The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land





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  1. #1
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    Default The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    It is just after 06:00 in the morning, today is Friday. I zip open my tent door and look to the east, there are feint signs of the sun rising, but here, deep in the dunes of the world’s oldest desert, the Namib, it is still dark. I lie back and wrap my sleeping bag over my shoulders. I don’t want this day to start, I want to stay longer, I want this journey to continue, I do not want to go back to civilisation.

    I hear pots clanging, a gas stowe hissing, the guide is boiling water for our morning coffee, it is a thick and deep, deep black syrup. If I am served coffee like that at a coffee shop in the city, I will send it back, but here after five days and 100 km of hiking in the desert, I cannot wait for that first cup of the day. I get up, crawl out of the tent, stretch and walk barefoot across the cool soft sand to the glow of the gas flame. Three minutes, says Andre, the guide, hy moet eers bietjie trek en krag kry.

    We started this journey a week ago when I boarded a plane in Cape Town, bound for Walvis Bay. We were the guests of Live the Journey, they want to start to market a hike in the concession area south of Walvis Bay and needed to test the route, work out distances and supplies and safety measures. They are experts in leading 4x4 driving tourists and adventurers through the desert. Hiking is different, though. The pace is much slower and a back pack carries much less than a 4x4, so they needed to establish how many support vehicles is required. We paid for our own transport to Namibia, concession fees, accommodation for the first night in Walvis and our own drinks. Live the Journey looked after the food, guiding and transport during the hike.

    My fellow hikers were a few media people and a number of experienced hikers, such as my friend Anette Grobler, owner of Silent Steps, you might have seen footage of her unsupported 570 km hike along the Skelton Coast from the Ugab River to the mouth of the Kunene River :
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfxomJepeGA

    At Walvis Bay we were met by Jurgens Schoeman, owner of Live the Journey and were transported to Lagoon Chalets, our base for the first night. Jurgens and I met at university, we attended the same res, I am a good six or seven years older. Through the years I always watched the progress and growth of Live the Journey and when the invite arrived in my inbox, I did not hesitate to accept. Okay, I did discuss the matter with my wife, but as she was travelling with friends in Croatia at the time, I knew I was just following one the unwritten rules of marriage, let her think you are asking her permission to go on a trip, in the meantime you have already booked and paid for everything.

    We had drinks and dinner at Lagoon Chalets, I met the rest of the hikers, Jurgens gave a short speech and said that he started thinking about this hike about ten years ago and that it took him many years and many discussions with the National Parks authorities to get permission to take hikers into the concession area. Then we had a bit of a party with me, Jurgens and Erns Grundlingh the last to leave the bar. I met Erns at a hike in the Karoo some years back, just after he published his book, Elders. He does not allow life or deadlines to rush him and takes life at his own pace.

    I do not have much photos of the first day, but here are a few.

    Just a little teaser: those of you who think that the Namib desert is a boring stretch of monochromatic sand, keep tuned in for the next few days, we have seen some spectacular sights and the photos will confirm and hopefully get you into the desert as well. By the way, I think Live the Journey have succeeded in getting South Africans into the desert and other areas of Namibia, their next big challenge is to get Europeans off the popular tourist routes of Namibia and into the desert. This hike might just be the catalyst.
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    Last edited by Merwe Erasmus; 2019/09/10 at 10:08 AM.

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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Excellent, I will be following with great interest.

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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Subscribed
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    This will be very interesting, thanks Merwe.

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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Namib Hike Day 1:

    We eat breakfast at Lagoon Chalets and they also supply us with a small lunch pack.

    I experience the usual first day apprehension, how will I fare in the desert sand? Am I fit enough? There was some talk prior to our departure about gaiters and I even bought myself a set. Never used it, though. The last time I used gaiters was in the snow above 4000 metres.

    We are taken by 4x4 vehicles to Modderbankies, about an hourís drive south of Walvis Bay. We pass the Salt works and the flamingos. The Namibians say that they supply more than 80% of all salt used in South Africa. The salt is carried by ship from Walvis to Durban. Our driver, Len, is a big man, rumour has it that he played hooker for the Namibian rugby team. He is a bit out of shape, it looks as if his playing days are over. He is a Topnaar, a clan related to the Nama. His father who passed away in January was the leader of the Topnaars and he is to be succeeded by Len, but it appears that Len has deputised someone else to stand in for him, while he continues his driving and guiding. A further rumour, now confirmed as fact, is that Len is a very good driver and we feel very comfortable and safe with Lenís bulky frame behind the wheel of the 8 seater Land Cruiser.

