Namibia – day 4

Waking up at 5am on any day is a struggle. When it’s freezing cold, pitch black and you’ve slept on the ground in a tent, it’s quite tough. It was 30 minutes earlier than usual that the “get up everybody” call from one of our guides was heard.  We were about to start what was considered one of the toughest days of the trek and planned to set out slightly earlier than usual to make the most of the cooler part of the day.

By now the morning routine felt like a military operation. A wet wipe “bath”, clothes rolled up and packed, teeth cleaned, and outside for a coffee. I also munched down a couple of pieces of bread with some honey dripped over them in what I tried to kid myself was a breakfast.

The morale in the group was high given the early start to the morning. There were no obvious injuries, the trek was manageable even for the inexperienced folks in the group, and it seemed most were looking forward to the day. It was mentioned to us several times that Doros Crater was expected to be a tough day for the group and in my mind was a vision of attempting to climb a steep crater edge in blistering desert heat, with no place for shade. But that was for later.

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The first stage in a cool morning took us away from camp towards a river bed. It was a place where there was a good chance of seeing wildlife which meant limited chit chat, and taking it slowly when needed. The sun came up and started to burn off the mist that had rolled over a couple of hills towards us. It didn’t look anything like I expected a barren, desert landscape to look at that time but I was perfectly happy with the cooler air and a bit of shade from the sun.

The general plan for each day was for our crew to pack up the camp and drive on ahead of us. If our route came close to one of the dusty tracks winding through the desert, we would catch a glimpse of the vehicles. This morning they passed nearby as we were making our way through the riverbed, and one of the crew called back on the radio. They saw a couple of zebras ahead but, unfortunately, the cars scared them off, and they scarpered in the opposite direction from us. Aside from the start of the of the trek, we hadn’t seen much wildlife so far and it felt a bit disappointing. Having the cars scare off the zebras, and tell us about it, didn’t help. On the morning, the pinnacle of wildlife spotting was seeing two armoured ground crickets.

As we ploughed on for a couple of hours we eventually came to the opening of the crater. One of the cars stopped there for a water bottle and snacks top up. Again, the emphasis was on how tough the next stage would be and in my mind, I was starting to see a struggle ahead.

Doros Crater did provide a challenge in a couple of ways. The formation of it resulted in a valley between two sets of hills running around the largest part of the crater, which makes for a convenient path. However, this means very little wind and by this time the sun was high in the sky and the temperature rising. It was quite hard going; I was getting through the water at a worrying rate. And, as we started to leave the path and head up the side of the crater, the rocky ground was more like a quarry – a few large ankle breakers, looser rocks.

We made good time on the ascent and all in all it was more straightforward than I had been expecting. What’s more, when we reached higher areas there was less cover and a very welcome breeze. The last few hundred yards, despite being on some dodgy ground at times, had a wonderful view over miles and miles of desert over to mountains in the distance. From the top of the crater it was spectacular. And our next stop was visible below us: a bit ahead in the distance was the white of the lunch tent, already set out for us.

The descent of Doros Crater was probably the toughest part of the trek. The terrain was large, loose rocks – easy to roll an ankle on, easy to dislodge and send crashing down towards others. It was a slow part of the trip and frustrating at times.

From the bottom, we continued around a path which eventually opened up to the other side of the crater and the expanse of desert we had seen from high up. Doros Crater: done! It was a tough few hours; in hindsight we managed a lot in that morning and lunch was well deserved.

The lunch stop was one of my favourites of the trip. It was in the usual open location, the sun beating down on us, but it really felt like the whole group had achieved something that morning and the rest was well deserved. It was also the first time I noticed the patching up people were doing, myself included. Some were reapplying blister plasters, checking the ankle/knee supports, taking painkillers. For me it was carefully taping up toes to prevent blisters and was largely a successful tactic so far.

The afternoon part of the trip was fantastic. The group were in good spirits after the morning climb and the lunch stop, and, what’s more, we saw signs of wildlife early on.

The first was from crossing a riverbed. A huge, flattened area from where a rhino had been resting, inevitably surrounded by rhino shit, with fresh tracks nearby and signs of where it had been rubbing its horn on a tree. It was immensely exciting and somewhat terrifying to think that there would be a rhino behind the next bush, or resting just a short distance away.

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While the rhino stayed out of sight, we did see some other wildlife. One of our guides, Colin, seemed to be able to spot wildlife that would have required a telescope for the rest of us. It was a springbok, living up to its name and bouncing its way across the desert quite a distance ahead. Beautiful to see.

The afternoon part of the trek seemed to go by in a flash for me. We covered a good distance across relatively flat terrain, a couple of riverbeds, and the view didn’t change too much. I was looking forward to a rest in the evening.

As usual, the camp was set up for us arriving and on this evening it was in an awesome spot with great views across the plains in every direction – perfect for sunset.

I’ve mentioned a few times how incredible the support crew were. Each evening they had the campsite set up for us, including all tents pitched, a campfire ready to go, toilet tents with long drops, lanterns to light the way after sunset, and a full kitchen area. The attention to detail was spot on. There was even a hole dug for toothpaste spit so we don’t leave any traces of it.

The kitchen had a small team working magic to prepare delicious food. It ranged from steaks on the campfire, to delicious stews, fritters, even home-made burgers. The bread for the burger buns was made from scratch in the middle of nowhere in the Namib. To top it off, one of the guys had stocked up on beers, wine and soft drinks, and rigged a fridge up in the back of his truck. The surprise offer of a beer when arriving at camp on night one was only surpassed only by it being an ice-cold beer. We were properly spoiled when it came to meal times.

On this evening, now well into the trip, I found a quiet spot to sit and watch the sunset. It was stunning – my favourite of the trek. And, as usual, once the sun set the temperature dropped quickly. Camp was in a more exposed area than before with a cold wind. This has been a tough day – not as tough as expectations had set – but a decent challenge and a rewarding day.

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