Place 35 eager runners in the desert. Add much enthusiasm, comfortable accommodation, a hearty spread of
good food, and an open bar. Leave to brew. Stir in medium distances, liberally
laced with looming canyons, generous technical trail, stark landscapes, and
vistas so vast they make the distant Namib mountains shimmer. Heat for three
days on maximum daily temperatures of 25ºC for between 9 and
18hrs for 100km, and you complete the Aussenkehr Desert Extreme.

Aussenkehr (German for outer bend, referring to the bend on which it’s located on the
Orange River) is an extremely large farm in the southernmost region of Namibia,
close to the South African border. A comparatively small section of the
property is used for farming grapes and dates (the largest table-grape
vineyards in the southern hemisphere), but the remainder of the property forms
the Aussenkehr Nature Reserve, more than 150 000 hectares of sprawling,
untouched and unspoilt desert wilderness. Everything about this massive expanse
is extreme, from the harsh winds that rip across it and the 50ºC+
temperatures that bake it during summer, to the rugged starkness of its rock
formations, canyons and endless plains. The 100km three-stage Aussenkehr Desert
Extreme makes the most of all the scenic beauty of the reserve, and has at its
heart the peaceful Norotshama River Resort.

Day 1 (38km):  Technical trail dominated the first half of
today’s route, starting with a speedy pace through Camp Canyon, along the rough
and rocky Pebble Bed and into Pothole Canyon, where we gradually ascended up to
the highest point of the day for King / Queen of the Mountain. Then, down a brilliant
section of slippery smooth rock into and along King Kong Canyon, which
eventually popped us out at the Orange River for the second half of the day’s
route – open running along a 4×4 track, much of it adjacent to the river. The
final 7km of the day turned us inland, away from the coolness of the water’s
edge, and called for some serious digging-deep to maintain pace. (At this point
my legs suddenly remembered they’d done Comrades three weeks previously, and
rather than attempting an Ellie Greenwood, they rebelled…  The only thing that kept me trying to run was
the panic every time I checked Angelique on my tail, steadily gaining on me. I
managed to cross the day’s finish line 1 min before Angelique, who looked fresh
and spritely.)

Day 2 (38km):  After breakfast we boarded Betsy, an old
Namib bus that boasts an impressive vintage with a suspension to match, and
were dropped in the middle of nowhere. We set off into the open expanse of the reserve,
gradually climbing to reach the first water table at 16km. The next 10km were
beautiful, running along a contour line above the seemingly endless plains of
Aussenkehr. A few km’s later, our route went rather pear-shaped – Floris and I
had climbed up onto Meteorite Ridge, but managed to miss turning into a narrow
canyon that cut through the mountain. We’d wasted valuable minutes trying to
spot the marker we’d obviously missed, and by that time Angelique had caught us,
also lost. Together we tracked around the mountain, joining up with the correct
route once on the far side, and running hell-for-leather for the final 4km into
camp, me pipping Angelique again by just a minute.

We camped out that night in a boma under one
of those enormous African skies so clear and studded with stars that make the
heart sing.

Day 3 (24km):  A quick porridge brekkie around the roaring
campfire before our dawn start, and we were off, dashing through Quiver Tree
Valley and along the gradual ascent towards Hiker’s Canyon. With the lead group
of Noel, Peter, Ludwig and Cornel soon out of sight, our chase group managed to
miss a route marker and, instead of heading into Hiker’s Canyon, we ran straight
onto an open plain, following a 4×4 track on a rather creative loop that
eventually headed us back onto the correct route to the checkpoint at 7km. This
unwittingly saw Floris and I heading the day’s field, with the lead guys now
way behind us. Ouch! Unfortunately the large majority of the field followed our
route, which although not shorter in distance turned out to be quicker.

Noel Ernstzen speeds through Kings Throne Canyon

The remaining 15km were fantastic running –
we raced through Skull Canyon, wound our way along the incredible Kings Throne
Canyon, slogged up to the second water table on Sunset Hill, crossed the open
plains down to the Aussenkehr village, and juggled our way through the
vineyards before crossing the very welcome finish line at Norotshama River
We paid the price with a time penalty for
our unintentional route variation, but thankfully it didn’t affect anyone’s final
race position. New course records were set for both men and women, only one
runner had to withdraw as a result of injury, and 34 runners completed the
Aussenkehr Desert Extreme all the richer for the experience.
So, back to the winning recipe: sign up for
the Aussenkehr Desert Extreme 2013 and enjoy!

1st Noel Ernstzen (centre), 2nd Peter Erastus (left), 3rd Ludwig Lillie (right)

1st me, 2nd Angelique Tostee (centre), 3rd Esna Roux (right)

Top 3 overall results

Men                               Women
Noel Ernstzen 9:48:12      Linda Doke 11:07:51
Peter Erastus 9:57:49       Angelique Tostee 11:14:43
Ludwig Lillie 10:14:20      Esna Roux 12:01:38

* photos courtesy of Jean du Plessis (