Ethiopia (March 2013)
Bale Mountains: From Dodola to Harenna Forest
The volcanic Bale Mountains are located about 250km SW of Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa (see first map below) in a region populated by Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. Most of the range lies above 3000m, with several summits exceeding 4000m, including the second highest point in Ethiopia, Tullu Demtu, at 4377m. On the northern side, these mountains fall gradually into a treeless farming countryside. On the southern side, they fall more abruptly at the Harenna Escarpment into the thick tropical Harenna Forest. The Bale Mountains are home of some rare wildlife, including the Ethiopian wolf, and Afro-alpine plants.
The following map shows the location of Bale mountains in Ethiopia. The green dotted line depicts the road itinerary from Addis Ababa to the start of the trek. The blue dotted line is the return road itinerary, with a one-day stop in Awassa. The red line is a low-resolution sketch of the trek.
The following sketch shows the trek itinerary (red dotted line).
This 10-day trek started at a place called Botola (2500m) about 10km south of the small town of Dodola on the NW side of the Bale Mountains, and ended at Katcha in the Harenna Forest on their SE side. The first 5 days (from Botola to Morobawa) consisted of many ups and downs between 3000m and 3700m across wood and bush land. The following 3 days between Morobawa and Tohu (located just below the Harenna Escarpment) were spent between 3500m and 4100m in the Bale National Park, where the terrain is typically volcanic, with large valleys, rock pinnacles, soft peaks, and sparse vegetation. The last two days consisted of a descent into the Harenna Forest and a hike in this forest.
Overall, this is a very pleasant and easy trek. It only involves 5-6 hours of hiking daily with few hundred meters of cumulated elevation change. Despite their elevation, the Bale Mountains do not really feel like mountains, but more like hills and plateaus. However, the terrain turns out quite diverse with some surreal scenery. There are some monotonous sections of bush land and open valleys, but these can be covered quickly. I encountered few local people, mostly herders and farmers. One advantage is not to be the subject of faranji hysteria, but I nevertheless missed the excitement and cultural experience of the villages that I crossed during my 2012 trek. Interesting wildlife is often seen, but most animals are shy and stay away. Sadly, the best place to see some large animals (especially, nyalas) is near the Bale National Park HQ in Dinsho, where they are more accustomed to seeing humans and perhaps better protected. The Harenna forest brings much moisture to the mountains, leading to rain and even hail in the afternoon. In total, I saw only one couple of trekkers, at Wahoro and later again at Mololicho
As had already been the case for my 2012 trip to Ethiopia, the logistics for this Bale trip was perfectly organized by Solomon Berhe. Solomon has deep knowledge of all the regions in Ethiopia and always provides great service. My support team (arranged by Solomon) consisted of Alene (the English-speaking team leader), Hussen Deko (an excellent local guide from Dodola, who also speaks English), and Neguesso (a wonderful cook, also from Dodola). Horses were used to carry our main loads between campsites.
Following this trek, I spent one day in Awasa, a pleasant town located in the Rift Valley at the edge of Lake Awasa, and then a couple of days in Addis Ababa, where I visited the Merkato for the first time. The Merkato is a labyrinth of narrow bursting streets that is said to be the largest market in Africa.
Click the links below to see photos of the various parts of this trip: