Hugh Holland joins an Ultimate trek to the roof of Ethiopia, to take in the breathtaking and imposing Simien Mountains, where you will encounter the famous Gelada Baboons and the clearest nights sky around.
Our odyssey begins in Lalibela, famous for its’ 11th Century rock-hewn churches. If someone was to list the seven surviving natural wonders of the world, it would be difficult to see how they could be excluded. Thence to base camp at Gondar, capital of Ethiopia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Simien mountains brood menacingly in the distance.
The Simiens make the Alps look like a Lego set, although the first day's walk is relatively gentle. The next three days are tougher, but in such a stunning landscape that a brief look around is enough to raise the spirits and recharge the batteries. Huge troops of Gelada baboons, our constant companions throughout the trek, are also a welcome diversion.
With no light pollution the night sky is utterly compelling but the brightest star in our firmament is undoubtedly Abi, our brilliant guide. On 88 treks spread over ten years Abi has yet to encounter a dissatisfied customer. He is our mentor, motivator and naturalist rolled in to one, single, 35 and very fit. The girls have remarkably little difficulty keeping up with him!
Our fourth day begins with an assault on Inmet Gogo, at 4,000 metres the highest peak before Ras Dashen, our ‘Destination Moon’. Yomping across two valleys, we spot the Walia Ibex, a wild mountain goat for which the National Park is famous, and a grey squirrel imaginatively known as the ‘Golden Jackal’.
And so to Ras Dashen, 1,200 metres above our camp at 4,620 metres or 4,521 metres or 4,543 metres depending on who you ask. We begin at 4am in pitch darkness. After climbing for two hours it feels as if the top of the world cannot be far away, but dawn breaks to reveal a different story. We finally arrive on a plateau to one final test - a 50-metre vertical ascent to the peak. Fortunately an army of helpers is at hand and collectively they manhandle us to the top. Trekking, yes, but not quite as I had imagined it!