On Expedition Namibia Updates
Read below for snapshots-in-time of the Namibia expedition process, including pre, during, and post trip posts from The Liminal Line, Majka's Blog.
Southern Crossing Short: A video from Chris Alstin at www.alstrinfilms.com
First Ascents, Returns, and Expectations. Namibia 7.
“Was Namibia everything you expected it to be?” my friend Kyle asked me this morning.
I’d been home for eighteen hours and had almost driven the wrong way on the road, twice. I hadn’t yet seen the poodle. A scab on my shoulder had started to bleed again.
“More,” I replied. “Better.”
On June 1, Peter Doucette, Kate Rutherford, and I topped out a new 1300-foot 5.11+, Grade 5 rock climbing first ascent on the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest peak. It was the kind of climb you do in Yosemite. It capped the kind of trip you never get a chance to repeat in your lifetime.
We’re back. We did something tangible. We did other things I don’t yet understand. Right now, I have to drive to the airport and pick up m Polish Cousins. I have to but salve on my scab (a whipper on the almost- onsight offwidth). I have to get some sleep.
The View Thus Far. Namibia 6.
We have less than two weeks to spend in Namibia and my mind is trying to add more, not less. Kilometers pass like miles on narrow dirt roads. I pass landscapes I do not have time to explore and trade them for those I believe I want more.
I make mental pictures of what to return to when I am 60, 70, 80. Will I remember these turns? Will I be able to track myself backwards? This is the downside of a year and half of planning. It’s wanting to do too much. The upside of the actual adventure? It breaks it down to what is possible. Automatically. Categorically. Guaranteed.
Zebras, blown tires, 101-degrees in the sun, granite, lion tracks, dust, luggage on wheels, managed conservation, climbing gear in packs, four Kelly-green ropes, crumbling faces, camels, meat shares, Egyptian geese, too many pieces of fleece, avian chimneys, granite traverses, face climbing, springbok, washboards, limestone, basalt, headdresses cloaked in butterfat and ochre, and wireless internet for an evening in Uis, Namibia.
We’re trying to add in a 1000-foot scalloped granite alcove and a coast.
What it Takes to Want a First Ascent: Video Short from Chris Alstrin at www.alstrinfilms.com
Purple Flying Skies. Namibia 5.
People here call Namibia “Easy Africa.” The roads, when they’re tarred, are great. You can get a fully kitted out 4X4 with bed linens and a lantern. You can car camp at the base of that mound of granite pictured there: Spitzkoppe. It was what brought me here in the first place. Kate and I have spent the past week climbing exfoliating faces, huecos, and cracks. The winter nights start at 6pm and we bring back swollen fingers and toes to nurse them at camp. This is our version of “Easy Africa.” We have three days left of it.
Spitzkoppe is a great granite plug visited by tourists, climbers, and people like our friend Piet Steenkamp, with his purple flying machine. It’s a common destination. We stumbled into another campsite on Saturday to be greeted by cold beers. We went back to ours to read up on Elephant attack behavior. We’re lucky, Piet came (without the flying machine) and is telling us stories. He’s fifth-generation Namibian and has the equivalent number of tales. It’s bad when the elephant’s flap their ears. Don’t leave a leg sticking out of your tent at night. The scorpions with the big pinchers are the least of your worries.
Next up is the north. As far up as we can go—vertically, geographically, mentally—you pick it. The rest of the team arrives today and we are whisking them through the city and into the bush. I haven’t told them about the thorns and pricker bushes, or the grasses lush from four years of heavy rain. I’ve barely told them about the climbing. For Peter and Gabe and Chris, Namibia is still a destination. For Kate and I, it has become a home. Maybe that’s what it means to be a traveler.
Rick Dees Top 40, All the Way to the Granite. Namibia 4.
I’ve been in Windhoek, Namibia’s capitol for 48-hours—just now longer than it took to get here. Departing Johannesburg, I had the choice to go to Gaborone, Antananarivo, Noola, Luanda. Bulawayo, Lusaka, Doha... I came here—at least here I know there’s granite. I arrived and got my rental car, and immediately got inside, on the wrong side (my right side) and sat down. I looked at the attendant. I had not been horizontal in 46 hours. I gave him a wave, got out of the car, and went to the other side.
Rick Dees Top 40 blended in with the African wind as I rolled on the B6 to the city. It’s all here. Everything I brought (save the bag that was late), everything I need, everything I’m trying to get to—for the next month. Kate showed up yesterday and I am a day ahead of her jet lag. By the time Gabe, Peter, and Chris arrive, we will have a week on them.
I left Boulder in the mist. Everything was lily pad green. Spring rains and snow came to Colorado just as I headed for the start of winter desert in Namibia. It’s blue here. Everywhere. Chances are we will not see one rain drop. Now it’s time to do errands. Farm stores, food, machetes, candles, 4X4’s, spices. As many vegetables as balance out the metal climbing gear seem to be the right amount. Tomorrow we head west and leave the city. By tomorrow night, I’ll either be getting my first Namibian hand jams, or my 100th Namibian friction smear. Either way, I’ll take it.
To Do: Go To Namibia. Namibia 3.
I’m five days out from a five-week expedition. I have eight lists. On a one-to-one completion rate, the odds are not leaning in my favor. Right now I’m supposed to be working on my connections. That right there, to the left, that’s all the draws and anchoring material I’m bringing to Namibia. Five weeks of connection.
