Towards the west of Namibia's Kalahari, in the region that settles itself as the Nama Karoo but is spitting distance from the Skeleton Coast, is the Spitzkoppe. Rising some 600m from the flattest of landscapes, this incredible engorging of orange colored granite is like a giant beacon visible from dozens of miles away. It's immense folds of rock contort and wave around the pinnacle that is the Spitzkoppe itself, creating a Mountain that would not be out of place in a Martian Landscape. Meanwhile the heat of the desert bakes the rock face so that moving over it is like walking across a massive stove top, searing your body if you dare to spend too long in the sun.
This is our third photographic location after picking up our guests, Preeti and Prashant in Windhoek. The drive north-west from Windhoek passes first through terrain that seems quite familiar to the average South African. This is of course landscape similar to the rest of the Kalahari's edge, a biome that stretches across Namibia into Botswana and down into the north of South Africa. But the geologic mass that is the Spitzkoppe is more reminiscent of Australia's Uhuru (Ayre's Rock). An incongruous, in this setting, pinnacle of coarse granite whose orange hues contrast dramatically against the azure blue sky.
Of course Nick and I saw this megalith in the desert and decided (stupidly), that it had to be climbed. We were under the impression that we had lucked out when a third of the way up we came across a series of cairns amongst the mess of giant boulders, the telltale climber's friend. We followed these not realizing that they led to a roped climbing route (or at least that's what we ultimately guessed as the final destination of the cairns would have required Spider-Man like skills to continue). Our initial destination was actually the lower peak of Pontok Mountain, which would have been somewhat easier to summit by our reckoning. Still, we made it down, slightly dehydrated and sweltering, but safe. It was only upon our return that we discovered that climbing isn't exactly allowed during the summer months as the rocks absorb so much heat that they cannot actually be touched without inflicting minor burns upon oneself, (it didn't actually get that hot, but it wasn't hard to imagine).
One of the most incredible photographic sites in the Spitzkoppe is undoubtedly what is referred to as the 'the Bridge' (there are actually a few arches, but this is by far the easiest to access and photograph). We spent two evenings, an afternoon and a morning photographing this small portion of the Spitzkoppe. In the end we all agreed, we still hadn't spent enough time at this rock feature. It just kept on giving incredible images with amazing light.
The problem, if you see it as such, of visiting the Spitzkoppe as a photographer is that you can quite easily be overwhelmed by all there is to photograph. Nick jokingly pointed out to our small group that I was like a hare in the veld. One minute I was here, then I was there, then I would be somewhere else again. I found it almost impossible to concentrate on one area (to the detriment of my images I think). There was simply too much, from the amazing details of rock shapes and textures to the incredible bulk of the mountains against dramatic cloudscapes. It was just too much for me. Spitzkoppe needs more than two days! It needs months to fully explore and to appreciate this incredible isolated desert sentry.
But we only had two days and hopefully we made the best of it (I cannot comprehend some of the overland tours that would arrive at 4pm in the afternoon and be packed up and ready to go by 6am the following morning). I'm already looking forward to returning to this strange mountain with it's baking surface and rough granular textures. As we drove away along the white dusty road I looked back into the rear view mirror and watched as the warm orange and red triangle of the 'Groot Spitzkoppe' slipped under the canopy of dust-smeared acacia trees and it seemed to wink out of existence like a dream.
Nick is sharing more of his images on www.facebook.com/tailormadesafaris. More details and updated pricing for next year's full workshop will also be made available as soon as we return to South Africa (the original pricing is available to anyone booking before the end of December 2013).
To read the side Recce to Etosha go to this link: A Sho't Left to the Great White Place - Part 3.5 of the NamibiaLandscape Workshop Recce
To view the second stage of the journey at the famous Kolmanskop ghost town read this page: Through the Desert to A Ghost Town - Part 2 of the Namibia Workshop Recce