One rock at a time: How one of Namibia’s steepest Passes was built - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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One rock at a time: How one of Namibia’s steepest Passes was built

Avatar of inke inke - 07. October 2016 - Discover Namibia

The main view point at the Spreetshoogte Pass with a fabulous view. (Photo: Hansueli Krapf)

Like everything in Life, things start out small and usually out of pure practicality. Journeys begin step by step, massive trees grow from small seeds and big endeavours start from basics; but occasionally there are those folk that leap and always those that dream.

Nicolaas Andries Rymert Spreeth had two dreams. The one was that he would have easier access to collecting his provisions from the top of the mountain, and the second that he make the best view of the Namib available to the public. Both of these he achieved.

Born in 1904 on the West Coast, South Africa, he moved up to southern Namibia to work as a foreman on a farm, eventually buying the farm Ubib, below what is now known as the Spreetshoogte Pass, to farm goats and karakul. Living at the bottom of a mountain had its disadvantages however, and when he needed provisions, they arrived by bus and had to be fetched at the bus stop on the mountain top. Without any existing roads, his team of donkeys followed zebra paths up to the top, and carried Spreeth’s supplies all the way back down to the farm; a laborious and exhausting undertaking for both man and beast. The Remhoogte Pass had already been built, but the route required a detour which took days to negotiate.

But, Spreeth had a plan. Every time the donkeys went up, he would take quartzite rocks and place them along the route, thus marking out the path. From the bottom, his family could see a white line of stones all the way to the top. 

With no specific qualifications except sheer determination and vision, Spreeth began to build a road during the war years, using dynamite and manual labour. In those days vehicles weren’t as robust as they are today and it was necessary to build ramps on the extremely steep stretches to allow drivers to reverse and gain additional momentum and speed. 

Even though, today, only ruins remain of the original clay Ubib farmhouse, Spreetshoogte Pass – between Nauchas and Solitaire, remains one of the steepest passes in Namibia enabling travellers to traverse the mountainous route from Rehoboth and is regarded as one of the gateways to the Namib Desert. With a gradient of 1:4.5-1:6, the pass cannot be traversed by vehicles with trailers, caravans or top-heavy vehicles. Drivers will still smell the hot odour of overheated components as vehicles struggle with the steeper sections which are now paved, and are cautioned to reduce speed. In 2004, the pass claimed two lives when a tour guide lost control of his Toyota Land Cruiser with its attached trailer and overturned, the weight of the trailer making the vehicle unstable on the steep descent. He had collected a Dutch family from the Windhoek airport that morning and they were on their way to Sossusvlei to begin their holiday exploring the wonders of the Namib Desert. By evening of their first day in the country, the guide and father had lost their lives and the three other family members had been rushed to Windhoek for emergency medical care. The unfortunate event reminds us that all the great passes of the world have their tragic stories, and all require respect.

Spreetshoogte Pass has an unrivalled view of the dramatic landscape from the escarpment down to the desert plains, and a viewpoint from which to experience the breathtakingly beautiful vista which was a source of great pride to Nicolaas Spreeth. 

He sold the Ubib farm to the Knipes and moved with his family inland to a farm he purchased south of Okakarara. No doubt they missed their farm at the foot of the Spreetshoogte Pass and the history they had created, as there is a saying in their family: ‘You can shake the Namib Desert sand out of your shoe, but you can never scrape it from your heart’.

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