At 4000 metres above sea level, footsteps come too slowly and breaths come too quickly. Appetites disappear and every effort is exaggerated. Life at this elevation is pure hard work.
When I hiked across the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, climbing to the country’s highest point at 4550 metres, I was always surprised to look up and see village kids sprinting across the fields – usually barefoot – to greet me. They’d arrive beside me smiling, barely puffing, even as I sucked for air so hard I was in danger of accidentally inhaling one of them. And I was just walking. Around me there were sick and immobile hikers strapped to the backs of mules, and others so defeated by the pains of altitude that they’d opted out of the summit climb. And then off the kids would trot again, bounding like springboks. Continue reading
It seems suitable to wrap up the year with the final, and top, pick in my selection of the 10 finest mountain trails I’ve had the privilege to trek. My favourite trek over the many pairs of boots I’ve worn out is in Ethiopia, atop the mountain range known as the Roof of Africa.
The Simien Mountains aren’t the highest peaks in Africa, though at 4550m Ras Dashen is often claimed as the fourth-highest on the continent (which conveniently overlooks a few unnamed peaks in the Ruwenzori). But it’s not the head-spinning glory of altitude that elevates the Simiens to the head of my list. It’s the headiness of its escarpment, combined with the life – both human and animal – that’s scratched out on its plateau. Continue reading
As I write this, I’m about to head off to Africa. It’s been three years since I last set foot on the so-called Dark Continent, but few places live larger in my mind than the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia. Continue reading