That Dam Wall, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State

dam in golden gate national park, free state, south africa
The “infamous” dam and wall in Golden Gate National Park, Free State, South Africa

Click on images for larger view

The dam in this picture was almost the scene of a holiday tragedy some years ago. I was reminded of this story thanks to a post by Elné, one of my Flickr contacts.

You see, I nearly fell off that wall. My wife and I were visiting the Golden Gate National Park with some friends of ours, and when we saw the dam we decided to follow the path down to the wall. Once there we sat around for awhile making small talk and enjoying the beauty of the scenery, and probably secretly dreading the steep climb back to the cars. At some point I speculated about the view from the other side of the wall, and what the picture-taking opportunities would be like.

I was faced with two options; I could take a long walk around the dam which I estimated would take about 112 – 2 hours through possibly-snake-infested long grass, or I could take a quick hop across the dam wall, est. time = 2 mins. In essence, a no-brainer.

Now, although the wall looks quite narrow, I assure you it’s quite wide enough to take an easy stroll across, unless you suffer from vertigo, which I don’t. But there’s something about the wall which is invisible to the naked eye, and made me realise that width isn’t the only consideration when taking a walk across a dam wall.

Water had been spilling over the wall for the better part of the summer, and probably for summers stretching back several decades. It didn’t appear to be a problem on that day as it wasn’t flowing strongly and it was probably not more than an inch deep. At the worst, I figured I’d get my shoes wet, but hey, what’s a pair of shoes in comparison to the joy of finding a spectacular picture? There was also a layer of reeds and plant matter on the wall but I felt as long as I was careful these also shouldn’t pose any problems.

With such thoughts in mind I set out confidently onto the wall, eager to drink in the views from the other side. My first few strides were problem-free. It was only when I hit the wet part that I discovered to my horror the wall was so slippery with algae and decaying plant matter it was a bit like walking on an ice rink. The wall suddenly looked much narrower, much higher, and much more malevolent. On one side of me was the full-to-overflowing dam, on the other, a 10 – 20 metre drop onto bare rocks and concrete. To make matters worse, the heavy heavy camera bag slung over my shoulder certainly didn’t make balancing any easier. I didn’t want to end up in the water with all my gear, nor did I particularly relish the thought of tumbling down the other side to serious injury or death.

dam wall golden gate national park free state south africa
Your intrepid blogger risking life and limb for the perfect shot. The wall appears much, much higher when you’re standing on it with thoughts of your imminent death racing through your mind. Of course there was a camera on hand to capture the fun. Picture © Irene Koch

I decided my best option was to press on, with extreme caution, to the other side. My friends and wife were shouting encouragement from the bank, but they were also laughing hysterically. I wondered if they would still be laughing as I lay broken and bleeding after tumbling from the wall. When I was about half way across I finally lost my nerve. If I made it all the way across I’d have to make it all the way back. I decided to execute a 180° turn (which I did very slowly) and head back. Thankfully, I made it without further incident, one careful step at a time.

You know, you always see these programs on TV about some poor sod who’s had a lucky escape from a near-death mishap on some adventure or other and you think “Silly bugger, he shouldn’t have been there in the first place…” On my attempted walk across the wall I felt a lot like that silly bugger. The moral of the story is; if you want to take pics of a dam and its environs from the “other side”, take the long way around, or you may be “crossing over” a bit sooner than you intended.

in the golden gate nation park, free state, south africa
The Golden Gate National Park offers some spectacular scenery for photographers and hikers alike. If you haven’t already done so, you should visit.
golden gate national park, free state, south africa
A view from the dam wall.

These pics were all taken in the pre-digital days, shot on colour transparency, except the shot of me on the dam wall which was shot on colour print film.

You can see Elné’s beautiful b+w photograph of the dam here.

©2014. All images copyright Grahame Hall and may not be used without my written permission.
Please respect the rights of others.


3 thoughts on “That Dam Wall, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State”

  1. That’s what we call commitment to your art!

    Historically though, dead artists tend to be less creative than live ones, so just as well you escaped unscathed.

    You do seem to have a penchant for putting your gear in peril. I seem to recall an incident in a river at Loteni….


    1. Ah, yes, the Loteni River incident…also etched into my memory for the rest of time. Think I’ll add a pic or two from that incident to the post, too. Dead artists (photographers?) do tend to be less creative than their living counterparts, but more valuable.

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