3 days trekking to the highest point in Central Africa.
29.07.2014 - 07.08.2014 22 °C
Greetings again from sunny Neno, Malawi. After some heavy rain on Monday and Tuesday of last week, the weather has returned to mostly clear skies, sunshine, and beautiful sunsets. I played one game of sloppy, muddy football in the pouring rain. It brought back many childhood memories of playing in adverse weather conditions. My shoes took 3 days to dry completely!
Last week was generally pretty slow again. It can get frustrating at times, but it is a good lesson in patience. We had hoped to have a site visit with the contractor and architect at the beginning of this week, but we were not able to schedule it until tomorrow, Friday. Hopefully this is the meeting we need to get everybody fully on board and push the project to start.
This past weekend we took full advantage of our current schedule and headed off to explore Mt. Mulanje. Along with Cosman, Steve, Alex, Margot, and George, Marco and I tackled the massif over three days. Margot, Marco, and I left Neno Boma early Friday morning and spent the day in Lisungwi, about 30 minutes from where we live, where there is another hospital PIH is associated with. While we waited for our afternoon transport to Zalewa, Marco and I gave ourselves a walking tour of the small town.
In the mid afternoon, Alex, Margot, Marco, and I caught a ride to Zalewa. From there it was all minibuses to our final destination. Overall, it took us about four and a half hours of knees in the backs of seats, chicken on laps, bumpy riding to reach Chitikale. By the time we arrived there is was dark, about 6:30pm, and we were told we should stay at a local hotel instead of searching for a ride to our lodge. Luckily, there was an available pickup, I mean taxi, and its bed had plenty of room.
The rest of our crew arrived a few hours later. They had been able to get a ride with a fellow employee of PIH and stopped at Shoprite to pick up our food rations. For the next three days the majority of our diets would consist of PB&Js, granola, apples, and peanuts. At the lodge, Alex, Marco, and I had decided to camp. This was a great idea to save a few dollars but also resulted in my carrying my tent for the duration of the hiking.
Our hiking began the next morning with little relief from the vertical ascent to the plateau of the mountain. Day 1 included 11.5km and 3155m of total elevation gain. Once we reached the plateau, there was little flat ground to be found. We were constantly climbing, just to reach a ridge and go back down. After six and a half hours or so, we reached Chisepo Hut at the base of Sapitwa. We would spent the night here before heading to the summit in the morning. The night in the hut proved colder than most had expected, with clear skies overhead and the fire doing little to provide warmth.
While there are many peaks on Mt. Mulanje, Sepitwa is the highest, at 3002m, and also the most infamous. There are multiple legends that surround it. The name literally means "don't go there." The views from the trail were breathtaking and continued to improve as we rose about the surrounding land. It got a bit eerie when clouds started to roll in, but our guide kept us on track and we never had anything to worry about. Supposedly at sunrise you can see all the way to the Indian Ocean. Alex and I had thought about camping at the summit just to catch that view. Unfortunately it would have thrown our schedule off too much. Not camping also meant we could leave the majority of our gear at the hut, which my shoulders and back were thankful for as the climb included just over 1000m in elevation change over 3km.
From the peak, we returned to the hut for lunch. We then continued to Chambe Hut for our second night. This set us up for a shorter third day of hiking back to the lodge. Day 2 was another 13km and 3400m of elevation change. Our legs were grateful that much of the elevation was tackled while climbing Sapitwa, without heavy packs. Our second night was spent at the base of Chambe Peak, home to the longest rock climb in Africa. It didn't show many signs of being actively scaled, but it sure looked like it could be a climber's paradise.
Day 3 we headed back towards the lodge. It was by far the easiest day of the three and included a nice stop for swimming at a waterfall and pool. While the water was beyond cold, after not bathing for a few days, it was embraced. From there we strolled back to the lodge, settled our bill, and started our journey back to Neno. The drive back to Chitikale looked much different in day light, with huge views of the towering mountain and driving through amazingly green tea plantations. Before piling back into minibuses, we made a well deserved stop at Mulanje Pepper Pizza for lunch. Whether it was actually amazing, or had to do with exhaustion and eating the same thing for three days, it was delicious.
Four hours later, we were back in Neno, and I had no running water at home, and not enough in buckets for a bath. Thank God for the river swim!