Finally some physical activity after a long time of leaving most of the work to Harry, our beloved Land Rover. The last time we really worked our muscles was in Botswana, when we did our Kayak-trip about two months ago. What a bummer… So who exactly came up with this idea? Not sure exactly. First of all, Lukas wanted to hike Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. What a great plan that would be, but due to the extreme increase of Park-Fee’s in Tanzania in the last few years this effort is very costly. Between 700 US$ and 5400 US$ per person to hike the highest peak in africa? Wow… ehm, thanks but we’ll sadly pass on that opportunity. So when we came to Malawi, we heard about the Mulanje Massif in the south of the country towards the border of Mozambique and were intrigued.
So the Mulanje Massif, or commonly known as Mount Mulanje, it’s definitely not as high as the Kilimanjaro or Mount Meru. For a fact, with it’s highest peak at 3002 Meters its just about half the size of it’s big brother. Formed about 130 Million years ago when an intrusion of magma cooled off in the earths crust. Millennia after millennia eroded the surrounding rock and left only the very erosion resistent igneous rock of the massif that can be seen today.
Officially first reported by David Livingstone in the mid 1900s there is evidence of human remains from the stone age onwards. And according to rumors the Massif was the inspiration for the Lonely Mountain in Tolkiens ‘The Hobbit’.
About a week ago, while we were still working on the initial design of this website we met a couple working for the GIZ, the “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit” in Malawi, a german state owned company focussing on international development. We went for a hike around the Zomba Plateau with them and because they had plans of going to Mulanje the weekend after, we just opted to tag along wanting to go there anyways.
So a week later we met up with 8 companions and our guides at a Pizzeria (yeah, real pizza) in Mulanje Town. After an expensive but tasty pizza we discussed our possible routes and made our way to the starting point of the hike. As it was quite late we decided to start hiking early the next day and went to sleep at the Likhubula Forest Lodge (definite suggestion if you want to hike).
After a short night we woke up at around 5 to be on our way at around 6. Well, it didn’t really happen that way and the rumored german punctuality failed completely. As we finally set off it was about quarter to eight and getting hot already. On the first day of the hike the plan was to get from just above 800m to the Chisepo Hut at an altitude of just over 2.200m, a whopping 1400m difference in altitude and according to the guides about 7-8 hours of hiking away. Quite a substantial number, really. So we started out with the trail being quite steep immediately. After about an hour of sweating our way up the mountain and about 300m in height we reached the first waterfall of the day, a very welcome sight for the 10 of us.
After taking an extended dip into the cool water and swimming underneath the waterfall we set off again, the trail increasingly steepening. After a couple of hours of this we started to feel our legs and knees and, still only at about 1600m we had to make a decision. About half of the group was eager to push on towards the higher hut, as that meant ascending to the highest peak the next morning, the other half was very exhausted though and climbing another 600 meters in altitude didn’t sound so promising to them. So instead of splitting up we opted for the closer and lower Chambe Hut. Eager to get to the hut and with the steep trail finally flattening out we rushed towards the hut only to find that they don’t offer a hot stone massage and a gherkin mask. What a HUGE disappointment! NOT… after arrival most of us had a little nap, even the ones that were so eager to continue towards the higher hut, so it probably wasn’t a bad call after all.
The Chambe Hut is beautifully situated with a direct view of one of the Peaks of the Massif. You feel kind of out of place though because this place hardly looks like the stereotypical africa. You feel more like you’ve been somehow dislocated to the alps or the rockies. The hut itself is cozy and the hut-watchmen (there is one at all of the 10 huts, looking after the place. They will provide firewood and a dish-wash service against a tip as well) is a very friendly and helpful guy.
After dinner and a few rounds of werewolf we ended up sleeping outside on the terrace, enjoying the cold air that is getting quite rare at the moment.
The next day we set off in good spirits towards a different hut. Hiking the highest peak was ruled out as an option so we continued on towards a different side of the massif and the biggest hut available, the Lichenya Hut. This time we didn’t have to cover a huge altitude difference and the hiking was easier with new views and vantage points around every corner. After arrival at the hut, we split up the group with one half hiking a surrounding peak and the other half going for a pool and a viewpoint over the tea plantations surrounding Mulanje. Both turned out a bit disappointing because the weather was acting up, with it being all cloudy and windy. Meh. This nonetheless gave us an excuse to return to our cozy hut and chill/play cards for the rest of the evening.
The last day consisted mainly of destroying our knee’s and feet with an ascend of about 200m and a steep descend of 1200m afterwards. Ouch ouch ouch. Mount Mulanje, you are beautiful, but why do you have to be so unmerciful and steep. Someone should try and direct some development aid into the construction of an elevator or escalator… Safe to say that we’ll go up again if we are in the area on another trip, but not for three days only.
By now you will hopefully ask: That sounds and looks awesome, how do I organize a trip?
Well, let us help you with that.
First of all you need a guide. You can pre arrange one or just turn up at the forestry office and organize one on short notice with them. They are quite adamant when it comes to you booking a guide with them but you DON’T have to. We got contact details for our guides from someone else and one of them, Alan, has proved to be a very good guide and relentless porter (he carried the backpack with all the food for the group which was quite heavy)
If you want to hike up the Mulanje Massif, give him a call or write him an e-mail in advance. He’s really eloquent and knowledgeable and a good guy in general:
If you want a room you should try and give the Likhubula Forest Lodge a call in advance. They seem to sometimes be booked out, especially on weekends and national holidays. If you just want to camp, I guess you’ll be fine with just popping up and pitching your tent for just under 3000 Kwatcha/night. The guys at Likhubula Forest Lodge will look after your car while you’re gone as well (parking fee while you are gone is 600 Kwatcha a day). Just talk to either Dan or Elejar and they will make sure your car is safe.
Accommodation on top of the mountain are 10 different huts, that will set you back about 1000 Kwatcha/night. They have basic toilets (bring your own TP) and washrooms for your convenience. They provide some mattresses as well, but don’t have a lot of them so better take your own.
Equipment and Food:
You can’t buy food on top of the mountain, so everything you want to eat on your trip will have to be carried by either you or a porter that you can hire. Drinking water (from one of the clean streams) is available at every hut, as are some beers and soft drinks if the watchman has some in stock so you don’t really have to worry about that, just make sure you take bottles to fill up.
Other equipment that you’ll have to take:
– strong hiking boots
– comfortable backpack
– sleeping bag and mattress
– swimming trunks
– a GPS with the hiking trails
– coffee/tea (really great optional extra though)