THE ART OF WALKING UP A DUNE
Clocking up 10000 steps in 2 hours on Christmas morning was not what we had imagined. And that was just to the top of one of the tallest dunes in the world.
Worth it? 10000 times, yes!
Big Daddy Dune, as the name suggests, is THE big daddy of dunes. Towering 325m above a landscape of red and white, it’s majestic, surreal picture is clear why it’s a bucket list destination. And on Christmas morning, it definitely called to the Bucketlist’ers to enjoy it’s beauty. (If they made it to the top.)
The day we arrived at Sesriem, the town that’s the main access point to the Namib-Naukluft National Park, we weren’t very versed on the topography of getting to the dunes. To us Sesriem was Sossusvlei and like most visitors, the expectation was that you arrived, and there they were, piles of sand rising up out of the ground.
Nope. There's just a desert.
Sossusvlei is an hour drive, on a tar “highway” from the gate of the park. But as the FOMO explorers we are, we decided to embark on a “quick” drive to check out Dune 45 for a sunset walk.
Dune 45 is typically the “starter dune” at 70m high, it’s a cited as the fitness calibrator. And without any prior knowledge that just 40 mins from this dune is the real test of fitness, it’s a good place to start, and rethink the meaning of life. (And why dune walking isn't an olympic sport.)
We arrived at Dune 45 after a sweltering 40 degree day, to a truck of tourists disembarking their vehicle.
I looked at my husband, “Get in front of them, quick!”
Dune 45 in anyone’s opinion is still an enormous pile of sand. From the ground it playfully distorts your vision as a gradual incline, but you quickly learn that every grain of sand is, in actual fact, a piece of the devil gnawing at your calves. Screaming words into your head of doubt and despair from every leg muscle you possess.
Lessons From Dune 45:
1. KEEP YOUR SHOES ON:
Do not think that removing your shoes after a hot summers day is going to make your footing easier. The sand is lava. And trying to put your shoes back on in a haste whilst lava granules melt your feet is acrobatic. Closed shoes, or wide sandals are for evening dune hikes.
2. LET SOMEONE FORGE THE PATH AHEAD:
Do not, and I repeat DO NOT, be the first person to walk up a dune.
No matter how much your Instagram followers need that solo shot, walking a spine of a dune requires a step master (and no fear of heights). With 90 degree drop-offs on either side, your balance and footing needs to be on point.
Imagine an ice-walker, digging in their toes, balancing, next step, digging in the next toe, balancing, over and over. Then add wind whipping sand into your face, lava clawing your feet and you’ve only just begun.
You’re not conquers.
Photoshop can remove the people out your shot.
Let someone else create the footprints you’ll use as steps to get you to the top.
Trust me, footsteps are blessings and make you appreciate the view so much better.
3. MORE GROUND, BETTER VIEWS:
Do not walk up the spine.
Follow the walkers trails, around the dune and up the side.
All the dunes have alternative walkways, but if your primary goal is to get to the top, walk the ground and up the side of the dune. Yes, there will be an incline to kill a calf muscle, but you’ll halve the walk and get more time to enjoy the view.
On Christmas morning, we woke to the sound of traffic as everyone shot off into the dawn to catch the morning light of Big Daddy. We had overslept (due to our neighbours unforgiving noise and light pollution) so we missed the in-park early entry and got in line with the convoy. Heading into the 50 million year old desert, like a school run.
Watching the sunrise over the Namib dunes, is like watching syrup drizzle over flapjacks. Dripping over each dune, and covering it in hues of golden reds and orange. Unmasking the splendour of it’s natural phenomenon.
But if you’ve overslept, the rush of touristic competitiveness, gives you half the appreciation. It's a race to the dune, and whether you like it or not, you're a competitor.
After engaging 4x4 mode, letting down tyre pressure and combating a sand valley, we made it to the car park. Having lost half the tourists to non 4x4 vehicles, we relished in the quiet of a few solo adventurers.
The view surrounding you is a metropolitan of dunes. And as your eyes adjust you can make out tiny pricks of people balancing on the sandy spines. My first thought, “Thank God we’re not the first.”
Big daddy is around 700m to 1km into the dune escarpment, getting there you have your options. And as we learnt; walk more ground, conquer more views.
We set off around the left of the dunes, through fossilized pans and greeted the base of the dune with a hundred footsteps carved in his side. Two rusks in our belly and an Amarula coffee for stamina, we began our 10000 steps.
Lessons from Big Daddy:
1. EARLY MORNING SAND = COLD SAND:
Early morning hikes are barefoot friendly. Take off your shoes and relish in the cold sand.
2. YOU DON’T NEED TO BE THERE AT SUNRISE:
Getting there early is a plus, enjoy the coolness of the air but we recommend letting the sun rise before you start your hike. The sun bursts the dunes into a colour show, and exposes the contrast of the landscape. We summited the dune around 8am, albeit it was already a gazillion degrees, the sun showed off the landscape perfectly. The dunes are high, which makes the shadows long. For Photography reasons it’s worth the wait. (Just note: any time after 10am and you may sizzle in summer.)
3. DON’T RACE:
Take your time, turn around often, take in the view. Every 100 steps shows you a different perspective.
4. NO ONE WALKS BACK DOWN:
Don’t walk down the way you came, let fear go and run straight down into DeadVlei. It’s steep, but yoh, it’s the most fun ever! (Also, it’s a work out, quads do all the work but forgivingly gives the carves a break.)
5. LEAVE BIG DADDY TO THE END:
Once you’ve done Big Daddy, you’ve done them all. So leave it to the last day, take time (if you have it) to explore the other dunes in the area. Elim Dune just outside the gate is a sunset delight, the walk is mild and terrain is more alive. Take a 4x4 route around Sossusvlei and appreciate the landscape. Visit Deadvlei and make a morning appreciating the 700 year of trees, and then, when you’ve done all that, make Big Daddy the final stop.
Have you been to Sossusvlei? Anything you would add as a tip to a new traveler wanting to walk the dunes? Comment below and share your advice.