Namib Desert - Panorama

Training Hike: Namib Desert

I have mentioned to a number of other trail runners over the past few months that I think a large portion of trail runners could achieve a better improvement in their race times by focussing on their hiking speed rather than their running speed. In any tough, mountainous trail race all runners will be forced to walk sections. I am often amazed by how slowly many people hike these sections, and during any race I always pass many people while power hiking tough hills, with my hands on my knees as I walk as fast as possible. Therefore I consider any serious hike as training for my running.

While travelling through Namibia my tour group headed out to the sand dunes in the Namib Desert near Sesriem. We were dropped off near Deadvlei, an area that formerly filled with water during the rainy season but no longer receives any water due to shifts in the sand dunes. The result is a white clay pan, with dead camel thorn trees in its centre, and sand dunes on three sides. We were given two hours of hiking time, with options for a fairly flat hike out to the clay pan, to climb up the nearest dune for a view down over the pan, or to climb up the more distant dune named “Big Daddy” or “Crazy Dune” that towered above the pan, and is one of the highest dunes in the world. I think that it is possibly unnecessary for me to state which option I decided upon.

Deciding to directly attack the Big Daddy Dune I navigated my way around the closest dune. I then started my climb by following some existing foot steps to reach the ridge of the dune, but those footsteps continued by descending straight down the other side. I was now on the spine of the dune and I would be making my own tracks all the way to the top.

Namib Desert - My Footsteps Climbing Above Deadvlei
Namib Desert – My Footsteps Climbing Above Deadvlei

The climb was a very hard slog. The sand dune forms a harder and softer slope, and with each step sands flows down the dune. I stopped a few times during the climb, which wouldn’t even be necessary on a 1000+ metre ascent on a trail. At each stop my heart was beating faster than I can recall having experienced for quite some time. With no speed work currently involved in any of my training I very rarely go anaerobic.


Namib Desert - Gazing Down at Deadvlei
Namib Desert – Gazing Down at Deadvlei

Eventually I reached the top of the dune, an amazingly tough climb for what seems such a short ascent. I enjoyed the 360 degree view around me, and could then enjoy the descent. I took a different route down, headed towards the far end of the mud plain. I ran down the side of the dune, which is incredibly fun, until I reached the bottom. I was feeling very good so I decided to run easily towards the trees in the centre of the plain. After taking a few photos I then made my way to the other end of the plain, where I caught up with some other people from my group. Then I walked easily back to the starting point.


Namib Desert - The Parched Ground of Deadvlei
Namib Desert – The Parched Ground of Deadvlei

As I concluded the walk I realised that I had not felt the rapidly rising heat during my hike. It has started me thinking about some new possibilities for upcoming targets.

Namib Desert - Dead Camel Thorn Trees in Deadvlei
Namib Desert – Dead Camel Thorn Trees in Deadvlei

You can check out the detail of this hike at here.


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