    We stop at Modderbankies, the spot where the Kuiseb River used to enter the sea in ancient times. Today the mouth of the river is much closer to Walvis Bay in the north. This is the spot where the hike will commence.

    I hitch my backpack and start walking south, underfoot is a spongy brown clayish substance. Soil washed from the centre of Namibia over the centuries. After a while we settle into a rhythm. Soon we encounter some big dunes while we walk on the beach, it is low tide. A short distance further we see Sandwich Harbour, a shallow bay open at the northern side with a shallow lagoon teeming with bird life and shoals of small fish. The site is now a protected area in terms of the Ramsar agreement.

    Sandwich Harbour is very impressive and I experience the same feeling as when I saw Dead Vlei for the first time. This is one of the must see places in Namibia, but it is visited by small numbers of tourists on day outings from Walvis Bay. Big golden yellow dunes to the east, blue sky with some whispy white clouds, green almost marine type of grass and vegetation and blue water. Lots of birds, with huge groups of flamingo scratching in the shallow water looking for food. They do a bit of a dance to churn up the mud, hoping to dislodge a few crabs or shrimps. I hope my photos will to give some indication of the joy and beauty we experienced with our first hand views.

    Later, after I took a rest on a small dune to enjoy my packed lunch sarmie and some juice, we continue along the edge of the lagoon, blue water, yellow sand and blue skies.

    Late afternoon I see Anette at the top of a high dune and I scramble up the ridgeline to join her, two steps up and one step down. On the inland side of the dune is our camp for the night, I run down the slipface and flop down in a camping chair. Distance for the day was just over 20km. Can I pass you a beer? ask Jurgens. I greatfully accept.

    Later I pitch my tent and I wait my turn for a desert shower, the water is heated in jerry cans next to the fire. The guides grill sosaties, just to keep us going to dinner time. Dinner is a braai with salads. We sit around the fire and Jurgens starts his daily ritual of discussing the daysí events with us. What worked well, what should change, was it too far, too short. I sit back and just enjoy the whole experience, it sure is good to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
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  8. #6
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Im jealous! As an avid hiker, this is another bucket list item. Looking forward to the next postings.
    Thanks Merwe.
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Some more Day 1 pics
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  11. #8
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Great report, thank you for sharing Merwe.

    Looking forward to the next installment & photos.
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Namib Hike Day 2

    Our day starts with breakfast, it is a lush affair, rusks and coffee, muesli and yoghurt , bacon, sausage cheese, fruit, bread and rolls. And then the coffee that I mentioned yesterday. Thick black stuff. We also prepare a sandwich for our lunch.

    We have to start hiking early, the second half of todaysí hike is along the notorious Langewand, or Long Wall, Namibiaís own Doodsakker. In the first section of the day we have to hike across a very big plain covered with small, almost fine, weathered calcite like stones. Between us and the sea is the southern section of the Sandwich Harbour lagoon. When we reach the sea, we also see big groups of seals on the beach. It is interesting to observe them when they are approached by humans on foot. At first the youngsters and mothers are instructed by grunts from the bulls to head for the safety of the sea and they move clumsily and almost comically over the sand. Once they hit the water they turn into graceful and athletic swimmers. Then as we get closer the bulls grudgingly abandon the warmth of the sun and the sand and also head for the sea. The bulls stay in the shallow water and keep a close eye on us.

    Then we reach the Langewand, it is low tide and there is a narrow band of sand between the sea and the steep dunes, this temporary path will disappear as the time comes in. The dunes are high and steep. The moisture from the sea keeps the seaward side of the dunes moist, resulting in steeper walls than is the case with dry sand. The sea is relentless in crushing onto the beach, at times it deposits sand onto the beach and in other cases it takes sand away to be deposited on another beach. A light mist rolls in, I am on my own, I cannot see another human being. To my right is the cold Atlantic Ocean, to my left a continuous wall of high dune. I walk for thirteen kilometres, sea to the right, dunes to the left.

    The Namibian coastline is inhospitable, if you are left here without food or support, you will not last long. Numerous shipwrecks line the coast. At least I know that Jurgens and his team are waiting for me at the end of the Long Wall. I walk in silence and awe, sea to the right, dunes to the left.

    The dunes are generally smooth, but every few hundred metres, one sees the effect of the waves eating at the wall of sand. The sand being taken away from the foot of the dune by the sea create sand avalanches from the top. The moist sand form fantastic castle like shapes along the side of the dunes, almost as if giants are having a sand castle building competition. Dry and lighter coloured sand from the top of the dune runs down and forms mini waterfalls over the castles. I stand and I watch and I admire.

