Diary of the Namibia Desert Challenge 2009 by Lynne Turner

Posted by ndceditor

Day 1

After a long and tiring flight including a transfer via Frankfurt (with bomb scare!)  I was relieved to see that everyone had collected their luggage. I was even happier to see the familiar and friendly face of Kobus Alberts our experienced Namibian Guide from Wild At Heart Safaris who introduced us to Albert Hays our medic. We then set off in the coach for a 6 hour journey towards the foothills of the Brandberg Mountain. As tarmac road started to turn into dusty track the coach finally arrived at the designated meeting place and we were met by the third member of the logistics team Faan Oosthuisen of Kaurimbi Expeditions. It was time to transfer luggage and bodies onto Faan’s truck. A small group took up Faan’s offer of travelling African-style on the roof of the truck while the rest bundled inside with the luggage. After a short and bumpy ride the truck stopped about 6km from our first camp, everyone disembarked and we walked into camp. Although it was now late afternoon and the sun would be setting in a couple of hours we were all struck by the fierce heat of the sun and I wondered what had happened to the cool front that Kobus had mentioned earlier.

Crossing plains covered mostly in gravel we made good time, and all arrived alive but tired after the long trip, just before sunset. Our camp consisted of pitched tents, bright green toilet tents with the infamous “long drop toilets”, newly dug and a makeshift kitchen next to the truck. Clifton and Kennedy were busy preparing dinner, while we got a chance to acquaint ourselves with our surroundings.

After a dinner of Spaghetti (kudu) Bolognese, great comfort food, we all huddled around the camp fire for a briefing on the next day’s route and local wildlife.  Albert gave us a briefing on general health and hygiene in and around the camp. Everyone was keen to know what kind of creepy crawlies we might encounter in the night and as if on cue Kobus caught, and then accidentally dropped into the middle of the group, a large Solifuge (Roman spider) and then a splendid light brown scorpion. I’m not sure how this helped ease the nerves before bed but the screams would certainly have kept the larger animals at bay. Everyone was tired after their long journey and gradually headed for their tents and the first night under canvas. At around 3-4am we heard what sounded like a big dog scavenging in the bins outside our tent, probably a jackal or hyena but we certainly learned not to leave unwrapped food around in future!

Day 2

After breakfast and a warm up session on the sand we headed out to the dune fields. The sand was hard enough to walk on but we also had to walk through clumps of long grass. Within an hour Fiona discovered that the grasses are home to snakes which prompted a discussion on the different types of snakes (fortunately this one wasn’t venomous) and what to do if we were unlucky enough to come across something more serious such as the deadly Puff Adder. i.e. stand completely still because they can only see movements. Privately I think we all hoped that we wouldn’t be tested on it. However at the first water break Faan had left us a little gift in a Nokia Mobile phone box. Nobody believed Kobus that the box contained a live Puff Adder until he opened the box to show us. It was a very sleepy and docile snake and we all got a good look and took some photos before it was released into the wild again.


Day 3

Day three's walking started off by following a dry river course and then veering off into the mountains. We climbed a small hill to get a better view of the breathtaking views and saw several game species with ostrich, giraffe and oryx in the distance. On the way to lunch we crossed a huge plain, which would eventually lead to the hills before the Goantagab River.

Group Photo Namibia Desert Challenge 2009

After lunch we tackled the “badlands” which are very rugged and littered with sharp broken stones and rock. Luckily for us the weather played along, and a cool breeze from the West kept everyone cooler. We were all in a good mood and everyone was feeling much healthier. Later that afternoon we crossed a wide golden savannah towards some granite outcrops on the horizon. The camp was splendidly hidden from view, so it was quite a surprise when we turned a corner and there was the most stunning camp we could ever have imagined.  Faan and Kobus kept us entertained round the camp fire with tales of their previous encounters with lions and the rare Black Rhino.

Day 4

The last full day of walking lay ahead. The terrain would be the most challenging of all. Little did we realise we would be scaling mountain ridges, climbing up and down dry steep dry river gorges most of the day. At one stage we climbed a “crocodile back ridge” and the view was just spectacular. We could see a 360 degrees view of the wildness of Damaraland. We decided this was the spot for a Quiet Moment (QM) where we could be still and quiet for a few minutes to reflect on the trek, remember our loved ones and contemplate life in general. For a few minutes everyone sat alone with his or her thoughts. In Kobus’s words “the greyhounds of the soul were running free” in this desolate, yet very beautiful place in Namibia.

After lunch Kobus gave us a very sober pep talk to prepare us for the afternoon’s challenge. He said that the terrain may not always be passable and we might have to turn back and retrace our steps.  Following mountain ridges we slowly made our way towards the Ugab River. We went down a very steep river gorge covered in loose rocks and as my foot slipped on the scree and I tried to find a solid rock to hang onto I quietly questioned the wisdom of doing something so risky however I had every faith in Kobus and his gift for judging people’s ability but pushing them just beyond their comfort level. I was very relieved when we all made it down.

Namibia Desert Challenge - a rocky descent

For a half hour or so we scrambled over rocks and boulders in a deep river bed, wondering how we were going to get out, until we climbed the next ridge. We realised that in Damaraland that to make a distance of about 50m you have to walk about 2km up and down. Finally, and with huge relief, way down below, we could see camp, but to get there we had to go down another steep hill about 1km and a half long.  It was a real challenge for all of us. Once inside camp, there was a tangible feeling of relief and a huge sense of achievement. Everyone was laughing excitedly, thankful for each other’s support and encouragement and the celebratory beers were opened.

Day 5

On the last day we left the Ugab river bed walking over elephant footprints and gasping at the stunning rock formations.  Finally coming over the brow of the hill we saw the Finish line and the coach back to Swakopmund. That evening after a much needed shower, hair wash and change in clothes we made our way to a local restaurant in Swakopmund to enjoy a relaxing meal and share stories of our Namibian adventure.

stunning rock formation near Ugap river

I’d like to thank Faan, Kobus, Albert, Clifton and Kennedy for creating such a memorable and exciting challenge. Congratulations to the 21 brave women who embraced the ups and downs with great spirit and determination.

finish line of the Namibia Desert Challenge 2009

Finally, our thanks to all the generous people who sponsored us - we raised over £50,000 for Fredericks Foundation!