Monday, October 3, 2011

The Island in the Sky: Part 1

I love mountains.  there is just something about them that makes my heart happy, serene, and peaceful.  I love them anywhere... From the mighty Denali, to the rolling hills of West Virginia and Vermont, to the mountains in Petra, Jordan, to the close to home Rockies.  

There is just something about them that makes my heart happy.  oh right.  I already said that.

so, when I found out that Malawi has the highest peak in central Africa, south of those famous ones up in tanzania and kenya, and North of the Drakensberg's, I was thrilled.  Mount Mulanje  hits a maximum peak of 3002m (9850ft), which, for those of you who need reference points:  Blackcomb mountain is 1609m, Mt Edith Cavell 3363 m & Mt Robson is 3959m.   this "monadnock" is situated about 2hrs away (ish) (on minibus time) from Blantyre.  Long story short, I arranged with a new Australian friend of mine, that we would be able to hit up the mountain this past weekend.  I wanted to go now, since next weekend there is an exciting visitor to Blantyre (which I will not mention, until he arrives), then the two following weekends will be filled with a visit from the boy i love, and then it will be toying with the start of rainy season (well... maybe not.  they say november/decemberish for the rains).

but, at any rate, I didn't want to wait.  And, I am so happy I didn't. I will also be uploading over the next few days the better photos from the trip onto flickr.  Keep an eye there! 

The Glory of Mulanje.  

My friend Ryan joined the Mountain Club of Malawi, which maintains a great hut system on the mountain.   It also has blankets, cooking gear, and matresses for its members;  this is VERY nice, as it makes the need to carry all of your own gear very minimal.   The mountain area is about 22x26 kilometres, which gives plenty of area to explore.  It gives peaks and plateaus and pools and valleys to explore.  Right in the tea region of Malawi.  This mountain rises up through the smoke in the atmosphere these days (it is the dry season, there are a lot of cooking fires burning), into the clouds, and provides an unbelieveable experience.  I wish I was able to spend more than 3 days, but what a great 3 days.

Bicycle Taxi!
we left blantyre with our bags (mine was mostly filled with a blanket, because i wasn't 100% if the mountain club provided them) friday morning around 9.  We arrived (travellers note... don't take the first minibus from Limbe.  Take time to figure out which way they are going... going via Thyolo district is the longer route, taking a minibus through Mbzinga (?) is quicker) at around 11am, and after some meeting with our porters/guides, grabbing a bite to eat, some food for a trip (yup, including bunches of bananas and 2 chickens) and a bicycle taxi ride to Mulanje, Boma Town, we started up the massif.  
Food for the trip
Our porters/guides (i say that... because despite one, Lawrence, being a "guide" and the other, Sanderson, was our porter, they did the same thing.  showed up where to go, and carried our backpacks) were such a blast.  They are two brothers from Likhubula, and are not currently on the "official rotation" of guides and porters.  However, they were recommended to us from the guy at the mountain club.  We were happy to have them with us, not only to provide us with the help of carrying our packs, but also, because I feel very happy to help provide some employment to two boys who want to pay school fees with the money they make (they even told us they would send us the receipt!).  Sanderson and Lawrence (19 and 21 and crazy fit) provided us with many laughs (can we say... lost in translation?), expert trekking skills & information about the history of the mountain, and showed amazing generosity by cooking us a meal on our 2nd (and last) night on the mountain.  They were also amazingly ethical to the chickens who were being carried for dinner.  Stopping for a break on Boma trail to have them drink water, and eat dry rice. 

so, what a massif it was...  On friday, We took the Boma trail up to Lichenya hut (1840m).  Now... BOMA trail... not for the faint hearted.  It is one of the least traveled trails, simply because the fact that it is pretty much a ladder straight up the side of Mulanje.  So, essentially, we traveled up from the base, peaked, and then down across a plateau (at sunset) into a valley to reach Lichenya hut.  it was one of the most challenging 8ish Km of my life.  And, also one of the most beautiful.  Yes, we finished in the dark (my friend Ryan... well, let's just say that he is not quite as fit as he once was), but I was so happy to have sunset on the plateau.  

1/2 way up Boma Trail.
We reached the hut, met some missionaries from Mozambique (one, who actually greeted me with... "are you canadian?"  um.  is it that obvious?  "I saw your tweet!") ate some spagetti, and was in bed by 8pm.  tomorrow would be another challenging and beautiful day.  we were going to be heading for Chisepo Hut, and hope for an ascent up the hightest peak, Sapitwa.  

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