    Then I see that the tide is rising, my 20 metre path is now reduced to a walkway. Every now and then a wave rolls up right up to the dune. I continue my walk at a slightly faster pace, sea to the right, dunes to the left.

    I reach the end of the Langewand, almost appropriately there are rocks forming a gate or exit. In the mist I see Jurgensís Toyota. I walk up to him and he leans out of the window and hands me a shot of Amarula. I drink a silent toast to the ocean and the sentinels and the sirens of the Langewand, thankful for a safe passage.

    Soon I reach our camp for the night, in the dunes, but with a view of the sea. The last group of hikers reach the camp, they were not so lucky and were caught by the waves. Wet shoes and boots, but one of the guides, Jacques Delport (of Uri Adventures fame) comes to their rescue and starts a shoe drying venture close to the fire. One of the ladies goes down to the sea for a swim in the ice cold Atlantic, she is from Johíburg, this fact might explain her behaviour.

    We enjoy another pleasant evening around the camp fire, dinner was a tasty spaghetti bolognese and freshly baked bread, the guides did the baking.

    We have our daily report back session, the group is very positive about the hike and the route and notwithstanding the fact that we are not halfway through with the hike, we have no doubt that this desert hike will become a bucket list item for hikers. As a group we also had a chance to get to know our fellow hikers and we form new friendships and renew older alliances.
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    More Day 2 photos
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    And the last images from Day 2
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    Last edited by Merwe Erasmus; 2019/09/12 at 08:35 AM.

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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Namib Hike Day 3

    I am up before sunrise, well to tell the truth, we will not see the sun rise today, the mist is upon us.

    The beach is covered in foam, it dampens the sound of the waves rolling up on the beach. Shortly after the start of our hike, we reach the wreck of the American registered Shawnee. She ran aground on 16 February 1976. At times she is almost completely covered with sand, but today she is open, it is also very easy to step aboard and a number of hikers pose on the bow a la Rose DeWitt and I can almost hear Celine Dion singing My heart will go on above the noise of the sea.

    The next stretch is a mini Langewand and even more foam covers the beach, I am enveloped in foam with a greenish tint, right up to my knees.
    I hike on my own. It has taken me some time to unwind and to truly become aware of the beauty of the desert. As the days go by our eyes figuratively open and we tend to see and appreciate more and more of our surroundings.

    The high dunes come to an end and we cross a big flat plain. Then about halfway through the day we make a left turn, into the desert. We follow a ridge line, going higher and higher. Some of the inclines are steep and the sand is soft and it requires a bit of effort to reach the top. Loyal Namibians will tell you that the highest dunes in the world are right here in the Namib, but my research tells me this might not be the case, this honour belongs to Argentinaís Duna Federico Kirbus, topping at a massive 1230 metres from its base. Still try walking up a 350 m dune, it is energy sapping.

    I leave the ridge line and hike in a dune valley on the inland side, but after a kilometre, the valley closes and I am forced to go up a very steep dune. Later that night, at the camp fire, I hear that more than one hiker went down on their hands and knees and crawled the last few metres to reach the top of this baby. From here it is about 4 kilometres of smaller dunes up and down to our camp site. Our distance for the day was 23,5 km, about 2 km less that yesterday, but walking up and down the dunes took its toll and I am grateful to get to the camp. The camp is set high on a dune with a magnificent view of the sea and the setting sun, but it is a bit exposed to the wind.

    We have a good view over Conception Bay. Some historians believe Bartholomeu Diaz reached this bay on 8 December 1487, on the day known as Marias Conception, anchored here and named the bay Golfo de Conceicao. Other maintain that he in fact landed at Walvis Bay. Be that as it may, we were at the real latter day Conception Bay. This bay was used to off load supplies for the little inland mining towns of the early 1900ís. It is a fairly exposed bay and it must have been difficult to land the smaller boats.

    I have also learned that we are not the first persons to walk this beach. For eons it was the domain of the Strandlopers and other indigenous people and in more recent history, the workers at the mining towns had to walk from Walvis Bay down the coast to Conception Bay, before turning inland to the mining settlements of Holstatia, Charlottenfelder and Grillenbergen. They were not treated well by their employers and had to endure hardships and suffered many brutalities at the hands of the Germans.

