It was already pitch dark when we were finally in Mulanje, the small town at the foot of the Mulanje Massif. An early rise the next morning showed a change from the landscapes of northern and central Malawi. Here, impressive mountains rise steeply from the surrounding landscape. The bare rocky surface of the cliffs contrast with the intense green of the tea plantations below, and even early in the morning, small clouds were lingering around the top of the mountain, as if hesitating what to do against such a giant. This, in fact, is the highest mountain of Malawi at just over 3,000 metres. But apart from the clouds, the weather was fine, and the views perfect. Walking through the tea plantations, we reached a turnoff for Likhubula, a town some 15 km north, and the main base for exploring Mount Mulanje. Reaching it proved a little more difficult than expected; in the end, a regular bus proved the best connection. Another walk took us to the head office of the Forestry Office where an excursion on Mount Mulanje was easily arranged. What proved to be a little more difficult, was to just drop off luggage at their office. But once on the way, we felt excited, as we realized we were embarking on yet another adventure.
Normally, I prefer to hike without guide, but for Mount Mulanje, it seemed clear that a guide was essential. Accidents had happened before, trails are not always well signposted, and the weather can change incredibly fast. Peter, the friendly guide, would show us the way and turned out to be a charming, knowledgeable guy who knew the way well. This first day, he showed us the way up on the Chapaluka path which led past a waterfall before it really started to climb. The Chambe Basin was reached quite fast, and the trail was turned out to be pretty flat. Several Malawians with well-trained bodies passed on their way down, walking fast with logs on their heads. An amazing sight, especially knowing the trail they had to walk down. After reaching Chambe Hut, the weather seemed to be changing fast - the sun that had been shining on Mount Mulanje all day, was disappearing always more frequently behind the clouds, and climbing Chambe Peak seemed impossible. The peak had been visible before, but was now well hidden in the clouds. Instead, I went for a short walk up the mountain behind the cabin. With the sun still shining in the west, dark clouds came in from the east, and it started to rain heavily before I knew it. The result: a fantastic rainbow, which seemed so close I thought I could touch it. After enjoying the view, I had to run back to the hut because I did not want to get completely soaked. Fortunately, there was plenty of dry wood and a nice fireplace, and cooking on the fire and falling asleep in a room heated up by the fire was a main attraction of staying in the hut.
Early next day, I woke up because of a heavy rain hammering on the roof. During the night, the sky had seemed clear and star-filled, but looking outside now, the view was very limited and the weather looked downright awful. What would this day bring? After waiting for a few hours, all that remained was a dense fog and we decided to take our chances. Unfortunately, reaching Sapitwa Peak was out of the question today, as Peter decided it was too dangerous. Instead, we turned south at a main junction, and the weather cleared a little. After the heavy rains, there was more water in the many streams and waterfalls, but surprisingly, the trail itself was not much affected. Apparently, the earth was so dry and hard, it just could not absorb water yet. A great hike took us to Lichenya hut, where it started to rain again just as we arrived. It continued to rain the entire night, and fortunately, the host of Lichenya proved to be a great guy with a keen sense of humour. The next day, walking down to Likhubula was another nice hike with variation of terrain: dense forests, waterfalls, rocky paths, steep descents, cobble-stone like trails.... It felt wrong to be heading down - it would have been nicer to spend more time on Mount Mulanje. But the weather still seemed quite bad, and we were happy to reach Likhubula still dry. Looking back, the view of the Mulanje Massif,with layers of clouds around it, was an impressive sight and a good farewell of this Malawian mountain.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Mount Mulanje (Malawi). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Mount Mulanje.
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