Trip review – Simien mountains Ethiopia

Hiking in Africa is in it’s infancy compared to some countries. It’s not that there aren’t magnificent places to walk, but compared lack of maps, local knowledge and complicated logistics can mean they get over looked. So I’m happy to have experienced one of Africa’s world renowned trekking locations, the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia. The mountains are spectacular and it is one of the locations best set up for trekking, making it an easy choice for an African adventure.

You can read some background of my trip here and here

I lost a day due to luggage issues but Micheal ensured I arrived at the park at the first camp site and had time to walk to the second campsite so I really only missed 2 hours walking and a camp.

First thing you need to know is that this hike is at altitude, Sankabir camp site is already 3,250m above sea level, the highest point is 4550m and if you aren’t acclimatized you certainly feel it.Precautions are definitely needed. Before you go talk to your doctor especially if you have any medical conditions, but also to get some medicine in case you start to get altitude sickness. There were a few people in the park who were suffering from the height. In the end I didn’t need to take any of mine, but it’s much better to have and not need than need and not have.

Other handy hints for altitude –

  • Drink lots, you might not realize how much water you are losing through sweat and breathing especially while exerting yourself and staying hydrated helps avoid additional stress on your body.
  • Go slowly. embrace your inner sloth and plod up that hill, over exertion can make you feel worse.
  • More serious symptoms may mean you need to descend

The walk Sankabir to Geech camp site, is around 12km, (although my guide says 21, he said every day was about 20-25km), it took around 5 hours with a lunch stop over looking the 500m+ Jinbar waterfall. To get to the falls we followed the road downhill then branched off to the falls. After the waterfall the uphill begins and it’s now you feel the lack of O2 in the air. While I struggled up the last hill, my scout picked up a fallen Eucalyptus tree about 8 foot long which he carried on his shoulders the rest of the way to the camp for firewood!

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trekker tent does Geech

You walk with the Scout and Guide all the time, the rule is the guide goes first, then the guests, then the scout about 1 step behind ready to catch hapless tourists like me when they slip and fall. The cook and the guy tending the mule take other secret ways to reach the next camp and set up before you arrive.

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Grazing Gelda

I spent 2 nights at Geech, it’s a busy camp with great views nearby and caves where each night the Gelda baboons return to. It’s quiet the site to watch them grazing and then cavorting down to a sheer cliff to go to bed safe from the Ethiopian wolves and Jackals.

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Nipples

Staying at Geech means you can visit some of the view points and acclimatize further. Walk to Mount Imetgogo (3926m), Seha and return back to Geech campsite then in the evening watch the Baboons perform their nightly cliff dives again. I had my cook prepare hot water in a flask so my guide, scout and I could have tea breaks at view points each day. Mount Imetgogo was my favorite tea spot of the week.

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You will walk as far as the eye can see…

Leave the next day to Chenek campsite a distance of around 15km, and camp at (3620m). The hike is easier than the day before as you slowly acclimatize, but there is still a big hill to overcome, thankfully shaded most of the way. I enjoyed lunch at 4070m, the highest spot yet and I was all alone with my scout, guide and big beaked ravens.  The downhill started to get tough, and I was relieved to arrive and get hot water for a bucket shower and wash the dust out my clothes at the pump.

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  • Side note, I’m sure this doesn’t always happen, but while I was setting up my tent in Chenek a local man appeared from the water pump and waved his flacid willy at me! The scouts chased him of very quickly! My scout spent the night outside my tent making sure I was safe and nobody came back to flash or rob me
  • On a positive note, we saw A large troop of Gelada baboons and Walia Ibex are also often seen on the rocky escarpment edges over night here camping
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Ibex

The next day starts with an ascent to the top of the Bwhait pass (4,200m), the second highest point in the park, it’s not actually as bad as it seems, less than 2 hours and you reach the top  and have magnificent views of Bwhait peak, Berochwuha, Silki and down into the village, 1000m below. The down hill is a million zigzags which challenge your ankles as the stones underfoot glide as if on a friction-less surface threatening to dump you on your ass at any moment.After making it down unscathed, feeling rather proud of myself we were promptly overtaken by an old lady, a pregnant lady carrying about 20kg of hay on their backs with only jelly shoes on their feet.

To round of the day, we had a 400m ascent up to Ambiko campsite, with no shade and full midday heat. If you do this trek, make sure your guide relaxes in the village or at the river until the worst of the day is over and don’t do the climb in the heat.

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Ambiko campsite is the worst on the trip. Nothing but a dust bowl with kids playing football and donkeys kicking up more dust. The camp is the start of the hike to the top of mount Ras Dashen (4,553m) the highest mountain in Ethiopia and the highlight of the trek.

My guide wanted to start at 3am, I argued for 5am we settled on 4am which is still 2 hours walking in the dark and even leaving at 3am wouldn’t see you at the summit until well after sunrise, so I’m not sure why they want to start so early. Either leave at midnight to make sure you are on the summit for a glorious sunrise, or sleep well and leave around 6am when the sun is up. The walk itself is unchallanging, just an uphill slog up a path wide enough to call a road and many rocks. Seeing snow on the ground and frozen streams is strangely surreal and the sunrise was beautiful. The last 50m climb is a wee bit of a scramble up to the real summit then Ethiopia is at your feet and all that is left is to enjoy breakfast and a cup of tea…. and climb down over 1000m back to the dust and heat of Ambiko.

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Sunrise half way up a mountain

The next days trek from Ambiko 10 hours down into the Meseha river and up to the Arkwazye village to Sona campsite almost killed me, after 2 long days a third was a bit much. The guide had told me it would be an easy day so I carried 12kg  the whole way and hated most of it! There is a campsite in between which some other hikers used and is a much better option to split up the day and make it enjoyable.

Soma is possibly the nicest campsite of the trail. More remote as many of the 2-5 day hikers dont go that way, grassy with a wee stream. I wished I could have had an extra rest day here to enjoy the surrounds.

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Sona to Mekarebya campsite is a really short day (3-4 hours) and could easily be combined with Mekarebya to Mulet which I did the next day (2 hours) if you wanted an extra day in Soma. There is even a long break to swim in the river, wash some clothes and sit in the shade. Then again a short uphill and a break in a local village where you can get local injeera and fresh cooked spicy tomato sauce cooked in front of you. We also payed an unintentional visit to the local school where we were mobbed like celebrities. The kids were especially fascinated by my braces and I ended up playing a snapping crocodile role to their delight

The next day ends too soon. Hiking down hill all the way to Mullet, you notice the plants changing and more small flitting birds darting everywhere, then suddenly streets and people and electricity and a highway with a car to take you back to Gondar.

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It took at least 3 showers to get all the dirt and dust of my body and hair and I brought half of Ethiopia home in my gear. I spent both Xmas and New years blissfully unaware. I felt challenged but not overwhelmed and stubbornly carried extra weight everyday just to test if I could. I wish I could have eaten more of the local foods and I would tweak the days a little but overwhelmingly a superb hike with a great team.

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