Attempting an ascent of Dune 7 outside Walvis Bay

05 April 2013

“What is our next destination?” I asked, as we strolled back to our car, while watching the two friendly pelicans flapping gracefully across the mist-wreathed harbour to alight effortlessly on a wooden pier, where a boat was just coming in – probably with a load of fish.

“Dune 7,” announced Richard. “We’re going to take the inland road back to Swakopmund. It runs behind the dune belt. Dune 7 is one of the highest dunes in that area.”

We piled into the car, and headed east out of Walvis Bay.

Leaving Walvis Bay, we headed east into the vast Namib Desert, until we reach this turn-off
Leaving Walvis Bay, we headed east into the vast Namib Desert, until we reached this turn-off

“If you continue along this road for a bit,” said Reggie, “you reach the Walvis Bay Airport, which is a lovely little airport. It’s also known as ‘Rooikop’, which means ‘redhead’ in Afrikaans. Until 1994, it was home to several South African Air Force squadrons. When I flew up from Cape Town during school holidays, I always landed there, and my family would pick me up from Swakop.”

“And if you drive past the airport and keep driving on the C26, you will eventually reach Windhoek,” added Richard. “It goes over the Kuiseb and Gamsberg Passes, and is very scenic; but it’s also a gravel road, and you need to take it fairly slow.”

Just then, we saw a turn-off to “Dune 7, Langer Heinrich Mine, Swakopmund”. Richard quickly put on his indicators, and turned left onto an arrow-straight gravel road that disappeared on the horizon.

Our destination
Our destination: Dune 7

“Reggie, what is that second thing on the list?” I asked.

“The Langer Heinrich Mine is a uranium mine that opened up in 2006 at the foot of the Langer Heinrich mountains outside Swakopmund. It actually lies within the borders of the Namib Naukluft National Park.”

“Ah, here we are already,” declared Richard, turning left at a sign to Dune 7.

“Why is it called Dune 7, Reggie?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure. I heard that there is another Dune 7 at Sossusvlei, which is a salt and clay pan, further south from here, where there are particularly spectacular dunes all around. Their Dune 7 is  apparently the highest dune in the world, and the seventh dune past the Swakop (or Tsauchab) river as you’re travelling towards Sossusvlei. It must be over 300 metres high.”

Shady palm trees and picnic spots at the base of Dune 7
Shady palm trees and picnic spots at the base of Dune 7

This one looked pretty high to me too, to be honest. We bumped over a set of railway tracks, and took the next turn-off left to a cluster of palm trees and cement picnic tables and benches. It looked really nice. There was even an ablutions block with toilets. Some distance to the right was a place where you could hire quad bikes, and beyond that was the Dune 7 restaurant and bar.

We parked in the shade of the palm trees, and clambered out of the car. It was pleasantly warm outside, a nice change from the clinging damp fog at the Walvis Bay lagoon.

We stood at the foot of the dune, looking up.

“Are we going to climb to the top?” I asked, awed.

“No,” said Richard. “Can you see those people right at the top?”

I had to strain to make them out.

“They look like ants!” I cried.

“Yes, it’s quite a climb to the top,” nodded Reggie. “If you do want to climb it, I’d suggest you go up along the side, rather than straight up the slip face, which is the steepest side of these crescent shaped dunes.”

Richard and I trudge up-dune.... oh my goodness, the sand is HOT HOT HOT!!
Richard and I trudge up-dune…. oh my goodness, the sand is HOT HOT HOT!!

“Well, Flat Kathy and I are going to go up this bit here, and you take a photo of us, okay?” instructed Richard. “I’ll go up as high as I can.”

It turned out to be more strenuous than we had anticipated. With every step up, his feet would disappear into the sand, and he’d slip back down a bit. Eventually, we were about a third of the way from the bottom, although it was difficulty to judge. The view was amazing, though! I wish we’d taken a photo from up there, but Reggie had the camera at the foot of the dune.

“Hurry up and take a photo!” we yelled, posing for the click.

Then Richard began to sprint down the slip face again, going ‘ow ow ow’… “That sand is bloody hot!” he explained when he reached the bottom. “I’m glad I was wearing sandals, but the soles of my feet are still burning.”

Meanwhile, the woman who had been climbing the dune had made it all the way to the ridge, but was struggling to climb higher up to the top of the ridge. Her companion had given up the fight against the sliding sand, and came trotting down the dune at a brisk pace, panting and out of breath.

“Ow!” he cried, “that sand is HOT!”

“There’s a water tap over there,” said Reggie, indicating a tap sticking out of a large bush, which was obviously benefiting from the fairly regular water use.

He quickly rinsed his feet to cool them down, and then sat down in the shade of a picnic spot to watch his companion now coming down the slip face, sliding and slipping, causing little avalanches of fine sand.

“Ow!” she said, reaching the bottom. “It doesn’t look all that high from here, but it’s exhausting, because all the sand keeps sleeping away from under your feet! And my feet feel like they’re on fire!”

A bush at the foot of the dune - can you see the teeny-tiny person sprinting down from the top of the dune? That's the woman who climbed to the ridge.
A bush at the foot of the dune – can you see the teeny-tiny person sprinting down from the top of the dune? That’s the woman who climbed to the ridge.

Richard was trying to catch his breath and cool off his feet too.

“Erm… Honey, can you climb up again?” said Reggie tentatively. She had been looking at the photos she’d taken. “You and Flat Kathy kind of disappear in the distance. I need something to give the picture a sense of scale… Those palm trees over on the left, perhaps?”

Richard and I looked at each other, then gave her a horrified look. “Are you serious?”

“Um… yes…”

“It’s for the blog,” I said to Richard, winking at Reggie. He sighed heavily, rolling his eyes at me. Then we all laughed.

“Right, let’s do this.”

Reggie insists that we climb up to those palm trees, as it apparently makes a better photograph
Reggie insists that we climb up to those palm trees, as it apparently makes for a better photograph

We began to re-ascend, making a beeline for the palm trees that looked incongruously like they were growing in the middle of the dune – though it’s probably more the case that the dune had shifted over the years.

Eventually, we reached the palm tree, and posed for a picture. CLICK! Then we trotted back down again, bringing half the dune with us.

What an experience this had been – my first almost-successful ascent of a dune!

Thank you, Richard!

Panorama of Dune 7: What an awe-inspiring place! Click on the picture for a larger version
Panorama of Dune 7: What an awe-inspiring place! Click on the picture for a larger version

Comments are welcome!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.