The 2nd tallest mountain in Africa (after Kilimanjaro), Malawi’s Mount Mulanje is a site to see. The tallest peaks (3,002 and 2,500 meters above sea level) sit surrounded by a wall of smaller peaks and most days is hidden by the clouds (well when I’ve been during rainy season anyways) and on some days the cloud descends so low that the entire mountain is obscured from view by its shroud.
Mulanje town, sitting at base of the mountain and only 30 km from the Mozambique border is an administrative centre and though small (only really the main street) is also bustling with lots of people. It is a main centre for growing tea in Malawi and the estates cover miles in all directions, the tea pickers can be seen in the fields gathering the softer, smaller leaves from the low bushes and putting them into baskets on their backs.
I’ve been to Mulanje twice before, but only for very quick visits and only going as far up as the Likubula rock pools. These are a series of rock pools on the Likubula river leading up the mountain, they can be incredibly beautiful (especially at sunset) and are a starting point for hikers going to the chambe hut. Unfortunately the area is also crawling with more curio sellers and tour guides than anyone could possibly want.
I was met at the bus station by Lovely’s brother in law, Kondani. I wanted to see how far I could get hiking up the mountain, unfortunately as I arrived late in the day there wasn’t enough time on the Saturday, so I figured I’d try the next morning so I could get a good run at it. So after checking into the Kara O’ Mula lodge and a spot of lunch, Kondani suggested that he showed me around the town. So the afternoon was spent at the golf club, stopping briefly at some football and netball games being played in the middle of town and ended up watching the Chelsea/Portsmouth game (with kids trying to steal bottles from between our feet). Back at the lodge I had a dinner of the weirdest beef stroganoff I’ve ever had, before retiring to bed.
After breakfast the next morning I went along to reception to ask about a guide to take me up the mountain, they phoned around and eventually found one available to take me, a guy called Leason. Grabbing a couple of bottles of water, we set off on a path just behind the lodge. At first the track was alright, generally at an alright gradient, past tea fields, I thought we might not get particularly high up the mountain but I could keep going all day, then we turned off onto the Boma path and suddenly the going got a lot more difficult. I consider myself to be in alright shape, I’m not a marathon runner but I run, go to the gym occasionally and whatever else, but after not long up this path, with the heat, my bag and the crazily steep paths, my legs felt like lead and my shirt was soaked through (I was more than a little disgusting). I had to keep having to ask to stop for a quick rest, this gave me a chance to see the view as we climbed (and stop my heart pounding) and the views were simply spectacular. I managed to recover when we stopped at the Lichenya river about 12 o’clock, here we perched on the rocks shared nuts and refilled the bottles from the pure river pouring down the mountain (if I get sick in the next few days take it as a warning that the river water isn’t so great to drink). We kept going for a little while longer over bare rock and through dense undergrowth to about 885 m above sea level, I’d have like to have kept going longer (I felt better now and we were still far from the top), but with cloud rolling in and with the stories I’d just read about lost hikers, I decided to trust Leason’s judgment about the weather and how long it would take to get back (also trusting he didn’t just want to get back for the footie).
We got back to the lodge, a shower and change of clothes later I left to catch the bus. I would have loved to stay a little longer, be able to make it further up to one of the peaks, but I guess I can still say that I’ve been hiking up Mt. Mulanje.
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