with twisted tortured rock walls. We had just set up camp near the riverbed when a herd of perhaps a dozen desert elephants came wandering down the river. They browsed right past our campsite and one stopped and ate from the tree just 50 meters away from us. Quite an amazing experience to watch desert elephants feeding in the rain in the middle of this amazing desert river valley.
After they moved through I went for a shower but when I came out of the shower I saw a group of elephants right at our vehicle and my wife Karin and a Ranger hiding behind a fence about 100 meters away. The back door on the Land Cruiser was open and since elephants apparently love oranges and the fruit basket was right in the back of the truck, I was worried that our truck was about to get ransacked. Instead, one of the young males started towards Karin and the Ranger. They scrambled up onto the cliffs and he actually started up the hill after them. The Ranger started a small rockslide which chased him away… so he headed towards me! I ducked back into the shower stall while he sniffed around trying to find a way in to get to me. He tried three different ways in while I looked for an escape route. I found a way over the back wall, but then some other elephants moved in. So there I was… wearing only a towel with a young male (in musth?) trying to get to me over a knee-high rock wall and my only avenue of escape blocked by other elephants. Up to that point, I had found it all rather amusing but this was getting serious. I tightened my sandals, dispensed with the towel and watched the male elephant through cracks in the reed walls. He eventually lost interest and wandered off. Whew. The rest of the evening, the elephants grazed around us and we warily ate dinner ready to move into the relative safety of our truck.
The next morning, in search of the Confluence, we back-tracked a few kilometers along the road and took a branch that appeared to go in the right direction. It wandered through a stunning gorge bringing us ever closer to the Confluence. Finally, we hit the Ugab River with about 10 km left to the Confluence. According to the map, the Confluence was very close to the river so we followed a small track downriver. Amazingly, there were still some waterholes left this late in the dry season. In one of them we found some elephants fully submerged and playing. An older looking one showed up and one of the young ones was splashing him and trying to tease him into joining him in the waterhole. We crept quietly by them and soon found another group browsing. They moved away from the track and we proceeded, but with many backwards glances in the mirrors in case one of them decided they didn't like us around. At 2 km from the Confluence the track went over a ridge and then surprised us by dropping down into a tributary canyon with a heavily used track coming in from the south. This track ends at the river only 1.19 km from the Confluence. We walked downstream, hopping over small streams, and startling small herds of magnificent oryx (gemsboks). With only 300 meters to go, the river curved right and the Confluence appeared to be straight up a river-side cliff. We walked up a side canyon and up the hillside behind this cliff and found that this Confluence is on the edge of a small gully. We built a cairn right at the Confluence and then moved to the top of a small ridge (20 meters from the Confluence) for the 4 cardinal directions' photos. The last photo is from the top of the cliff looking over the Ugab River (130 meters from the Confluence).
Realizing that this other track was shortcut back to the main road, we took it. It passes through some of the most amazing geological formations I have ever seen. All the rock is sedimentary, shale and mudstones, very heavily stratified. Some layers are flat, others tilted, some twisted and others torqued and tortured. After about 20 km this track emerged from the canyon out onto the plains. In about 5 km, it joined the main road right.
If you want to go to this Confluence, I would suggest following our track backwards. The side track could be done in a high-clearance 2x4. The river track requires 4x4, would not be possible with much more water in the river, and may disturb the elephants and could potentially be dangerous as it is a very narrow canyon, and if you surprised and pissed off an elephant, you would have no way to escape.
Here are the key waypoints:
Take D2303 east from Mile 105 in the Skeleton Coast Recreation Area towards Brandberg.
S 21° 08.278' E 14° 06.814' = Intersection of D2303 and the side track that heads north towards the Ugab. This track crosses the plains towards the hills, goes through some wonderful sand plains, and then into the canyon.
S 21° 04.985' E 14° 06.126' = 'Mouth' of canyon. From here, just head downstream.
S 20° 59.390' E 14° 00.172' = End of track at Ugab River.