Spitzkoppe – The “Matterhorn” of Namibia
The Spitzkoppe is a group of bare granite peaks or island mountains that are located between Usakos and Swakopmund in the Namib Desert of Namibia. The granite is more than 120 million years old and the highest outcrop rises about 1,728 meters above sea level. The peaks protrude dramatically from the flat surrounding plains. The highest peak is about 670 m above the desert floor. A small peak – the Kleine Spitzkoppe – is nearby at an altitude of 1,584 m. Other protrusions extend into a row known as the Pontok Mountains.
In the area of Spitzkoppe you can see many examples of Bushmen painted on the rocks. This is also the rest of an old volcano that was shaped in the same way as the nearby Brandberg and Erongo massifs. The Spitzkoppe is now a popular mountaineering, hiking and camping destination.
According to folklore, the first ascent of Spitzkoppe took place as early as 1904 when a soldier from the Royal Protection Force allegedly climbed the summit solo and lit a fire on the summit. What he burned is still a mystery to this day, as there is no natural fuel on the upper parts of the summit. Legend has it that he never returned and that his body was never recovered. What is certain is that there is no evidence today of his conquest. (Maybe he collected firewood before going up!)
The first documented conquest was carried out by a Cape Town climbing team led by S. le Roux. The next group – O’Neil, Shipley, and Schaff – pioneered the northern extremes of the summit after first failing on the southwest ridge. They had access to the gutter, now known as the “climbing frame,” but had no time to try the last faces. They tried again four days later, but finally gave up. Some of the earliest climbers were defeated by a smooth, only about 3 m high granite band and then hit steps in the rocks with hammer and chisel.
Further successful attempts at the summit of Spitzkoppe were expeditions by Hans and Else Wong and Jannie de Villiars Graaf. Over the next 25 years, the mountain has maintained a reputation for offering two or three day combat to potential climbers. This era ended in 1971 when the summit was climbed in 4 hours by a party led by J. W. Marchant from the University of Cape Town’s Mountain and Ski Club. This team climbed all the lower pitches without ropes and got through the difficult band without using the artificial steps that were chopped into the granite. They descended from the summit in 2 hours and when they reached the base it started to rain for the first time in a year.
Another notable feature of the area is the dome-like Pontok mountain (grass hut). It has a chain at the eastern end that helps visitors climb the steep cliff to Bushman’s Paradise, a natural amphitheater that surrounds a beautiful flower wonderland.
Unfortunately, the large San Art depot was largely destroyed, which is why the Spitzkoppe is currently a protected nature reserve. This is a necessary mandate to protect the mountain from increasing tourism and abuse. The Spitzkoppe is operated by a women’s cooperative that maintains campsites in the colorful rocks. There are often local guides who take the visitor around. Alternatively, visitors can take a day tour from one of the hotels or lodges in the area.