Ascent to the highest dune in the world
Location: Sossusvlei, Namibia
Date: June 2008
Photographer: Roberto Moiola
They call it the Crazy Way. There could be no better name.
It takes you to the peak of the greatest dune in Sossusvlei, on a track that does not exist, that is continuously deleted by the lightest breeze and then reinvented by the climber’s turn, according to rhythm and pace. We hadn’t seen the easy route that runs along the ridge where children and the elderly walk.
The climb is almost vertical and rises from 280 to 320 metres depending on the wind. Some climb effortlessly, but they are few. Most take a step forward and two steps back, sinking into the fresh sand. Some give up and go back. Others crawl on hands and knees, digging their hands into the sand despite the thousands of insects that live in the desert.
Two circuits lead from the parking lot at Sossusvlei and meander through the dunes. The first is called Hidden Vlei, a hike of 4 km, leading to a hidden vlei, an open and flat landscape. The second is called Dead Vlei, a tortuous path of 6 km, which, despite its name leads to a beautiful and evocative place. This is the path we take and the trail is marked by white stakes and rises gently between low dunes.
When we reach the pan of Sossusvlei it appears to be completely dry. Dried mud forms in geometric shapes so perfect that they rival the best man-made floors and the skeletons of plants enhance the feeling of alienation that hovers around. This natural basin is the starting point of our exciting and exhausting climb to the highest dune in the world.
When we finally reach the top we sit astride the ridge, one leg on each side. The infinity that surrounds us makes us quickly forget the fatigue of the ascent. We remain silent, each lost in our own thoughts.
We’re here at last, free to roam without boundaries. Rolling hills light up with warm apricot tones. Standing waves are pushed by the wind and swell and roll across the boundless expanse. All around lies a calm sea of dunes.
Awakened by a child-like instinct, we dive off and roll down the slopes. The descent is steep, but the temptation to ski at full speed on the sand is too strong. The sand grains get everywhere and it seems to us that we are now a part of this enchanting environment.