WWF Desert Challenge Day 2: Into the view
On Sunday, when we flew into Sendelingsdrift, the Richtersveld unfurled below the plane – rows and rows of jagged, purple-black mountains with plains of orange and yellow in between.
Two of those mountain ranges are called the Vandersterrberg and the Tswayisberg. The former is a wall of imposing rock, where the highest peak rises to 1 343m: a glacier sedimentary formation that was uplifted and overturned by continental movement about 700 million years ago. The latter is a succession of lower peaks, each as sharp as a knife edge, with crystal ridges and multicoloured bands of rock and sand.
Monday saw the participants of the WWF Desert Challenge saddle up and ride their mountain bikes into this geological wonderland. The biggest challenge came early in the day when it was still cloudy and cool: Helskloof Pass, a relentless uphill slog over the Vandersterr range. Most of us pushed; all of us grinned at the top.
It was the view from the aeroplane made real: You could smell the dust, feel the chilly wind tugging at your clothes and you could see so far into the distance that it almost made you dizzy. There were no fences, no electricity poles or any other sign of human interference.
Besides the geology, the Richtersveld is also known for its amazing endemic plant life. We saw a hillside full of Pearson’s aloes, which are only found in that section of the park and nowhere else on earth, and we rode past an enormous quiver tree that was easily two storeys tall. And those were just the obvious specimens: Stop anywhere and look down and you’ll see tiny succulents straining from the sand, each one a little miracle, seemingly able to survive on air alone.
At the moment, most of us are napping in camping chairs at a hiking camp called Hakkiesdoring, which is on a wide plain ringed by mountains. Hakkiesdoring is so remote that just to send this update, crew chief Owen Middleton has rigged up a big, grey satellite dish, which he’s moving incrementally in the hopes of connecting with some unseen speck in the desert sky. If you’re reading this, it means that he has succeeded.
Tomorrow we swap our bikes for backpacks. We’ll be going even deeper into that view: hiking and abseiling into an amphitheatre of rock, where we’ll sleep under the stars and check our shoes for scorpions in the morning. Look out for a mailer about that experience on Wednesday, once we’re back at Hakkiesdoring with its temperamental satellite dish.
These daily blogs are by Jon Minster, a travel writer and freelance journalist who was invited to join the WWF Desert Challenge.