How I almost died on Dune 45 in the Namib Desert*

*Ok, so maybe a ‘slight’ exaggeration on the whole dying front but I can assure you that I felt like it at the time!

Picture this…it’s 5.30am.  It’s pitch black in the campsite, you’re trying to get ready in the dark and the moment you step out of the tent you put your BARE FOOT on an Acacia tree thorn…apparently blasphemy begins before dawn!  But you’re up and you’re ‘ready as you’ll ever be’ to climb a 170m high sand dune just 30 minutes after stumbling out of your tent. The walk up looks pretty doesn’t it?…

Sunrise at Dune 45

Dune 45 sunrise

Our group was the first to get to Dune 45 (named so because it stands on the 45th km on the road between Sesreim and Sossuvlei) since everyone queues at the gate at 6am to get into the Namib Desert where the dune lies.  It looked like such a cool climb!

Sunrise at Dune 45

Our truck is SO far away!

Well let me educate you my dear, dear friends. Dune 45, whilst amazing, is a TOTAL BITCH to climb!  You say to yourself ‘it’s sand, this is going to be soooo easy’ but what you don’t hear is the Dune’s whispering ‘I will kill you mere mortal mwahahaha’.

  • 10 paces up the incline I was already beginning to feel like an overweight 90 year old with smoker’s lungs.
  • 20 paces up the incline breathing was becoming harder and more painful and my body started to feel like dead weight.
  • 30 paces up and I’m wheezing like a dirty old man down a sex chat hotline, spitting up blood and deciding whether I wanted to throw up or pass out.
  • 40 paces up and I sat down.
  • This pattern continued all the way up!
Sunrise at Dune 45

Sunrise at Dune 45

I finally got to the top (a relative term for a sand dune with deceivingly high and continual ridges!) just as the sun was beginning to rise and spent the next 20 minutes staring into the landscape. I’D MADE IT!

Sunrise at Dune 45

Sunrise at Dune 45

Thinking we had reached the top of Dune 45, we then realised it carried on….and on….and on…. That dot at the very top of the sand dune?! Yep, it’s a person – the dune really IS that tall!

Sunrise at Dune 45

Sunrise at Dune 45

And to think…the dunes look so damn innocent when you seem them in the distance!

Sunrise at Dune 45

Sunrise at Dune 45

I’d like it noted that I wasn’t the only ‘unfit’ one climbing – we were all coughing our lungs up…climbing something like this isn’t like going for a run at home or paying a visit the gym – it’s exhausting stuff! I can, hand on dying leg calves heart say that climbing Dune 45 was harder that when I climbed Mount Batur in Bali at 1771m last year.  I have never experienced anything like it and I was glad when it was over that’s for sure.

Tips to help you climb Dune 45:

Wear nothing but socks (no, don’t go naked, I mean, wear just socks on your feet…you people have dirty minds!) – shoes weigh you down and get filled with sand and bare feet doesn’t give you enough ‘push’ like the ‘webbing effect’ a sock will have.

Wear layers.  You will be (if you use a reputable company) be going before dawn and whilst it’s cool when you start, by the time you’re half way up it begins to get warmer.

Protect your camera!!  When you’re sat down having that much needed heart attack rest, people will be walking passed you and flicking sand with their foot steps…a lens problem is the last thing you want when you have the chance to capture the sunrise.  Trust me, I began to have a nervous breakdown!

Eat something light before the climb.  A lot of us felt that we would have felt a lot better if we had eaten something before we had climbed or had even had a couple of sugary sweets to get our energy levels going.  Obviously, you would need to eat the moment you got up so that you didn’t get stitch on the climb but it’s worth it if it gives you extra energy and you’re not climbing on an empty stomach.

Follow others footsteps.  The best way to climb a dune is to use other peoples footholes (where they’ve compressed the sand) because they act like steps so make sure you’re last in your group to go up. Likewise, it is easier if you take smaller steps than bigger strides…your calves will thank you for it.

Only walk on the ridge (i.e. top) of the sanddune.  Even if your overland company doesn’t mention this, it is DISRESPECTFUL to walk on the side of the sand dunes as they are under protection so no running or rolling down the side of them because you’ll eventually stop everyone being able to enjoy them altogether.

