Back in 2006 I went to Spitzkoppe in Namibia for a climbing trip with my two best friends, Jason and Kevin.  I don’t think any of us has told this story before.  So here it is:

We’ve been climbing partners for a long time, climbing every weekend, after work, any time we could find.  We got drunk together just as often.  Jason and Kevin are both pranksters and most of the time they had me in stitches.  I can write a book about all the shit we got up to together, and maybe one day I will.

We had been planning this trip for a while and we were super excited.  We left after work, and the plan was to drive as far as we could, sleep for a couple of hours and continue.  We wanted to get there as fast as possible.  We only had 10 days and we did not want to waste precious climbing time. We crossed the border in the early morning hours and we decided to nap at the first petrol station in Namibia.  First we tried sleeping in the Landy, but that was not very comfortable.  We would have slept on the grass, but the mosquitoes were out in full force.  Eventually we pitched a tent right there on the grass next to the petrol station and managed to get about 2 hours of sleep.  Spitzkoppe was calling and we set off again in the dark morning hours.

The sunrise in the desert was amazing and we made a couple of pit stops along the way.  First I had to stop to get some beer.  In Namibia you can buy beer at any shop, and for us South African boys it was a novelty.  Driving the long straight desert road with a beer in the hand, what more can a man want?

We stocked up on supplies, did some curio shopping and eventually pulled into the Spitzkoppe campsite by the late afternoon.  Satisfied that we were finally at Spitzkoppe we made a big fire that evening, watched the sunset with a beer in hand, planning our climbing for the days to come.

As none of us had been to Spitzkoppe before the logical thing to do was to climb the standard route up the main peak first, and then take it from there.  And that is exactly what we set off to do the next morning.  Everything went according to plan and we reached the summit without incident, we had some lunch, posed for some pictures with our mascot, Spiderman, and started the descent.

Kevin and our mascot Spiderman

The descent consisted of a number of abseils one after the other following a direct line down, between abseils we would be hanging off two bolts on the vertical rock face.  Awesome scenery, but it gets a little bit cramped when three of us have to hang off the same bolts. In order to abseil we tied two ropes end to end, feed it through the abseil rings and then abseil off double ropes.  Using this method the ropes can be retrieved by pulling one end down.  As a safety we tie a knot in the end of the ropes, in order not to abseil straight off the ropes in mid-air.  So on our way down, with the three of us hanging off two bolts on a virtually vertical rock face, we started pulling the ropes out.  After a couple of pulls one of us realised we never untied the safety knots.  Thank God one of us saw it, as we would have been stuck when the safety knot could not fit through the abseil rings.  Talking about being stuck between a rock and a high place.  Immediately we felt like complete idiots.  Climbers don’t make mistakes, if you make mistakes you die.  We summoned Kevin to climb up to where we could still see the knot dangling, to retrieve it and abseil back down to where we were hanging, so we could untie the knot, and this time pull the ropes down without the safety knot getting stuck.  Phew, that was close!  If we did not realise in time that we forgot to untie the safety knot we would have been stuck there, in the middle of space, until someone found us there as biltong.

We reached the bottom safely, and lucky to be alive.

The next day we climbed an extraordinarily good route, but we misjudged the amount of water we needed and how much time the climb would take us.  We eventually got down at about 9:30pm in the pitch dark, finding our way through unfamiliar territory without any headlamps and without any water for most of the day.  That was the most dehydrated I have ever been.  Exactly the kind of stuff that gives us character.

After that we all needed a rest day.  We climbed some more routes, visited Swakop, Sossus Vlei and a climbing area on the Orange River, and then headed home. But not without incident.  We ran out of diesel in the middle of the night a few kilometres out of Keetmanshoop.  But we made a plan, we survived to one day tell the story.  That was one trip I will never forget.

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