Thursday, November 05, 2009

Star trekking, across the Simiens... (part two)

Gich Camp to Chenek (3600m) - 22km
Gich Camp was on a plateau akin to something from a far off moon. It was mostly short grass with these amazing trees that looked like part cactus (not prickly) and part palm tree, called the Lobelia. The mountains were all covered in some unique and different flowers as well.
We had two challenging climbs today, the first was to the peak of Imet Gogo, 3920 metres above sea level.
I pushed myself and felt a bit better. The last section to the peak was a bit of a scramble over rocks, and I was fairly exhausted by the time I reached the top. Magnificant views, peaks one way, smaller mountains all around. What a special place.
Off we went downhill, and then up again to the next peak. Less than halfway up my body started to tell me this was too much. I was nausius and the result was predictable. Better out than in right?
Yes. Our lunch was watched by the most common bird of these parts - the thinkbilled raven. A very odd looking bird indeed, almost completely black, like a raven but with the long bill of an African parrot.
I was feeling better and marched on to the top of Natia - at 4070 metres above sea level the highest point we would reach (the highest in all the Simiens is Ras Dashen at over 4200 metres). That felt like an achievement and the rest of the walk was mostly downhill to Chenek Camp. It was a little hairy though - along the tops of sloping cliffs at times!
This camp was much nicer, had a stream nearby and also many more trees. We had a fire too which we really should have had the first night. Helped enormously as the temperature dipped to about zero again.

DAY THREE - 3-11-09
Chenek to Sankabar Camp (3000m) 21km
Day three and I started to feel much better. I could take air into my lungs and climbing became easier, I was moving a lot faster, I presume I was adjusting to the altitude.
The walk was perhaps less memorable, and slightly more downhill than up, certainly the easiest of the days. We paused on occasion to see the Walia Ibex - a special sort of antler or deer endemic to the region. They seem to like to sides of moutains particularly. Saw some in a pack, but often in ones or twos.
Sankabar Camp was the busiest by far of all the camps. We had a couple of big groups there and a plethora of tents. These people were doing it mostly by bus though! However, our fire was the one popular with the locals. At one point we had about four or five scouts around it with their rifles - too bad if the jackals went for the group of 13 Germans...

DAY FOUR - 4-11-09
Sankabar to Debark (2800m) - 22km
The road winds back to Debark from Sankabar and is about 36km in distance. Our guide took us a shorter route. This could only be done one way however, instead of going around the mountain peaks, we went over them. And quite a few. It challenged the second day as the most difficult. The sun was beating down and there was little shade.
One group who'd been at Sankabar went with us to the first peak and then returned. They passed us on the road and waved from their minibus. We were not amused.
Early in the day we got really close to a group of Gelada Baboons. There was thirty or forty in some sort of family pack, it was the highlight of the day.
We kept going down then up again. The sun was murder, even though I was 98% covered. I applied cream after cream but soon I was burning on my ears and face. It went on and on, the scenery was less interesting, and more and more kids ran up to us cheerfully yelling 'Hello!' and asking for pens. The last hill to Debark was almost it. So very very steep, it was possibly the hardest twenty minutes of my life.
As we rejoined the road into town with 15 minutes of walking left, a bus stopped and offered us a free lift. Where was he three hours earlier??? No way, I was going to finish this. As I walked through the market I was in delrium, yelling hello to everyone like I'd just returned from war. The hotel was the sweetest site ever - Debark is very flat, but the hotel at four floors stands above with pride.
It was probably the most physically challenging thing I have ever done. 79 kilometres. The downs were in some ways has hard as the ups - very steep.
But I did it. Not for the enjoyment, but for the achievement.

I now have a very nice hotel tonight in Gondar with multiple jets in the shower.
I earnt it.

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