Words and images by Garrreth Bird
Some natural phenomena have atmospheres so unique they give the visitor the feeling of having drifted into a parallel dimension. A spectacular inselberg that bursts through the desert floor, Spitzkoppe introduces the parched plains of Namibia to the vertical dimension. Our group of hikers and climbers were set on getting to know the wilder sides of this fantastical land.
About 2.5 hours after leaving the capital Windhoek in our jeep a distinctive outline seared out of the desert plain. (Sedans can also easily cope with Namibia’s quality dirt roads.) In summer this area can be an oven, leaving you flabbergasted at the hardiness of the local people. But now it is winter, and though it’s chilly at night, the days are warm and clear.
As you approach the conservancy you start to feel its pull. Gigantic slabs of rock begin blocking out the windows. Massive boulders with nicknames like Jurassic Park and Dinosaur Rock spill everywhere. People have been drawn to these rocks for millennia, as can be seen by the San ‘Bushmen’ rock painting that dot the place. Our camping spot is epic, right below the towering South West Wall.
Park entrance and camping cost us about US$ 9 each per night. Basic chalets are available for around US$ 30. Knowledgeable local guides can be hired to fully investigate the area.
Spitzkoppe is a rock climbing Mecca, with hundreds of routes that range from tricky walks to death-defying insanity-fests. But there are also countless hiking and scrambling opportunities that can see you up some pretty impressive features – like the ‘Pontoks’, a ridge of peaks lying adjacent to Spitzkoppe itself – without much need for any climbing chops. (The climbing and scrambling guide ‘Spitzkoppe and Pontoks – A climber’s Paradise’ is excellent, and available online or in Windhoek book stores.)
Of course, the summit of this idiosyncratic peak holds its own attraction. The route up is a marvel of path finding, involving scrambling, lots of idiosyncratic chimney squeezing, and finally a few pitches of easy climbing, for which ropes and a basic rack of gear are required.
Remember though, that this is an abrasive environment. Always remember to take water and the essentials, but also your head torch, as you may well find yourself descending in the dark.
Speaking of essentials, water is a highly scarce resource in these parts, so it’s best to bring along a few 20 litre water containers, filled up in the city. (Get all your provisions there as well.) Once this water is finished, you can top up at the parks’ reception area, which also offers showers and a quaint restaurant/bar.
Back in camp after a long day on and around the cliffs, our musical instruments weave harmonies into our surroundings. Birds and animals emerge, made brave by the onset of night. Soon sparks crackle up from our fire to write syncopated rhythms on a dazzling ocean of stars, and as our eyes drift amongst its tides we are lulled into ancient time.
The longer I spend here, the happier I am with less. For every breath of the crisp, dry air I take, I step further outside myself, exfoliating another unnecessary layer. And as my personality becomes leaner, I become lighter on my feet. As I negotiate my body up these magnificent walls I move from being ‘in’ nature, to being a part of it, and my spirit opens up to the startling breadth of the sky.
It is a gift to revel so elementally. Suddenly something becomes blindingly obvious: desert time is the time of my life.