Monday, February 05, 2007

Climbing Mt. Mulanje

This weekend we had a great trip climbing Mt. Mulanje, the huge massif in southeastern Malawi. We were told it was the second tallest mountain in Africa (behind Kilimanjaro), but I’m not sure if it’s taller than Mt. Kenya. We didn’t climb to the highest peaks (which require real rock climbing), but we did climb to the top (2300 meters or about 9000 ft). It was amazing. It was a tough hike, but the views were amazing. When we got back down, we all said, “We really climbed THAT!?” We didn’t get any good pictures of the mountain from the bottom – it was too big – but we’re hoping to find a good postcard that shows it all. We did get a good view from the car on the way home, but Dave and I were in the back and the back window was very muddy!

We were told by a friend from the Malawi Mountain Club that the road was out and he gave us a big detour. So we went off through the villages on a very bad road (and I know bad African roads) with lots of waving kids (very fun!), a number of wooden bridges (a bit nerve-racking) and some serious road erosion – just enough room for the vehicle with a several foot drop off (very nerve racking). But Liam did a great job driving and we didn’t flip Dr. Taylor’s car. Well, we don’t know if we missed a turn in the detour or what, but all of a sudden we ended up back on the main road and ended up going in the same way we would have without the detour. It was a nice side trip.

We got to the forestry lodge at the bottom of the mountain and hired a guide and 4 porters. These guys are amazing. They are local guys who work carrying people’s things up the mountain. One of them was barefoot, one had flip-flops and they still could make it up the mountain ahead of us, WITH all our stuff. I left my tennis shoes with one and another girl left her trail shoes with another. I was relieved because I didn’t know what I was going to do with mine and I went away knowing that they would be useful for him, for what life is left in them. Every year there is a porter’s race, where they run, climb and walk up the mountain in back. What we would do in 10-14 hours, they do in about 2.5! Yes, in ¼ to 1/5 the time we do. They are amazing.

It was about a 6 ½ hour climb up, with breaks every so often along the way. The views all the way up were stunning. We got to the top then had a bit of up and down across a few ridges to get to the hut where we were staying. The hut was really cute. It was built in 1899 and is owned by the Presbyterian Church. Missionaries use (used?) it for retreats. At the hut we had warm water for bathing (in a bucket, just like in the village). We had a pit latrine (with a very big hole and some of the other students still missed!) and candles and a fire by which to see. To me, it was all no big deal – just the same as I’ve lived in the village for nearly a year. But the other students couldn’t wait for a shower back home and couldn’t stand to use the latrine. I kept my mouth shut.

The trip back down took just as long overall. Our pace was slower, as it was steep and slick, but we didn’t stop so much to rest. We did have a nice long stop, though, at a waterfall with a deep pool near the bottom. The water was cold (nearly frigid), but it was very refreshing and good to rest our feet.

We had pizza at the local pizza place at the bottom of the mountain (which was very good) and got home just before dark. We slept very well last night and are a little sore this morning!

Wonderful trip. Would recommend it to anybody traveling in Malawi with a sense of adventure, strong legs and the will to make it.

3 comments:

Jennifer said...

i love looking at all your pictures! i think about you all the time - every time i see brent and/or molly (and that's a lot these days!) and when i think about you, i pray for you! just wanted you to know!

hevaah said...

hi im heather, a 14year old gir who is going to malawi with my school. there are 12 i the whole school going. there, we will be climbing mt mulanje. is it really really hard or just very difficukt??

Sarah Halter said...

Hi Heather,

It depends somewhat on which route you take and whether you go all the way to the summit or not.

We went up to the CCAP hut (a cabin owned by the Presbyterian church), and the hike we did was difficult but not impossibly hard. It was most of the day going up, and a few hours coming back down. The advantage you have being younger than us is that you probably have more energy, but we might have longer legs!

We did not go all the way up to the highest point, which would definitely be much harder. And some routes are definitely harder than others.

If you take your time and take breaks when you need it, I think you can do it. It's definitely a hard hike, but it was a good hike and the views along the way and at the top were amazing!

Enjoy your trip!