Guide to the mountains of Namibia
A mountain is a landform that stands much higher than its surroundings. Generally, mountains are larger than hills, but what people call a hill in one place, maybe higher than what people call a mountain somewhere else.
Mountains are usually recognized because of their steep slopes and sharp or slightly rounded peaks or ridges. But many geologists only consider an elevated area to be a mountain if it includes 2 or more zones of climate and plant life at different altitudes. That means the climate becomes cooler and wetter with increasing elevation. In most parts of the world, a mountain must rise about 600 meters (2,000 feet - for the metrically challenged) above its surroundings, and to include 2 climate zones.
A mountain may be a single peak, such as a lone volcano, (Brukkaros) or it may be part of a mountain range (Naukluft or Onyati). A group of mountain ranges form a mountain system or massif, such as the beautiful and much-visited Erongo Mountains. Mountains occur in the ocean as well, many islands are mountains on the ocean floor whose rise above the surface of the water, such as Hollams Bird Island, situated 50km from Meob Bay in the icy Atlantic Ocean. The height of a mountain is usually expressed as the distance that its peak rises above sea level.
Mountain ranges are important because they determine the climate and water flow of surrounding regions. Mountains are also important for the plants and animals they support, and as a source of minerals. Mountain ranges influence human activities, shaping patterns of transportation, communications and settlement.
Climate: Mountain ranges strongly affect air movements and precipitation patterns. The temperature of the air drops as altitude increases. Cold air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air can. As a result, when warm, moist air moves up the windward slope of a mountain, it cools and the water vapour it holds condenses into water droplets. The water then falls on the windward slope as rain or snow (although snow is extremly rare in Namibia!)
But by the time air passes the crest of a mountain, it has lost most of its moisture. For this reason, the side of the mountain away from the wind, called the leeward side is drier than the windward side. The dry area on the leeward side of a mountain range is called a rain shadow. Many of the worlds deserts lie in rain shadows.
Water flow: Mountains affect the availability of water for vast areas. Because so much water falls on mountain slopes, many rivers have their headwaters in mountain regions. Much of the snow in high mountains melts only during the summer, thus mountains act as reservoirs, feeding streams and rivers even during periods of summer drought.
Central Namibia is characterized by rolling hills, and Windhoek the capital is sheltered by the Auas Mountains to the south and the Eros Mountains in the east. To the west of Windhoek, at an altitude of between 1500m (4921ft) and 2,000m (6562ft) are the Khomas Hochland. The name is derived from the Nama word 'khomas' meaning hilly or mountainous terrain, and the German word 'Hochland' which refers to the plateau.
To the north and on the right hand side of the road of the B1, are the Otjihavera Mountains, a pleasant distraction on the way to Okahandja. In the central segment around Windhoek the hills are especially noteworthy; the Auasberge, whose Molteblick, at 2,482m, is the country's second highest peak after the Brandberg. These features, together with the Onyati, the Eros and other ranges, combine to form Namibia's highest tract of territory, acting as a central watershed from which headwaters drain to all points of the compass.
Many rivers form natural barriers and borders. The Orange River rises in the Lesotho Drakensberg Mountains at an altitude of 3,000m, and it flows westwards and empties in the Atlantic Ocean, forming most of the boundary with South Africa on the final part of its journey.
Plants, animals and birds: Because mountains include diverse conditions at different elevations, they provide environments suitable to many kinds of plant, animal and bird life. Leopard, cheetah, blesbok, waterbuck, impala, warthog, wildebeest, kudu, oryx, eland, mountain zebra, springbok and steenbok, all find there way into Namibia's mountains. A huge variety of bird species, including the Cape griffon vulture, black or verreaux's eagle, jackal buzzard can be found in high, rocky regions around the country.
Minerals: Much of the world's mineral resources come from mountainous regions. Mountains are formed by such geological processes as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. These processes may bring valuable minerals near the surface, where they can be mined. Many visitors to Namibia interested in collecting minerals, head to The Erongo Mountains
Human activities: In many parts of the world, mountains have long served as barriers, hindering transportation, settlement, and communication. But mountains are also recreation areas. The Naukluft Hike is a 6 day camping tour of the Naukluft Mountains, stopping on the way to admire Hartmann's mountain zebra, kudu, a giant moringa tree, rivers, waterfalls and watching the sun set over the desert. Guided and unguided hiking trails, can also be arranged at The Brandberg Mountain, Spitzkoppe and Erongo Mountains.