MOUNT MULANJE MEMORIES
BY MAGELLAN TENT: JOEL GRIFFIN, BRANDAN DURKAN AND GUSTAV DE BRAUWER
The morning of the Great Trek to Malawi saw us waking up to excellent bacon and egg rolls courtesy of the Pumpkin Hotel, our night stop, in order to get an early start on the Nyamapanda Border Post into Mozambique. We had been warned about the things that could go wrong the night before. So, when we finally arrived at the border in the infamous Overlander, all 20 boys disembarked with passport clenched in hand and keeping a watchful eye on their personal belongings. Surprisingly, none of the guys had a problem and the transition between borders was a relative breeze. The exchanging of money at the border was quite chaotic as they are all there to harass you to buy from them and they all seemed to have the “best deals”. All of us had exchanged from dollars to Kawachas and our wallets looked and weighted like a brick and you needed backpack just to carry it around!
After a short 4-5 hour trip to Mulanje, we set up camp at the Mulanje Club House and with the imposing outline of the mountain looming over our campsite, we stopped, and asked ourselves what we had got ourselves into! The journey had made all of us quite tired and so we called it an early night and went to bed… well most of us! While lying on his mattress Henry had heard a banging sound on a window coming to the club house and being the inquisitive man he is, he went to investigate. His findings lead him to the very confused Hazardous Harry, who had been locked inside the club house and had no way out! Henry had passed his sleeping bag and mattress through the window. In the morning Harry was released and was certain that the club house was haunted because a bowl had fallen over in the kitchen… Once we had eaten breakfast, packed our food for the mountain, loaded the Overlander with our hiking bags, we were off to the starting point of the climb.
This was in the middle of a tea plantation called Lujeri Estate. The climb was estimated to be around 4-5 hours of solid climbing and with our packs full of food and water it would be hard. But on we went! At first all seemed pretty easy, walking through villages and waving at the children but slowly and surely it started to get steeper and steeper to the point where wooden ladders were needed to climb up sheer rocks. We’d break every 50 mins and rest for 10 and every time we did break, we got an opportunity to look at the view of Malawi and every time it’s was more breathtaking than the last. Thankfully the climb was coming to an end with Madzuka Hut in sight. After a reviving cup of tea and some rusks, a roaring fire and, for some, a refreshing splash in the freezing water, we settled down for night.
The following day we set off to the next hut which we were supposed to stay at, Thuchila Hut. The hike was expected to be between 12-14km, … an estimate based on us not getting lost, and unfortunately that is exactly what happened. After a change of map readers at our last stop before the hut, we went the wrong way and missed the track to the hut completely. The final decision was to go off route and over the mountain. This was very tough going and involved a tricky river crossing and a lot of scrambling which meant we were not able to reach the hut before dark and got benighted on the mountain. We found ourselves the most comfortable piece of grass tussock, or flat-ish rock, grabbed something easy to eat, carefully preserved our limited water supply and settled down for a less than comfortable night.
We all crawled out from where we had attempted to sleep the night before to a breathtaking view of the valley below. The smoke from small fires had gathered in the valleys and the peaks stuck out above them, looking like islands in the sea of smoke, bathed in the oranges and pinks of a mountain dawn. There had not been one flat piece of ground and the many of us who had not put up tents ended up soaked from the dew and some were even crispy with frost! We walked on to the cabin where we were supposed to have spent the night before and ate breakfast and prepared for the day ahead. Feeling refreshed and reenergized we began the relatively short hike to the next cabin, Chisepo which was just below the summit. Once again a welcoming fire was made, icy baths in the stream were braved and supper cooked as the sun set and the mountain became quiet and chilly.
After a long and much needed night of rest we began the ascent of the summit with only essential and emergency gear. After a few hours of incredibly steep climbing we reached the summit, Sapitwa, at 3002m and although the clouds surrounded us within minutes of our arrival, it was spectacular and undeniably worth the climb. After a short break to re-fuel and take many photos, we began our long decent which was much faster than our ascent and we were back at the hut in time for a late lunch. The remainder of the day was mostly spent carving “stick woods” enjoying the sunshine and bathing in the icy river.
The next day we woke early once again to begin our daylong decent……. which turned out to be far longer than we had previously anticipated. The paths soon faded away and we were left with only small tracks that were visible for only half of the time. We eventually reached a stage where there appeared to be no path whatsoever and we were walking along the side of a steep and slippery valley. Moses, our guide was getting increasingly worried, and we started to envisage yet another night on the mountain! It was at this point that we met a local woodcutter who was able to lead us along the “path” that he had just come along. We eventually reached flat walking ground which was a great relief for our knees and after a short recovery break and an easy walk passed the hydro electric station and through the tea estates, we saw the welcoming lights of the Overlander.
We returned to the Mulanje Club where we all reveled in hot showers, cold beer and devoured our tasty, well prepared and plentiful food. Full, happy and exhausted we retired to bed…. With Harry on the right side of the club doors…
After a full breakfast we began our long journey to Senga Bay on the shores of Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi). The journey was fairly uneventful as everyone was still sore and tired from the hike. We arrived in the late afternoon just as the sun was setting over the Lake, and were presented with cottages (a definite upgrade on our tents!) where we would spend the following week.