Climbing Spiegelberg

19 Jan 2021

Padlangs: Manni Goldbeck 

A prominent feature in the Fish River Canyon surrounds, the Spiegelberg pinnacle dominates the landscape. Towering above the peaks and plateaus that surround the Fish River valley between the Konkiep and Fish rivers, it is no wonder that it has fascinated climbers over the years. 

I had noticed it from the time Gondwana built its first lodge, Canyon Lodge, in the late-1990s. Once you become aware of the characteristic shape of Spiegelberg, you can never mistake it again. Standing proudly north-west of Ai-Ais, it was originally listed on maps as Schaumberg, but it has also been referred to as Spiegelkopf, Spieëlkop and Spiegelberg (Mirror Mountain) after the German heliograph station built on its lower ridge in the early 1900s. I wondered if anyone had climbed it. 

Made it! Grand views of the landscape below from the top of Spiegelberg. 
All Photos: Klaus von Ludwiger

On further research, I discovered that it had caught the attention of South African mountaineer, Denis Woods, and friends while visiting the lower Fish River valley in 1940. They looked longingly at the mountain, but were not carrying sufficient food supplies or water to tackle an ascent. Woods described its appearance as dome-shaped with a protrusion at each end, projecting from the ridge in the form of a thin wedge or knife-edge, and being most impressive from its northern and southern viewpoint from which it resembles a tower or steeple. 

Spiegelberg called to him repeatedly over the years until he finally could resist it no longer. When he took leave from his unit in 1942 to meet with his friends and explore the area once again, he decided ‘to make closer acquaintance with Schaumberg’ on his own. But, as much as he wanted to summit the intriguing pinnacle and did attempt to ascend it from several directions, it was not to be. He realised that because it was severely undercut by weathering, it would require more than a single climber. He, good naturedly, left the challenge open to future climbing parties. 

The mountain remained unclimbed until twenty years later when in 1966 six members from the Mountain Club of South West Africa, always on the look-out for new heights, prepared for an expedition to scale its peak. Friedrich Schreiber, a member of the party, had seen it for the first time in 1957, and like Denis Woods, remained fascinated by it and its resemblance to the Matterhorn of the Alps. Before the Fish River Canyon became the popular tourist destination it is today, the area was sparsely dotted with farms and there was scant information available about the mountain. The farmers referred to it simply as Spiegelberg. 

The hiking group on their arduous walk to Spiegelberg. 

The group arrived late at Ai-Ais on the Easter weekend of 6 April 1966 and began the expedition early the following morning. Crossing the Fish River posed their first challenge as the river was flowing strongly after a good rainy season and they had to resort to wading through the chest-high water. From there, it was a sixteen-kilometre walk to Spiegelberg. Although they planned to sleep at the base of the mountain, time didn’t allow it, neither did their water supply. The ten litres of water per person that they carried wasn’t sufficient to quell their thirst in the scorching fifty-degree heat. The team also carried two-days rations and all their climbing gear, which was a heavy load given the weighty gear of the 1960s. Along the route, they were grateful to find an abandoned drum of water next to an old drilling machine, but the stale water soon upset their stomachs. 

The next morning the expedition decided it was best to divide into two groups. The two women, Hiltila Marggraff and Anni Scheuermann, remained behind at the camp while the climbing party, comprising Friedrich Schreiber, Peter von Wrede, André Burger and Klaus von Ludwiger set off to the highest plateau they could reach without ropes, with Schreiber taking the lead. A light rain caused small stones to shower down and without their helmets they would have been seriously injured. Von Ludwiger remained at the foot of the mountain looking up at the pyramid of shale and sandstone while the other three used ropes to ascend the last 170 metres to the summit and stand 1170 metres above the rushing waters of the Fish River below. 

Before attempting the first ascent of Spiegelberg in 1966, the mountaineers had to cross the rushing waters of the Fish River. 

From the top, the trio had the spectacular 360-degree view of the Huns Mountains to the west, the dramatic walls of Fish River Canyon to the east, and to the south, the verdant Orange River valley. 

Spiegelberg has over the years continued to inspire climbers. Of the original group of friends, only three members are still alive. Friederich Schreiber, a well-known farmer from the south, was tragically killed in a helicopter accident and Hiltila Marggraff died in a mountaineering accident in the Khomas Hochland. She was approaching her seventieth birthday. Although the progression of time has been felt by humankind, the mountain still stands strong and except for some weathering, Spiegelberg retains its impressive spire of rock that reaches into the blue sky and has a prime and stately view of the canyon land in its midst. 


References: Journal of the Mountain Club of South Africa: Further Travels in South-West Africa – A Visit to the Hills of the Lower Fish River Valley, D.H. Woods, 1940; Some Climbing in South-West Africa – The Karas and Omatako Mountains, D. H. Woods, 1942. 

Journal of the Mountain Club of South West Africa, Friedrich Schreiber, 1970 

Interview by Mannfred Goldbeck with Klaus von Ludwiger 

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