Conquering Big Daddy in the Namib Desert in Namibia
Tourists at the foot of the Namib-Naukluft Big Daddy Park dune
“For real, it’s like literally, actually the highest level from the stair master to the gymnasium. But a little worse.”
This is one of the most consistent things I’ve heard while climbing Big Daddy, a mountain dune in the Sossusvlei region of the Namib Desert, Namibia.
An American woman made the comment as she collapsed about a third of the way up the sand mountain.
Most of the others just groaned.
The peak of Big Daddy, around 325 meters, towers above the surrounding red dunes of Sossusvlei.
Climbers who reach the summit look out at the slightly less imposing Big Mama dune and more at Deadvlei – a strange salt pan studded with blackened skeletons of camel thorns.
Deadvlei clay pan in the Namib-Naukluft Park in Namibia. Photo: Nathan Brown
With midday temperatures easily reaching 40 degrees in winter, people start this expedition early.
The gates to the Namib-Naukluft National Park open at sunrise, and eager climbers then begin to arrive by bus load.
Proximity to the park is key, and with my base at Kulala Desert Lodge just a 10 minute drive from the park entrance, I was looking up from Big Daddy’s base at 7:30am.
A guide from the lodge gave me several pointers, the best of which was to follow in the footsteps of others.
The already partially compressed sand meant I was sinking less and halving my stair level.
He told me to stop and look around once in a while, rather than just powering up without enjoying the view.
And he told me to listen to my heart.
Wow. I thought the emotion meter had skyrocketed to a whole other 1980s pop ballad metric, until he clarified that he had an older male guest with heart problems who had tried Big Daddy a few weeks earlier.
Climbers climb the Big Daddy dune near Sossusvlei in Namib-Naukluft Park. Photo: Nathan Brown
This advice was quite literal.
While the dune is always an uphill battle, the incline isn’t constant.
There are a few fairly flat stretches, which seem like nature’s gift to help restore the downhill climber.
Then there are also steeper segments – the natural way to flip the bird over to you.
The guide said he saw people going up in 40 minutes, but most took about an hour and a half.
I was right in the middle of those moments and proud of my performance.
It’s not your Kilimanjaro or your Everest, but it’s a decent hike and for me the feeling of satisfaction at the top matched the view.
But real bees on their knees? The two-minute descent. A slip ‘n’ slide has never felt so good.
MORE INFORMATION A three-night Adventure World package at Kulala Desert Lodge, including return flights from Windhoek airport, all meals, local drinks, camp activities and park fees, is available from $2,250 .
The writer traveled with help from Wilderness Safaris and Adventure World.