Race Reports

Aussenkehr Desert Extreme: 2012

In late January 2012 the team from First Ascent contacted me regarding an opportunity to take part in a relatively new 3 day trail running race that they sponsor in the Namibian desert called the Aussenkehr Desert Extreme.

With a great passion for trail running and multi stage day racing, this challenge sounded like it was right up my alley and exactly want I needed to set my sights on for the year ahead. A few days later while visiting the First Ascent office, I had the chance to see a little more of what the event was about when going through the photo book from the previous year’s race. From the pictures and the stories, I could see this race was exactly my type of event; adventurous and rugged going through stunning and remote places. What I did not know at the time was the extent of the adventure that was in store for me thanks to First Ascent and Mountain Extreme Events.

With the goal locked in and the training plan mapped out, the journey to Aussenkehr Desert Extreme had begun this time with a little bit of a different approach. For this event I opted for less racing and more base training thanks to the guidance of Claire Horner from MyTrainingDay. I have no doubt that the regular track sessions with the MTD team made a significant improvement to my running.

With June fast approaching and the work fronts peaking with activity I decided to take a few extra days ahead of the race to soak up some of the eternal Namibian sunshine and enjoy time out before the race. A few days on a remote farm in Kamieskroon offered some excellent time out curled around a fire engulfed in Born to Run. 2 days later we headed to Norotshama on the banks of the Orange River and “base camp” for the race.

Norotshama is this idealic reprieve in Namibia at the southern tip of the Richtersveldt on the banks of the Orange River. The resort is approximately 70km from the South African /Namibian border surrounded by vineyards in the immediate vicinity and stunning mountains desert plains on the horizon. Sunset over the Orange River and backing behind the distant mountains is just spectacular. Paddling down the Orange River and sun tanning on the banks seemed quite surreal while the winter rains poured down on the Cape!

With the race fast approaching and fellow competitors slowly arriving, excitement for the race was building big time. This was only added to with stories from the Mountain Extreme organisers as they returned each day from setting out the course markers and going through all the logistics. I could not wait to get going!

At the start of Day 1 we were all brimming with excitement and up bright and early ready to head off at first light. There is something so special about standing on the start line of a race in a remote and exotic location as the night stars fade as rising sun lightens the sky, and you know you are about to head off on a great adventure.

Orange River at sunrise
Orange River at sunrise

Day 1 of the Aussenkehr Desert Extreme was all this and more. The first part of the day was technical, remote and rugged as we headed out almost parallel to the Orange River and into an ancient old dried up river bed. It was utterly superb and totally indulged my adventurous soul! The field quickly scattered as we set off and for a large part of the day I found myself running mostly on my own, many times not seeing a single other person. The route marking did take a little getting used to as it’s a little more sparse then some other races where there were several times I was convinced I was lost. You see the thing is you are in totally vast and remote canyons and river beds and the only footprints around belong to animals. But I loved it! It’s incredible how races like this can really put life into perspective as you clamber through wild old river beds, and down gigantic boulders through narrow river valleys. As I was dropping off down a massive boulder I could not help but think about the time a very long time ago when water flowed through this river valley and moulded the amazing boulders and landscape.

Back at Norotshama in the afternoon we enjoyed delicious lunch and the opportunity to soak our legs in the swimming pool at the resort. It was also time to pack the bags for the night in the desert as Day 2 entailed running to a camp in the middle of the desert where we were to spend the night. This was definitely going to be the highlight of the race for me. I was big time excited! Sleeping underneath the stars in the remote desert is definitely my idea of fun! However based on my previous experiences of sleeping in desert and being freezing cold, I took extra precaution and ensured I loaded my bags with all my uber warm First Ascent mountain gear from the thermal base layers to my fleece gloves, beanie, phantom jacket, sleeping bag liner, etc. This lady was not going to be cold.

With a little of later start we were all bussed out to the end point of Day 1, which marked the starting point for Day 2. It was a quick start as the front runners headed off into the distance while the rest of us settled into the day. Day 2 had some different adventures in store for us heading straight out up over a mountain ridge and into the desert plains. Spectacular is an understatement. There is something so special about remote endless desert plains. We were lucky enough to spot a herd of springbok on the horizon too. There was also a little of a detour on our route home to the overnight camp but luckily there were a few of us together that tested out a new route!

There are few experiences that top a night in the desert, sleeping on this amazing ground, under the stars! This was topped by seeing the wild horses come down to the water well where a remote windmill pumps water from an underground spring. Later in the evening children from the local school came to perform for us, sharing local song and dance. As the day faded and night approach, the sky lit up with the most incredible stars.

Our last day was yet another early start heading out from the desert and back to Norotshama where a hearty breakfast awaited. As we lined up waiting for enough light to get going, I was quite sad to say goodbye to the desert and the last day of such a great race. But there was not too much time to be nostalgic as there were more adventures to be had and a fast paced start to keep up with! The last day of a race is often a little faster tempo as burning the legs is not as serious when you know the next day is a rest day. And with that it was a mad dash through the canyons, apparently one known as Death Canyon and then into the Kings Throne Canyon. Stunning, dramatic, majestic is an understatement and once again I was reminded of how small I am in the grand scheme of things. Through the canyons and once then once again the Orange River was in sight where the route home took us through fascinating sights in the local village and finally through the vineyards and to the First Ascent finish line banner. What a welcoming sight!

I can’t begin to thank First Ascent and Extreme Mountain Adventures for affording me an experience of a lifetime with memories and experiences of Namibia I really truly value. I am definitely planning another holiday to Namibia to get to experience more of this incredible country. I am so grateful to the Mountain Extreme team for taking us off the beaten track to see what lies in the mountains and canyons of the Orange River.

With my soul recharged and feeling more energised than ever before, even after running 3 days across the deserts and canyons, I returned to Cape Town with a big smile on my face having had an incredible adventure.