by Manrico dell'Agnola
Usually a journey is imagined first, maybe thanks to a beautiful image, the stories of friends, or even the reputation of or mystique surrounding a place; then the idea takes shape in your mind and moves into the operational phase: choosing the time period, planning flights, organizing gear.
The trip is almost always envisioned over and over, and often the reality can be a little different. The mountains, which are always the goal of the journey, are idealized: El Capitan, Cerro Torre, Fitz Roy, Nanga Parbat, Everest. Even just their names burst in the mind like firecrackers and slowly come to occupy, to an almost worrying degree, the attention of climbers like us, who are sensitive dreamers.
This time it wasn’t like that. Plans were confirmed with my climbing partners Marcello Sanguineti and Giovanni Pagnoncelli at the last moment, and — to make clear the mental uncertainty — the alternative would have been Greenland, rejected only because it was too complicated logistically.
Just a few days to organize everything, in a completely unfamiliar place this time.
I’d always seen Namibia through the amazing images of Sossusvlei, and in my mind those photos of stunted but beautiful trees could have inspired me to take a trip as a tourist, maybe in a few years, when my arms can’t hold me up anymore. Now, for me, every trip means climbing, or at least that’s always the pretext and the motivation. And after years of doing this, I’ve realized that when you seek out the mountains, you’ll always find yourself in the most beautiful places in a country, whether that’s your intention or not. It happened on this somewhat thrown-together journey too; Spitzkoppe was a revelation — in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the country.
The road is very rough, and it’s a miracle that our car holds together. After many kilometers on the plains, we begin to see the first mountains.
Far ahead, large blocks of red rock change shape slowly. Although we’ve already been driving for half an hour, we continue to see them on the horizon in front of us, almost motionless. This means they are large. Now we’re sure; it has to be the Spitzkoppe, the most notable rock structure in Namibia.
We’ve been traveling in this barren territory for several days now, and, honestly, I’m not entirely satisfied; Etosha Park seemed too touristy, and the flat light didn’t inspire me to take my cameras out of the bag. Plus, the cold doesn’t conform to my ideas of Africa.
But now everything comes together. The slightly higher elevation allows for clearer air, and a dry cold is more plausible up here. Also, the otherworldly and rocky landscape makes us want to climb.
After a few hills, the massive granite peaks appear to us in all their enormity and distinctiveness. Large, fragile trees dot the red scree, and incredible hanging gardens appear among the rocks, but the cracks and slabs are spectacular and free from vegetation.
We finally unwind the ropes and organize the friends. The desert around us is the color of fire. Our adventure begins.
The environment is amazing; the Spitzkoppe is an exceptional place. The idea came to us after talking to Maurizio Giordani, who had been there the year before and had been enchanted by it too. The walls are up to 600 meters high, and the rock is a red granite that’s not always good. The climbs, even the easiest ones, are generally demanding and difficult to identify. Access is fairly easy, and the routes are not very protected. The cracks can be made relatively safe with friends and nuts, but the slabs can provide some psychological challenges with their precarious grip and bolting — certainly a climb “intended for an adult audience.”
Since Namibia is in the other hemisphere, the best time to go is our summer; the temperatures are ideal, chilly at night and early in the morning, while during the day it is never too hot and the climate is dry. Here the rural peoples still live in villages. Proud and dignified, Himba women show their breasts even in the most developed population centers, contravening Western social customs.
Namibia is one of the most advanced African states and certainly deserves, beyond the mountains, a more comprehensive visit than ours. Not only because of the breathtaking landscapes, but especially for the human and cultural aspect — that balance and tolerance that, at least in our eyes, allows for the coexistence of two completely different societies.