    We were fortunately, treated like kings and queens by our guides, grilled chicken was on the menu. Like all South African men, I regard myself as a champion braai master. But I must admit, our two young guides, Steven and Lukas, and to a greater extent, Lukas, can braai. They do everything high above the coals (and flames in certain instances) but everything is perfectly grilled. One evening Lukas grilled braaibroodjies, the big braai grid was full, but the bread was an even light golden colour with the cheese melted and the tomato nice and warm.

    It was a windy night, but I fortified myself with a brandy or two. The next day I heard rumours of snoring by fellow hikers that caused a midnightly moving of tents by others, but I had a good nightís rest. The many dunes I had to negotiate during the day must have played a part.
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    And a few more Day 3 photos
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Wow, that's my kind of adventure! Another one on my bucket list. But I'm afraid life is too short, there's to many things to do, to many places to visit.

    And beautifully narrated too. Thnx!
    24 hours in a day.... 24 beer in a case.... Coincidence?
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    My blog: Our African Ramblings (https://safaribug.wordpress.com/)

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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Quote Originally Posted by Merwe Erasmus View Post
    The high dunes come to an end and we cross a big flat plain. Then about halfway through the day we make a left turn, into the desert. We follow a ridge line, going higher and higher. Some of the inclines are steep and the sand is soft and it requires a bit of effort to reach the top. Loyal Namibians will tell you that the highest dunes in the world are right here in the Namib, but my research tells me this might not be the case, this honour belongs to Argentinaís Duna Federico Kirbus, topping at a massive 1230 metres from its base. Still try walking up a 350 m dune, it is energy sapping.
    Hi Erasmus, wonderful pictures and great writing, thank you so much for this special report. I did not know that there is a dune named after our great adventure writer Federico Kirbus. Will have to do some research...
    "make a plan to break a plan"

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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Quote Originally Posted by La Leona View Post
    Hi Erasmus, wonderful pictures and great writing, thank you so much for this special report. I did not know that there is a dune named after our great adventure writer Federico Kirbus. Will have to do some research...
    Please tell us what information you find on those high Argentinian dunes.

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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    As usual I played around with different cameras. Here are a few images that I took on Day 3 with a small plastic disposable Fuji film camera. I had the film developed at Orms and I must say I am surprised at the result. Day 3 was misty and the grainy film added to the mood.
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    And some more plastic film camera images
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    Default Re: The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Namib Hike Day 4

    Another good breakfast sets us on our way. We walk over a few small dunes, there are some vegetation, a few patches of desert grass.

    Later we cross a massive flat plain, lined with stones and gypsum like crusts. There are also wide lines of black stones, it looks like a railway line across the sand where the sleepers and tracks had been removed. I spend a lot of time on this plain, there are, as always many tracks of Black Backed Jackal and also the bigger paw marks of the brown Hyena or the Strandwolf.

    We are now about 4 or 5 km from the sea and at about midday we walk over a small dune veld and then we cross an area littered with small and fleshy plants. One of my fellow hikers point out Gemsbok tracks, we find a spot where the gemsbok has eaten some of the fleshy succulent plant, the tracks are very fresh.

    Our camp for the night is close to Conception Water. At the time when mining of diamonds started in the Namib in 1908, a few buildings was erected at Conception Bay. Some time later fresh water was found about 10 km southeast of the bay and the whole town was relocated to be closer to the source of water. Today there is one building that is in good condition and it is used as a small museum. The wooden building was brought down from Swakopmund, it served as the mortuary in Swakop, but as an office at Conception Water. The diamonds at Conception Bay were alluvial, spewed into the Atlantic by the Orange river and then transported north by the Benguella Current. The bigger and heavier diamonds stayed closer to the mouth of the river and only the smaller diamonds were transported to the north.

    Just east of the office is the remains of more wooden buildings, some years back a dune covered the buildings, but the dune has since marched northwards and the structures are now exposed again. During the years 1911 to 1912 a small railway was build to transport goods from Conception Bay to Conception Water. In the dunes close to the museum we see the rusty remains of a lister pump.

    At the camp the guides prepared a few plates of very impressive looking and very tasty snacks, Jurgens produced ice cold bubbly and Susina, the owner of the Hotel School in Stellenbosch demonstrated the sabrage technique. She did not have a sabre, though and a big kitchen knife did the trick.

    That evening we were again treated to a five start dinner, big big sirloin steaks. Anette and I shared a bottle of Shiraz and again it was an evening to remember. Tomorrow we will take on the last hike of this journey, to the coast to meet the Eduard Bohlen.
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  32. #20
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    Default The Namib 100 - Hiking into the Forbidden Land

    Great report hand photos
    Last edited by Recovery; 2019/09/14 at 10:32 PM.

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