This is it, one of our travel bucking list: Climbing on top of the highest dune of the Namib Desert, and once at the summit, admiring the sea of red sand!
But why such a fascination for one of the world most arid place?
Watch the video about the Namib Desert: 2 minutes in the world oldest desert
1. The Namib Desert is one of the world’s oldest desert
The Namib Desert was formed about 80 million years ago. It stretches along the Namibian coast and is no wider than 100 miles. Its dunes are among the highest in the world and reache a height of 400 meters. Its earthy tones are unique and the light changes with the passing hours.
Therefore, it remains, even today, an extremely wild environment.
The best way to explore the Namib Desert is to climb on the Sossusvlei dunes, magnificent red sandy hills, located 40 miles from Sesriem, in the Namib–Naukluft National Park. At the foot of the dunes are the “vlei”, dry lakes made of clay and salt, the best known being Deadvlei and Sossusvlei.
View on the Namib Desert from Dune Elim
2. Sunrise over Dune 45
From Walvis Bay, we arrive in the afternoon at the Sesriem Campsite, situated in the Namib-Naukluft Park.
We leave the campsite at 5 am and drive 40 miles on a paved road, to reach Sossusvlei. Despite the early hour and the darkness, we are not alone on the road. We stop at the car park of Dune 45 (located 45 km from Sesriem) first dune that allows us to witness the sunrise over the Namib desert.
Once at the top, what a sight ! Our efforts are rewarded by an extraordinary view on the Sossusvlei « pan », a huge silver salaar that lies before us, surrounded by mountains that glow with the first sun rays. As a result, the view is breathtaking as the site is majestic.
After this instant of contemplation, we return to our car and have breakfast in this wilderness. Then, we hit the road to the Big Daddy Dune, highlight of the trip.
Big Daddy dune
3. Climbing en Big Daddy
9 miles after Dune 45, we arrive at the Sossusvlei car park. From there, we have to stop to complete the last 3 miles to the dunes, either using a local 4×4 wheel drive, or on foot.
We reach Big Daddy, one of the world highest dunes (nearly 400 meters high). At the bottom of the hill, 2 thorn trees suggest the starting point of the hiking. We follow the rope of climbers heading to the crest of the dune.
At first, the ascent does not seem difficult, the sun is still low in the sky and we are invigorated by the dawn freshness.
But walking in the sand is not easy and the climbing soon becomes “demanding”.
As we escalade the dune, we meet an Oryx, which dark skin contrasts sharply with the ocher sand. This is really amazing ! Who can live in the Namib desert, an environment where temperatures can reach 104 Fahrenheit degrees during the day and fall below 32 at night ? At dawn, the cold sand still keeps track of the nocturnal visitors such as small rodents, reptiles, spiders, which are adapted to this hostile environment. Similarly, the rare flora composed mainly of shrubs, lichens, and thorn trees survives on moisture brought by the ocean winds.
Sossusvlei – Namib Desert
4. Spellbound by Deadvlei
After an hour of climbing, we reach the summit! WHAT A SIGHT ! From the top of the dune, the panorama is simply stunning: the Namib Desert offers itself to us : a sea of ocher dunes contrasting with the bright blue of the sky and the dazzling white of the pan below. This is Deadvlei (“dead marsh”), a white sediment basin where used to grow, several hundred years ago, camel thorn trees. With the climate change, the river Tsauchab that fed the pan had dried up, leading to the death of the trees. With the rise of the sun, the heat of the day has become overwhelming.
We descend, running the opposite side of the dune to join, some 300 meters down, the friends waiting in the dry lake. The race is steep, but what a joy!
At the bottom of the craked pan stand the black misshapen trees. Their pitch-black scrawny shape on the white salaar creates a unrealistic sight. The place is simply magical.
Deadvlei, Namib-Naukluft Park
5. Sunset on Dune Elim
On the way back, 1,5 miles from our camp, we plan to climb up Dune Elim, which offers a magnificent view to admire the sunset over the Namib desert.
The ascent of the dune is easy. At the top, sitting on the ridge, we observe the soft lights slowly retiring on the desert plain. The show is great and makes the joy of amateurish photographers like us.
At night falls, we go back to the campsite, tired but dazzled by the extraordinary experience of the day. The Namib Desert is truly a mythical place!
Sunset on the Namib Desert
In conclusion, this walk in the Namib Desert is a really amazing experience!
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