Trekking in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains

After a wonderful month exploring northern Ethiopia and a few days in Addis, we headed south to go trekking in the Bale Mountains.

The Bale Mountains sounded remote and untouched, and they see far fewer visitors than the Simien Mountains. The National Park is actually twice as big as the Simiens and home to the largest population of the Ethiopian wolf, the world’s rarest canid, with an estimated 250 living in the park.

A large male with fearsome horns!

We jumped off the bus at the national park office where we easily organised our trek. We spent the night in nearby Dinsho village and the next morning went walking through the Gaysay plateau where we saw endemic mountain nyala for the first time.

While our guide headed to the market in the afternoon for some food shopping, we walked back to and around the national park office and that evening camped near the office on a hill overlooking Mount Gaysay and amongst mountain nyala, warthogs, Menellik bushbuck, reed buck and a jackal. We heard various munching noises as we lay in bed but we slept well!

We were off the next morning on our trek:

Day 1 – Park Office (3,100 m) to Sodota (3,500 m)

18 km, 5.5 hours

We headed out from the park office on a gentle walk into and through the Web Valley and across the vast, open and wild Kotera Plain.

As we started crossing the plain, we saw a mouse scurrying back into its burrow and once we’d seen one we noticed them, and their little holes everywhere. This abundance of food makes the area prime wolf territory and we were excited to see our first one later that afternoon, noticing it was bigger than the wolf we’d seen in the Simiens.

We wild-camped on the plain and enjoyed our dinner under a very starry sky.

Wild-camping on the Kotera Plain
 

Day 2 – Sodota to Keyrensa (3,750 m)

18 kms, 6.5 hours

We continued through the vast Kotera Plain and whilst walking among giant 6m Lobelias, our guide Dani spotted a wolf sitting casually amongst some horses. We cautiously approached until it decided that was close enough then watched it get up and trot across the plain until out of sight.

Walking across the Kotera Plain amongst giant Lobelias

Not long after we had seen the wolf, Catherine spotted a giant mole rat pop out of its burrow and scurry down another. They have a very cute face and a plump body, weighing up to 1kg, and are very entertaining to watch. They only come out when it’s sunny so they can see the shadows of any birds circling above.

We crossed over a rocky outcrop, seeing a few rock hyrax perched on their rocks, and into the Keyrensa valley, which felt more rugged. The valley was also more undulating and rockier with large fingers of rock all along one side.

Heading through the Keyrensa Valley

We hadn’t been in the valley for very long before we saw a wolf on the path and we watched it for a few minutes as it went one direction then another looking for food. Then, whilst enjoying our lunch by a little tarn, we watched a group of giant mole rats poking out of their burrows to nibble at the grass before diving back in.

We wild-camped amongst hundreds of lifofia plants and when we went for a little walk at sunset to warm up, we couldn’t believe our luck in seeing another wolf and a few Abyssinian hares!

Wolf spotting at Keyrensa campsite!

Day 3 – Keyrensa to Rafu (3,990 m)

13 kms, 4.5 hours

We awoke to a frosted tent and a beautifully clear bright blue sky and continued through the valley past some Klipspringer before eventually crossing into the Rafu valley.

The Keyrensa Valley

After setting up our tent and enjoying tea and biscuits, we headed across the Sanetti Plateau to a crazy field of huge lava rocks. You could spend hours here and we enjoyed climbing and playing on the rocks. And as we watched a few rock hyrax on top of the rocks, a beautiful owl flew in front of us.

Ethiopia is bonkers!

Day 4 – Rafu to Sanetti ‘campsite’ (4, 000 m)

25 kms ?, 7 hours

We headed east across the Sanetti Plateau under a dark cloud and walked in and out of fog and rain all day.

The plateau is predominantly flat and full of grey everlasting flowers that under cloud cover and from a distance looks like a covering of frost. We passed a number of alpine lakes and tarns and in places there were carpets of wild flowers.

The plateau is home to many wolves and over 200 species of bird, but most of the animals decided to stay indoors for the day and we only heard the wolves and saw the odd bird.

Eventually after many hours walking into the wind we were rescued by a Frankfurt Zoological Society vehicle after our guide had taken us in circles trying to figure out where the campsite was … and by campsite I mean a rocky, barely sheltered muddy patch!

Maybe we should have stayed indoors too!

Day 5 – Sanetti ‘campsite’

A massive storm hit us overnight and battered our tent with heavy rain and strong winds all night. Thankfully by 8am it starred to ease up and after just a few more games of rummy the clouds had cleared and the sky had brightened so we went for a walk to Mount Konteh, Bale’s third highest peak.

Not far from camp we were met by a barking wolf. She was no more than 30m away and she looked straight at us watching us for a long while before heading off into the valley.

Catherine had asked who she was talking to and we soon had our answer as two pups appeared from the bush and ran over to their mom. It was so special watching their interaction – the pups jumping all over their mom and being so excited to see her after she had been out hunting all morning. It felt like we were at home watching Planet Earth seeing these beautiful animals greet and play with one another.

What an unforgettable experience seeing so many wolves

We headed up the peak for a lovely 360 view that popped in and out of the mist before another amazing wolf encounter walking back to camp. A young adult male was out hunting and because it was so busy we were able to get super close and watch it dig up burrows hoping to find lunch.

The summit of Mount Konteh

The blue skies thankfully stuck around after lunch and we we went for a walk to the lovely Gorba Gorenche, the Black Lake. We also saw our final wolf of the trek as we headed to the lake.

The Black Lake

Summary

Bale was the wild and remote piece of nature we were looking for. The wildlife was amazing and it felt like we were amongst it rather than just coming to look. It felt even more like we were in it because of the weather! It was another completely different piece of Ethiopia.

Can you arrange your visit independently?

Absolutely! If you’re coming from Addis, catch the Goba or Robe bus and asked to be dropped at the park office. It’s super easy to organise your trek there.

Tips

1. It gets freezing at night so bring a warm sleeping bag and warm clothes.

2. It’s very possible that the person you organise your trek with at the park office won’t be your guide. Make sure to go over the itinerary with your guide to ensure things don’t change en route.

3. The guide and chef are ill-equipped for bad weather. Thankfully we had our own tent so we stayed dry and warm but the horsemen’s tent was flooded. The ‘shelter’ under which you eat is a rock, sticks and some borrowed tarpaulin – fine when it’s just cold and dry but pretty much useless when gusty and wet. Bring wet weather gear and warm clothes. If possible, bring your own tent and set your expectations accordingly.

Daily Costs (Birr)

  • Park Entrance – 180 (90/person)
  • Camping – 40
  • Guide – 500 (mandatory)
  • Chef – 500 (optional)
  • Horsemen – 500 (250 each,  a minimum of two are mandatory)
  • Horses – 300 (150 each)

Other Costs (Birr)

  • Food – 3,000 (this includes food for everyone, water and cooking materials, including kerosene)
  • Transport – 4,500 (we arranged for a 4×4 to collect us on the morning of day 6, drive us to the Sof Omar caves, which can only otherwise be visited with public transport on a Saturday, and drop us in Robe. A regular car out of the park will cost around 3,000 Birr. Or you can walk back to the park office, which takes two days).

 

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