On the 17th of March after a crazy drive to the Johannesburg airport (Frans took us sightseeing trying to avoid the peak hour traffic and he did a splendid job) – we finally made it in the nick of time. (Marianne aka Biscuit had the savvy to call ahead and tell someone (I’m still not sure who – to hold the plane). Three hours later we were in a taxi on our way to Blantyre. And then African time set in. We were told that a bus to Mulanje would arrive at 13h00 and since then the only answer we got irrespective of the question was “the bus is coming”. But we’re fellow African’s so I studied the bird book and Biscuit learned Chichewa. Unfortunately I’m also a Gemini and me bum was really getting sensitive so we phoned Moses from Mulanje (the local guys are either called Moses or Patrick) who came to our rescue and the next moment we were in a minibus to Limbe. From Limbe we took another minibus to Chitakali where Patrick from Mulanje picked us up and took us to Likhubula Forest Lodge (I definitely recommend a 4X4 for this stretch) where we watched a spectacular sunset at the pools close by. Afterwards it was time to pitch the tent while Patrick arranged the porters and guide. Mmmmm – exactly one day to get to Mulanje - not bad for two girls traveling on their own I would say. By 5h30 the next day we were ready for the rolling hills and soaring peaks and got to the C.C.A.P hut at 12h20. I went bird watching while Biscuit did her favorite thing – chatting to the people. At 15h00 we went to Linje pools where Biscuit danced naked on Lichenya plateau and declared that she’ll make sure that I get sponsors for my African peaks – if not from First Ascent, then from Playboy.
What a great traveling partner. The one moment we were still watching the sunset and the next Pierre our guide got us all running like headless chickens because of the threatening rain All the talking about the spirits leaving bananas on Sipetwa (Sipetwa means “don’t go there”) had quite an effect on my dreams and when I woke up it was misty and Biscuit decided that she was better off in bed but by 6h30 we were on our way and what a spooky hike it turned out to be. The mist rolled in without warning and at one place we were surrounded by thousands of spider webs and all the trees were covered with old man’s beard. Definitely a place to shoot a horror movie. We arrived at the shelter around 12h30 and by 14h00 we were on our way to camp 10 minutes from Sipetwa. Akin (a guide) started laughing at me when I put my backpack on and said people don’t go up to Sipetwa with a backpack (well, not a 80 litre one). But he was obviously not aware of the fact that my forefathers went barefoot over the Drakensberg so there we were.
But I must admit I had some narrow escapes since it was extremely slippery and the weight of the backpack made rock jumping extremely difficult.It was also very difficult to stop falling and Pierre had to help me up several times after a fall. But I did feel a lot better after being informed by Biscuit that I definitely won’t bleed to death
and that Pierre didn’t actually save my life several times – I might have just broken a couple of bones. No big deal. After two hours of climbing (falling) and a lot of huffing and puffing (did I mention that it was raining), two guys came sliding past us. They stopped just long enough to inform us that we had to turn back since it was raining cats and dogs on top so we were forced to turn back. It was only after several more falls that Pierre insisted on swopping backpacks with me and it made a huge difference. I was still slipping but this time I was not falling head over heals because of the heavy backpack. And it was still raining when we got back to the shelter. So after 10 hours of hiking – the last 4 serious (it’s no joke on top when it rains), sunrise on Sipetwa the next morning seemed impossible. Mulanje has claimed several lives in the past and after Linda, a girl from Holland disappeared mysteriously two years ago the guides were instructed not to go to the top in the dark or when it rains. After supper everyone sat around the fire trying to dry their clothes. I don’t think anyone slept well that night because of the cold.
At 7 the next morning Pierre and me were on our way to the top – this time with only our raingear and water in a daypack. The climb up to the top involved some tree climbing, caving (that’s what it felt like), heavy rock jumping, tree hugging (the plants are so human friendly), mud dodging, rock climbing and a lot of huffing and puffing. And i
actually can’t believe I tried it with a 80liter backpack the previous day. Bernelle, you would have loved it. You get to act like a kid on a jungle gym, chimney’s the works. Once on top I took some pictures and then it was time for some nice bum slides down. And it was only now that I realized why the German and guide didn’t stop the previous day to help us. Back at the shelter we had something to eat and were informed that Biscuit and the two porters only left at 10h30 and by now I was absolutely positive that Pierre didn’t see me take some anti- inflammatories since he just about ran to the other hut. (did I mention that he’s only 19?) On the way there we had some lovely river crossings and passed beautiful pools but I was glad to see the hut and take off my wet boots. We sat around chatting while Pierre had a nap and then we walked down to Elephant head for a nice sunset. Hehe, and I supposed it’s not actually necessary to mention that we came running back again soon but what a beautiful rainbow. So, my poor boots had to remain wet mmmm, another 10 hours of hiking.
The next morning we got going around 6h30 and it was a lot of downhill but we had an orchestra of birds encouraging us and were picked up by Patrick from Mulanje at 10. After a shower he drove us to town where we first caught a minibus to Limbe and then one to Blantyre. Me bunns were still sensitive after the previous ride in the minibus and being squashed in the back with 5 other people didn’t improve the situation but we survived. Getting into the second minibus I learned a valuable lesson. I thought for 5 seconds that I had the whole front seat to myself but the next moment I was squashed between the driver, my 80 liter backpack and a guy whose breakfast I could smell the whole way. But things can get worse – the poor guy next to me had his nose stuck in my armpit the whole way – and something very similar to luckyboy was the only soap we could get in Malawi. But then we all know Africa’s a tough country…..
The Mulanje Massif, to me, is a harsh, mysterious mountain, especially if the mist comes rolling in. She has claimed several lives and nowadays it is compulsory to take a guide. I would definitely recommend using porters. The Malawians are extremely poor and the strong guys can consider using a porter as charity. We got excellent service from Patrick and Moses from Mulanje (Tiyende Pamodzi Adventures) who organized the porters and who arranged for us to become “honor members” of the mountain club. The mountain is extremely clean thanks to a conservation trust. And it was extremely cheap. Sooooo , I’m definitely going back there – and hopefully we’ll get a great group together to go and climb Chambe west face – at 1700m the longest rock climb in Africa.