Adventure: trekking, rock climbing and paragliding

There are many possibilities for trekking in Ethiopia, here are three.
a) The Simien Mountains present perhaps the most dramatic mountain scenery in Africa – great volcanic plugs, formed some 40 million years and eroded over the aeons into fantastic crags, pinnacles and flat topped mountains, “the chess pieces of the Gods” as one writer described them, tower over precipitous gorges, river valleys and plains stretching all the way to Eritrea. There are many peaks over 4000 meters, and Ras Dashen at 4620 meters in the highest in the country and the fourth highest in Africa.

While trekking in the Simiens visitors can see the endemic Gelada or bleeding heart baboon, the Walia Ibex, Simien Wolf and rock hyrax, endemic birds such as the Thick-billed Raven, Black-headed Siskin, White-collared Pigeon, Wattled Ibis, White-billed Starling, Spot-breasted Plover and White-backed Black Tit, cruising Lammergeyer with their 3 meter wingspan and Afro – Alpine meadows carpeted with flowers and punctuated by the tall spiky kniphofia or “red hot pokers”. You can go in for a day, or go the whole hog and climb Ras Dashen – it is not a technical climb and no special climbing ability is needed. Mules can carry you and your luggage for most of the way. If you are interested in climbing Africa’s fourth highest mountain, Ras Dashen (4624 meters), you should allow eight days in and out. The Simien Mountains can easily be combined with a tour on the Historic Route. Visitors with little time can fly from Addis Ababa to Gondar, some 100 km from the entrance to the park at Debark. For those who do not like camping, there is a comfortable lodge near Sankaber, which can be used as a base for exploring the park.

b) Good trekking itineraries, by horse or on foot, can also be made in the Bale Mountains National Park, an area of high altitude plateau, with volcanic crags and lakes, forests, alpine moor land, trout filled streams and a striking variety of fauna and flora. Several endemic mammals, including the Mountain Nyala, Simien Wolf and Menelik’s Bushbuck, are found within the park, while 16 endemic bird species have been recorded. In the Harenna Forest in the southern part of the park there are leopards and lions, although the dense forest makes spotting animals difficult. A one-day excursion from Goba (by car) takes the visitor to the fantastic underwater river and caves of Sof Omar. Since it takes (at least- delete) one day to get to Bale from Addis Ababa, a minimum of 4 days should be allowed.

There is now the very comfortable Bale Mountains Lodge, situated just south of Rira Village at the edge of the Harenna Forest, which can be used as a base for visiting the park.

c) Down in the south, on the west bank of the Omo River are found the Surma, who like some of their cousins on the eastern bank go in for body painting and (the women) wearing lip plates. This is an opportunity to see unspoiled wilderness, a variety of game, more than 300 bird species and of course the Surma people themselves, their rituals, dance and stick fighting. (NB Stick fighting has now been classified as a Harmful Traditional Practice, and it is no longer possible for tourists to attend “donga” or stick fighting.) A minimum of 1 week should be allowed. It takes 2 days by road to where the trek can be started.

Rock climbing is not an indigenous sport, but there are excellent sites in Tigray which have been visited in recent years by rock climbing enthusiasts. In the last few years paragliders have found excellent flying in Ethiopia.

Caving is similarly not practiced in Ethiopia, but groups from the University of Huddersfield in UK have discovered vast cave complexes in Harerghe, in the east of the country.

White water rafting is generally done on the Blue Nile near Bahir Dar (a few days), along the Omo River (the whole stretch can take up to a month) and on the Awash River (one or two days). Specialized expeditions have tackled other rivers, including the Tekezze, the Beshilo and the Baro. Rafting can only be done at certain times of the year, after the rains, and needs to be set up well in advance. Currently, no company in Ethiopia has the equipment or expertise to mount a rafting expedition – all equipment would need to be brought in.