3 days in the Simien Mountains

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Mar 02, 2010

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Flag of Ethiopia  , Gonder,
Thursday, December 31, 2009

We spent 3 days trekking in the Simiens with Alebachew Abade,  a guide we had read a lot about on Trip Advisor and personal travel blogs.  He turned out to be great.  Alex picked us up at 6:30am (farengi time) at our hotel and we drove to Debark which is where the permit office is for The Simien Nation Park.  The drive is about 2 1/2 hours on a typically dusty and often a bit rough road as there is construction along the way as well.  With permit in hand we then drove to Sankabar which is the starting point of the trek.  We watched Alex work through the details for a scout and pack animal arrangements and then we headed out ahead with Mamo-Alem our armed scout.  The scouts are former DERG militia and pretty much the only people in Ethiopia who own guns.  They carry Russian Kalisnikovs (not sure of the spelling) which look pretty imposing but apparently they are seldom fired any more.  The scouts are required for anyone trekking in the Simiens.  You can trek without a guide, cook or muleteers (if you want to carry your own packs) but you are not allowed to trek in the park without a scout.  The main reason for this seems to simply be that it gives them jobs as there is no real danger from man or animals - although, I must say, I would not want to get between a Gelada Baboon and her babies!
The trek to the Gich camp took about 5 hours which is pretty typical overall without carrying your oown gear.  It was very steep in some areas and some places were simply lovely to walk and soak in the beauty of the area and spot birds - Lammergeyers! and the indiginous and very abundant herds of Gelada Baboons.  The further into the park you go the less accustomed the baboons are to humans so they tend to run off but the ones early on in the trek were very casual about our presence and we got some great photos.
When we arrived in camp our gear was already there - tents set up and tea, coffee, popcorn and cookies appeared within minutes of our arrival.
Along the way we had a great time with Alex and Mamo.  At a rest break beside a small waterfall, Richard caught the eye of two young girls (the children appear seemingly from no where but they are actually tending herds of sheep or cattle and live in small villages sprinkled around the countryside). The children are happy and always playful.  One of the little girls responded to a wave and that started a very entertaining exchange between Richard and the girl.  She peeped from around a rock so he mimed doing the same.  He would do something like jumping jacks and she would mimic him and so it went for several minutes.  Everyone laughed a lot and I am sure both little girls had stories to tell to family and friends about the crazy farengi they saw today.  These are images that stay in our minds when we travel.
We had a 'chef' for our trek - nothing but the best for Richard and Carole:)!!  He was a very good cook.  Dinner started with piping hot soup and followed by a vegetable medley of potatoes, cabbage, beets, carrots and rice.  After dinner, the scouts started a small campfire next to the cook house and everyone huddled around the fire to warm up.  The scouts wear thin sandals and their only warm clothing is their scarves and shawls so the fire was very important to them.  As we sat around we asked Alex if they would get a kick out of learning a simple song and he said something to them and they all smiled so we proceeded to try to teach the 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat'.  They were more interested in listening than participating but we got lots of smiles and a bit of applause at the end.  It was a bit ambitious to think we would actually sing it in rounds but it was fun.
Day Two:
Today was day trekking from Gich camp to surrounding views of the mountains and valleys.  We first trekked to Inmet Go Go which is at 3920 meters (12,740 feet).  Only the last bit was a rock scramble to the summit.  It has been a long time since we have been 'on a summit' so we celebrated with our classic summit self portrait which Rich has prefected.  We soaked in the views.  The Simiens are often compared to the Grand Canyon and it is easy to see why.  The view from here is a wide canyon with pinnacles and mesas and the odd very green spot of land that is being farmed.  We then trekked to another view area over looking the Saha Gorge.  We had lunch and a rest here.  Richard wanted to know if Mamo ever put down his rifle so Alex asked him if the only time he put it down was when he was with a woman.  Mamo was resting near the edge and he leaned over, smiled and placed his rifle pointed down beside him and laughed.  It was very good!  After more rest and more converstion we headed back to camp.  More trekkers had arrived and the camp was very busy tonight.  A little boy and girl came into camp selling eggs and 2 chickens.  We saw our cook buy eggs and another man bought the chickens.  I assumed someone was having chicken in the next day or two.  Turned out we had chicken for dinner! And, it was very good - and fresh. 
Rich and Alex hiked up to a high ridge behind camp for the sunset but I stayed behind in camp.  I sat for a bit along the cook house with the scouts.  They thought it was really funny that a farengi woman would sit there but it was warm in the sun although the wind did blow the dust and ash from the remains of last nights campfire.
When Rich and Alex returned we had dinner followed by chocolate cake and wine.  Another fine day.
Day Three:
After a big breakfast of pancakes AND French Toast and lots of coffee (Buna) we headed out for our short trek to the road where the mini-van was waiting to drive us back to Gondar.  The trek was only about 2 hours - 1 hour down into the river valley and 1 hour back up to about the same altitude we left.  The pack mules and 'chef' caught up with us right at the end so it was a very fast transfer from animal to vehicle and we were on our way back to 'civilization'. 
Overall the time spent in the mountains was absolutely great!  We would highly recommend to anyone coming to Northern Ethiopia not to miss this experience to see this beautiful area.
We also highly recommend Alex as a guide.  You can reach him via email at Alebachew_2005@yahoo.com.  He is very well organized and very personable. 
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tric Syz on

How do you manage bathroom activities while trekking there?

Claire Cyr, Richard's mom on

What fun or should I call it something else? Fascinating, exuberating etc.
Just read an article in the Smithsonian Mag. about the galada baboons.
I'll save it for you. Take care. Love, Mom

Poan on

Hi Richard and Carole! Happy New Years! I would also very much like to wish you may the spirit of the New Years bring you much joys peace happiness prosperity as well as having long healthy life throughout the year 2010. Happy New Years! I still have to work on these days, please let see my next letters as well. With my much love to you, Poan

carolerich on

Tric - We stayed in one camp both nights and there were campground-like toilets there. Except in Ethiopia they are pit toilets so you still have to squat - boo!
While trekking it is using the nearest rock or tree!!

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