Monday, 6 April 2015

Namibia - A hike up Dune 45

In 2010 I had the adventure of a lifetime in Africa, visiting South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.  I recounted this trip in and have decided to make occasional revisits to it here.

Among the spectacular sand dunes of the Namib desert
The Sossusvlei area of the Namib desert, in Namibia, is famous for its mountainous red sand dunes which stretch as far as the eye can see. With the ever changing play of light and shadows  across their folds and planes they are a photographer's delight.  Dune 45, at 170 metres tall, is not the tallest of the dunes  but is one of the few tourists  are permitted to climb.  Climbing to the top to watch the sunrise over the spectacular landscape is a "must do" activity needing an early, and, uh oh, it's the desert after all, a freezing cold, start.   By 6am we were sitting in our bus, bundled up like Michelin men, raring to go. Then, at what seemed like breakneck speed, we were off on the 40 minute drive  to get to the Dune and climb it before sunrise.  Like a bunch of over excited school kids we cheered and whopped when our driver overtook a couple of tourist buses on the way, encouraging him "Go, Ronney!" ...everyone was making the mad dash, it seemed. It was still eerily dark when, along with around a hundred other people, we started the silent climb.  Sweet, we thought, how hard can it be to climb a dune?  Very hard as it turns out! Every step sank deeply into the soft fine sand which soon filled my boots and I felt increasingly like a fat, unfit, life long smoker as I huffed and puffed my way up the steep ridge.  Note: Some people recommend climbing the dune in socks

Our group hiking in the Namib amongst the sand mountains

Boy was I grateful when someone up ahead stopped every so often for a breather giving us all a chance to catch our breath, rather nonchalantly,  of course, pretending that we could carry on if that person up front didn't keep stopping!  Finally we got there and sat with our legs dangling over the sharp ridge waiting for the sun to rise.  I noticed a group ahead of us facing in the wrong direction and called out to them.  It was amusing to watch their mad scramble to turn around without slipping down the slopes.

I did it!  The tiny specs at the top are people.  It's quite a climb!

At last an enormous red sun  appeared slowly from behind the mountain range, unfortunately rather muted for us due to heavy cloud cover but still spectacular nevertheless.  Then it was time to head down again and after plodding for a while we decided to just go for it and run and slide down the slope. We arrived at the bottom euphoric - proud to have achieved the climb and bubbling with the exhilaration and fun of the descent.

At the bottom Ronney had set out a delicious breakfast for us which we munched on contentedly while watching other people, like so many tiny ants, climb  and descend the dune.  Ronney, our guide, a Namibian born and bred,  had a wonderful knowledge of the wildlife and terrain of Namibia so  I asked him during breakfast how many times he had climbed Dune 45.  He smiled and told me he had never climbed it "Because it looks too hard"!   

A welcome breakfast in Namibia...I'm seated 4th from right