So was the climb worth it?! You bet your glutias maxmius it was!  If you don’t believe me, look at the view…

Sunrise at Dune 45

Sunrise at Dune 45

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  1. wow what an adventure… ive never climbed a sand dune before nor even seen one…

  2. Jen

    Lol!! I was proper laughing at this babe I can imagine your pain!! I nearly had a heart attack crawling up the Sandunes in Liverpool never mind here, I can only imagine how hard it was!! Did you get that burning pain in your arsecheeks?? Totally worth the view though xx

  3. Tom

    I’ve never climbed / even SEEN a sand dune before, yet as I lie here on my comfy, comfy bed, my calves are having sympathy spasms for you! I think I’d just cry halfway up and then roll back down, hoping to take others with me in a “well if I can’t see it, then NEITHER CAN YOU, HA!” attitude haha 🙂

    The view looks like it was worth the climb! Can’t wait to read more of your Africa trip stories ^.^

  4. omg! I am cracking up! I love this. It seems so hard, but with a view and a sunrise like the one you posted, it all seems so worth it!

  5. Flip – It really was an adventure and the sand dunes were definitely the biggest I’ve ever seen 🙂

  6. Jen – haha maybe I should have taken your advice and crawled up 🙂 You had me laughing out loud when you asked me about arsecheek pains – so funny 🙂 And you’re right, totally worth the view! x

  7. Tom – Thanks for rubbing it in how comfy you are lol. I would have LOVED to have knocked them all over in my human bowling ball form; how did I not think of this before?! haha I really did want to cry – it was so painful 😀

  8. Sheryll – Glad you enjoyed it hun 😀 It really was harder than I expected it to be but you’re right, it was worth it!

  9. Wow- that sunrise picture was totally worth it! I climbed Mount Sinai in Egypt for sunrise while I was there last year, and while it almost killed me, it was a deeply moving experience.

  10. I hope they let you sand board back down 😉 The heat must have made it ten times worse as well!

  11. Erik – Sadly mine wasn’t a very ‘moving’ experience because I was sharing it with about 100 other people but there was certainly something special about being up a sand dune watching the sunrise. Mount Sinai sounds like a challenge too – well done!

  12. Alison – sadly, what goes up must come down…feet wise; no sandboards allowed on these dunes 🙁 Thankfully because we did it so early the heat wasn’t too bad when we finished but boy, I would have hated to do that at midday!

  13. Sand is deceptively evil… Lol. There’s a reason why they tell runners to train on beaches – because the sand makes a workout SO much harder!

    Good for you for sticking it out, though, even if you did nearly have a heart attack! The views look amazing.

  14. Love love LOVING these photos — some of my faves of yours! Glad they were worth every butt kicking step 😉 Dunes are deceptively challenging!!

  15. Amanda – ‘sand is deceptively evil’; love it! haha. The view was definitely worth it and I’m glad I did it but if I never seen another sand dune in my life I will be happy woman 😀

  16. Heather – aww thanks hun. They are certainly some of my favourite photos I’ve taken throughout the entire trip! You’re right on the butt kicking haha 😀

  17. What an awesome experience!

    My sole brush with dune climbing was at Tea Gardens earlier this year, and it was only a 10 metre ascent. I’m a little ashamed at how exhausting it was haha

  18. Aussie – don’t be ashamed – sand dunes are evil, pure evil whether they’re 10 or 100m! I felt so embarrassed by all my coughing etc until I noticed EVERYONE ELSE doing it too 😀

  19. Traveler – oh yeah, the pain was DEFINITELY worth it 😀

  20. Eeeep! I’m so excited! 🙂 I’ve climbed a few dunes… and hate it with a passion, I can already tell that I’m going to be wheezing up a storm – yay for asthma- and regretting not staying with a fitness regiment for the last few months! 😛

  21. Mel – sadly hun, even if you’re fit as fiddle, unless you’ve trained on stairs/sand dunes, it’s going to mean jack sh*t when you’re there lol. Good luck with it; the view is worth it but boy I do NOT miss that climb up 😀

  22. I “climbed” Dune 45 in 2009 …. just a few months after my 60th birthday and, as Toni mentions above, I have NEVER, E.V.E.R felt so unfit in my entire life. I have a photo in my overland album (taken by my tent-mate, who – although a seasoned hiker – was suffering too) and my title to this photo is: “Harder than it looks – climbing sand is WORSE than snow”. A friend and I are going back there next year, so (thanks Toni) I’ll try walking up with socks on 🙂
    …… and yes – the view up there is just to-die-for !!!!!
    In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my next encounter with the 45-er !!!!! 🙂

  23. WOW!
    i am so doing that….i’m thinking of going there this january….did you go solo? was it safe?

  24. Loved the post! The view seems awesome! Have you been to Wadi Rum in Jordan…it is one of the prettiest sunsets that we have ever seen!