Simien Mountains

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June 27th 2014
Published: June 26th 2014
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That's my first GIF I've ever made.

Spending some time in the Simien Mountains was a top priority for me in Ethiopia, as it was the first thing a fellow traveler had told me about the country a few years ago. Unfortunately, late June is the beginning of the rainy season, so it wasn't the best time to go. Our group endured thunderstorms throughout the day, limited views of the mountains, and several river crossings, the last of which made it impossible to summit Ras Dashen.

Below is a description of the five day trek to summit Ras Dashen. I highly recommend Bradt's Guide to Ethiopia for details and more description, but it pretty much follows what we did.

Also, here is a video that Arthur, a friend who also was on the hike, compiled.

Day 1

Four friends and I left Gondar at about 7AM. The trek organizer picked us up in a nice minivan and drove us on a good paved road about two hours to Debark. It's possible to stay in Debark and enter the park nearby early in the morning, but there isn't

It's required to take armed escort into the Simien Mountains.
much there to do and there are limited accommodations.

In Debark we ate an expensive breakfast (restaurant monolopy) and bought some water, since it wasn't provided for the first leg of the hike. After an hour more on dirt roads, we came to two enormous trucks that were stuck in the mud, so we had to walk a little farther than planned. Many hikers camp the first night in Sankabar, but we started there and walked about 22 km to Gich camp. From the start, the scenery was beautiful, and we spotted some gelada monkeys (though they look more like baboons), vultures, and buzzards along the way. About an hour and half before the camp, we came to a river that was nearly impassable. The guide didn't mention anything about it until just before we got there, which irritated some of us. No one told us to bring sandals or anything for the river crossing. A local man on the other side crossed first, proving it was possible without falling into the rapids below, and it was pretty odd that I was the next one to go across with the help of this man, instead of the guide. In fact, the guide had the most difficulty getting across. The water was near waist-high in one part; had it been any higher, the hike would have ended there. About an hour later we came to the village of Gich, which is one of the most remote and traditional villages I've ever seen. There is no road that passes through it, so instead of the sheet metal roofs found in most of the towns, all the roofs were thatched over a rock and mud interior. The setting was absolutely beautiful and the town was very interesting, but it was clear that the people lived in poverty and likely had no access to some basic needs. Some women and children tried to sell us single raw eggs and small woven boxes.

The camp at Gich does have a "lodge," though it is very basic and dirty. Locals hang out there and possibly sleep there or in the other buildings. One of the buildings was used for cooking, and there was a disgusting latrine nearby. This all somewhat took away from the outdoors experience, but it did allow the cook to prepare delicious food. At night it went down to about 40 degrees, but I had enough to keep me warm enough.

Day 2

This is certainly the best day of walking. Trek organizers should figure out a way to spend more time in this area, rather than rushing through to get to Ras Dashen.
We left camp relatively early, but the good viewpoints were already obscured by clouds, which was more disappointing to the guides than us. It seemed like the entire walk -- all five days -- was just a walk to various viewpoints, all of which were about the same.

We gave up on the view and went back to the main trail for a long uphill. Along the way there were hundreds of gelada monkeys and it was easy to get close to them.

We stopped for lunch at an elevation of 4200 meters. Again, the obsession with viewpoints outweighed any consideration of it being rainy season. It was miserably cold and not much of a view. A friend set up a slack line between two rocks, and it was fun to watch until the winds became nearly unbearable. When we left, the guide bundled up and had all waterproof clothes on, but he
Gelada MonkeyGelada MonkeyGelada Monkey

Even though they look more like baboons, they're apparently monkeys.
didn't mention anything about the freezing high plains to the rest of us. My hands were frozen after an hour of exposure to cold, wind, and rain.

Day 3

Early in the morning, the guide mentioned for the first time that there was a bigger river ahead that we likely couldn't cross. Again, we felt that this should have been mentioned before the trek, since this situation wasn't surprising to any of the locals. So, we walked over a pass at 4400 meters and far down into a deep valley, knowing that the following day we'd likely have to walk back without getting to the goal of the trip: Ras Dashen (which is only about 150 meters higher). Once over the pass, the scenery wasn't as impressive: it was much drier, and there were rock walls and farms on the way into the steep valley. Some of us had knee problems from the ascent, and the guide was unwilling to adapt to the changes in plans. We more or less led the hike and decided when and where to eat.

It was pouring down rain when we got to the town of Chiroleba. We camped inside a

It became ordinary to see families of over a hundred geladas on the hike.
schoolhouse and spent some time drinking local beer (korafe) and listening to traditional music nearby.

Day 4

This was the day we were supposed to summit Ras Dashen, but instead we had to retreat back to Chennek via road. We stayed at Chennek again, and it rained all evening.

Day 5

Our guide had no ability to adjust or offer a route for a day hike, so we made one up based on turning our heads and saying, "Over there looks nice." It actually ended up being a striking terrain that we hadn't experienced yet, and was a relaxing stroll for our final walk.


Trips to the Simiens are typically organized in Gonder, but there were so few tourists there that it would be very difficult to show up and arrange something with a group. I met a traveler in the street who asked about it, and he was getting quoted very high prices, probably because he would be trekking more or less by himself, plus the guide and other helpers. I tagged along with some Peace Corps volunteers and in the end, we were able to form a group of five. We paid about 250 dollars per person for 5 days. This included a guide, an armed guard, mule drivers, a cook, three meals a day, admission to the park, and transport from and back to Gondar.

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


Welcoming committeeWelcoming committee
Welcoming committee

These children drummed, clapped, and chanted as we passed through town.
Version of "Tela"Version of "Tela"
Version of "Tela"

I forget the precise name of this concoction, but it's a very interesting homemade beer. Price for a pitcher: about 35 cents.
More ChildrenMore Children
More Children

There is no lack of a population explosion here...

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