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Skiing in retirement
5th Nov 2014 - 11th Nov 2014 - Skiing in Africa 2014
Trekking in the Simien Highlands

A series of high plateaux, characterised by 1,000m high sheer cliffs, the Simien Highlands are the result of volcanic activity 20-30 million years ago that has left lavas 3,000m thick.

We spent 6 days trekking to and from the highest point - Ras Dashen - at 4,600m.  On a long day we did 23km in 10 hours and ascended/descended more than 2,500m. Most of the time we were above 3,200m and spent the nights in tents. Day time temperature reached 30 and dropped to -5 at night.

A typical day started at 6.00 with breakfast tea brought to our tent.  Breakfast in the communal mess-tent of bread, jam, porridge, pancake/omlette set us up for the off at about 8.00.  Lunch was brought to us by 'the teamen'.  Afternoon trekking brought us to camp by about 4.00.  No proper toilets at camp - just squat-down long drops of the most heinous kind.  At one camp there was a shower - actually cold water from a pipe. Sunset at 6.00pm. Dinner was soup, veggies (lots of cabbage), sometimes meat of indeterminable origin, but plenty of bones, cake/tinned fruit. Coffee.  By 7.30 its too cold to sit around so other than on 2 nights when we could get round the open fire in the kitchen hut, it was tucked into 4 season sleeping bags by 8.00! 

Next: From Highlands to Addis, via Lalibela
Previous: News from Abyssinia

Diary Photos
5th Nov 2014  Kitchen Hut
First camp: Sankaber. The other camps had pretty much the same arrangement. Note the sun-dried plates and pots. No running water - not much washing up, hygiene standards..... But we survived!

5th Nov 2014  Simien view
At about 3, 200m asl

5th Nov 2014  Gunman
Trekking through barley fields. Reassuring to be accompanied by a man with an AK47. We had three armed men. 2 with AK47's and one with a bolt-action rifle. It was not clear why we were required to have them. Probably a job-creation scheme. There are no fierce/dangerous animals and no evidence of fierce/dangerous people. Perhaps there once was. In practice, the scouts were very good at fending off village children importuning us for pens. In all probability the biggest risk of these ancient weapons would be to the person who fired them.

5th Nov 2014  Mountain Guide
Known as 'Bego'. Born locally and seemingly well-known and respected. Here we are in Chenek village fending off villagers wanting him to bring us to their house for a coffee ceremony (i.e for payment). We went to a coffee ceremony anyway in a timber and mud house where a family of 6 lived and slept under the same windowless thatched roof with their livestock and chickens. They were very hospitable. Debs was in 2 minds about going but seized her courage in both hands.

5th Nov 2014  Gelada monkeys / baboons
The gelada (Theropithecus gelada), sometimes called the gelada baboon or bleeding-heart baboon, is found only in the Ethiopian Highlands. They live at 1, 800–4, 400 m above sea level, using the cliffs for sleeping and montane grasslands for foraging. They are the only primates that are primarily graminivores and grazers. Geladas live in a complex multilevel society. The basic groups are made up of one to 12 females, their young and one to four males, and there are all-male units of two to 15 males. The next level up are bands of two to 27 such groups forming herds of 60-100 beasts. (Theropithecus is derived from the Greek root words for "beast-ape."

5th Nov 2014  Simien highlands
Off the bus and getting ready to trek - armed guards (Scouts) are compulsory

5th Nov 2014  Gelada encounter
From l to r: Guide; geladas; scout; Debs

5th Nov 2014  High country
Walking upo from Chenek camp to see the sun set. Below are herds of wild game - not really; they are cattle.

5th Nov 2014  Gelada and Lobelia sunset
This species of Giant lobelia is endemic to Ethiopia. Growing up to 10m in height it can go 20 years before flowering a pale grey/blue colour. Then, like the banana, it dies. Sad but true.

6th Nov 2014  Trekkers lunch
Apeing geladas

6th Nov 2014  Near Imet Gogo
At 3, 900m, perhaps the best-known view point in the Simien mountains.

6th Nov 2014  Campsite in moonlight
Geech camp at full moon. Our group was in the nice new blue tents. Mess tent on the left

7th Nov 2014  Precipice
Debs talking Anya (from Dresden) out of doing the unthinkable. Hang gliding, base-jumping, etc are all forbidden. Some years ago a German fellow flung himself off a precipice and landed safely. His Scout/guide was suspended without pay for 6 months.

7th Nov 2014  Biblical landscape
Debs' impression of such views - of which we had many

7th Nov 2014  Simien shower block
Here we see the cold water poured into the holding tank. From the shower block below are fine views of mountains, lobelias, etc. At least our tour guide, Philemon, thinks it's funny

7th Nov 2014  Ethiopian marshmallows
Some shepherd boys shared their marshmallows with us: ears of barley smoked in a fire of dung and lichen

7th Nov 2014  Tent view
From the door of our tent at Chenneck camp. At 3, 620m this was our highest camp. We stopped here on the way out and the way back. On the second night Steven slept outside - in order better to see the stars.

8th Nov 2014  Mule train
We had 11 mules. They covered the ground much faster than we could carrying tents, food, bags - everything needed for 14 trekkers, 2 guides, 3 scouts, 1 cook, 2 cook assistants, 1 teaman, 1 camp chief (and 11 muleteers). So, our expedition comprised 35 people.

8th Nov 2014  Beau Geste
Where is everyone else?

8th Nov 2014  Fly town
From l to r: Annemieke(Holland); Murray (Australia); Gemma (UK)); Philemon (masked man from Ethiopia). Otherwise known as Chiro Leba, this charming place was full of children wanting to shake hands. Bego, our guide, warned us against doing so on the grounds that it would encourage them all to crowd round to do so. We were happy to comply. Apart from lots of ragged children the village boasted of a brand new road-under-construction. Allegedly to replace the one that was no longer fit for purpose, this 4 lane highway appeared more suited for mining traffic.

8th Nov 2014  Down to the river
The path to the Mesheha River crosses treeless slopes now planted with barley and fava beans showing advanced stages of soil degradation and erosion. This man-made landscape is thought to have been inhabited for 2, 000 years, but with explosive population growth in the last few decades. There is currently a programme of re-settling villages outside the park boundary

9th Nov 2014  Ras Dashen
Final approach through frost rubble after starting out at 4.00am with headtorches

9th Nov 2014  Summit group
At 4, 500ish metres, the high point of Ethiopia. Debs in red hat, Steve in purple top

10th Nov 2014  Back the same way
The return trip followed the outward one. 10 of the group voted to do this bit in the bus. 4 of us stayed with the programme and slogged back up the way we had come. Steve was one of the 4.
Diary Movies

Gelada grazing

Gelada sunset

Simien panorama

Descent from Ras Dejen

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