It’s a pretty basic question: what do you need for the next step in your life? I have some idea. I have no idea. The lists make me feel better.
I’ve never been to Namibia. None of us (Chris Alstrin, Peter Doucette, Gabe Rogel, Kate Rutherford, and me) have. I’ve been the closest. I’m the leader. For now, this mainly means I send lists. This is what I sent this morning:
Things to know:
• It will get down to 40, maybe, and could be pretty cold in the shade.
• It will be hot, 80, in the full sun.
• You will want at least one nice outfit to wear in the city.
• Bring a lightweight raincoat—it might rain.
• It will probably not rain.
• There will be critters, but you will still want a pair of flip-flops.
• You will also want closed toe shoes (see above).
• P cord is helpful for your tent/for your general existence.
• We will be gone for a month. Plan accordingly.
• This is Africa not like you might imagine it, and exactly like you imagine it.
I hit send, and go back to my task at hand. There are some things you have to do before you leave on a big trip, and other things you do to make yourself feel better. I organized my toolbox this morning under the guide of searching for my Dremel tool. Now I’m etching my name into my gear, something that is not exactly tantamount to my trip. But it seems like a way to be better prepared.
Running For The Butter. Namibia 2.
I started expeditioning when I was six. I went to camp—for a month. Every year, a week before my departure, I had the same dream: I showed up only to find that camp was actually a floating city in the middle of the lake and I would have to swim to get there. The first time this would happen, I would circle swimsuit on the list, the second time, it went in my bags, by the forth time I would debate sleeping in my suit so as not to forget this clearly crucial piece of equipment.
Preparation is all about being organized in a singular part of your life. Maybe that’s why I plan trips. I don’t know what is happening next year, in two years, in ten. But I know what the plan is for next month. Namibia is surrounded by tasks and plans designed wholly for that one moment, when I lock my door behind me and step off into the trip. The moment when it’s the only thing that’s relevant. It’s the same thing that happens with a singular pitch of climbing. Expanded. I’m going back to racking up.
I don’t run. I jog. Barely. I likely still jog the same speed at which I completed the mile run in fourth grade. This is hard for me—I come from a family of marathon runners and live in Boulder.
I don’t really like running. I resent how perfect it is. But I’m getting over it for Namibia. I need to get fit, I need something that was fast to do, and the poodle seems keen.
“What do you do to train to climb?” people ask me.
“Climb," I say. Eat butter, I think.
That’s my usual answer. It’s largely been true, though lately I’ve recognized I might need to expand my vision. Cross fit, Mountain Athlete, the Chris Wall Torture Chamber—there are endless opportunities out there for self-inflicted hells designed to make you tougher. The concept is all the same: push yourself to the breaking point now so that you can go past it later. I’m not opposed to this vision—in college, to many people, I was known as the weight room girl. I used to be a vegan. I used to not eat nuts. I used to do “eight minutes of abs” every day.
Now, I eat butter. Lots of it. Peter bakes fresh bread. There have been days when I can go through a half stick, easy. The poodle likes his butter, too. He stole at least 1.5 lbs (six different incidents, one stick each) this winter. I can’t get mad at him—it’s my reward, too.
How do you train for fending off lions and finding the boar watering hole? Can you do it with a kettle bell? Maybe I am running again to be able to run away from the Namibian critters. Maybe this is where the mental element of the torture comes in, because it never seems to be the climbing that is the biggest deal when you go on these adventures—once you are climbing, the world becomes more familiar. It is the getting to, around, down, and through the climbing that is new experience. I pick objectives and ideas that have equal, if not more, components of the second category. It’s my own version of the clean and jerk.
Preparation happens in multiple forms—we use what is familiar and what is foreign to prepare our selves for what is unknown. I’m running—jogging—to get ready for 47-hours of travel. I’m climbing Eldorado Canyon sandstone for Namibian granite. I’m sweating in the Colorado morning sun to come home to a breakfast sausage cooked in butter.
This is where I’m going to live for the next five weeks. The tent, not the lawn. The tent is going to Namibia with me and the lawn will stay here outside of my house in Boulder. (The poodle, unfortunately, will also stay at home.)
There is chance this tent will get trampled by an elephant. Either with me inside of it, or not. Kate Rutherford, who is joining me on the trip put it this way “if I have to go by getting stepped on my an Elephant, I have to go.” Maybe. I hear most elephants don’t like to step on tents. Lions, scorpions, hyenas too, right?
For my friends in South Africa and Namibia, our trip itself is casual—at least the start of it. We will be on roads, after all. We will be camping. We will even be car camping, mostly. The ease was what initially drew me to Namibia. I was in South Africa in December of 2007 and heard about desert climbing on a granite dome, with your camp at the base. It didn’t take me long, however, to find out how to make the easy and established become the unknown.
I was not the kid who dreamed of Africa. I dreamed of everywhere. When my sister would pick up my index finger and hold it, hovering, above a spinning globe, I didn’t want the orb to stop. I wanted the whole thing. Born in, married in, die in—those were our chants. What about worked in, loved in, climbed in, understood in?
I leave in eleven days. Right now it’s a constant stream of expedition team banter: who has which aid hooks to what person should never go without coffee for more than 27.5 hours. I crawl into bed each night with my bags silhouetted against the moonlight from the window. I’m packing way too early—I’m packing way too late.