At the end of our camping travels in Namibia, we spent two nights in the Sossusvlei area. Rust-colored dunes formed there from sands transported from the Kalahari Desert via the Orange River.
We woke early on our first full day to climb Dune 45 (so named because it is 45 km from Sesriem, where we camped) in time to see the sun rise. We spent an hour or so relaxing at the top and enjoying the breeze and the play of light and rainy-season clouds on the dunes. While you do risk some rain if you come here during the Namibian summer, you also get the chance to see dramatic and quickly-changing cloud formations every day.
Later that morning, we drove to climb “Big Daddy,” one of the highest dunes in Namibia at 200 meters. Climbing in the sand with the desert sun striking your skin is a sweaty two-steps forward, one-step back affair. It can take anywhere from one to two hours to climb Big Daddy. Why do it? The views of the surrounding dunes in varying shapes and sizes, the solitude at the top and the descent into Dead Vlei, a scorched-earth pan with blackened trees at one end that have been dead for hundreds of years. If you go, get an early start, bring lots of water and leave your shoes on! I met a foursome at the top (a fun group of twenty-somethings from Namibia and Zambia–the only travelers I have met so far who were from Namibia) who had decided to climb barefoot. According to our guides, the group eventually had to wrap their feet in their scarves to protect their sizzling soles from the hot-hot-hot Dead Vlei. Ouch.