Simien Mountains: Breathtaking Mountain Ranges, Clare Bottle

In February 2011, Clare Bottle, current Chair of Women in logistics UK and a group of transport industry professionals raised £32,000 for charity group Transaid by trekking over 60km through the spectacular scenery of Ethiopia.

Transaid is an international UK development charity that aims to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods across Africa and the developing world through creating better transport. The organization was founded by Save the Children and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and our Patron is HRH the Princess Royal.

The trip started in Addis Ababa with a trail though dramatic landscapes, in awe of the Simien Mountains, and observed some of Africa’s most famous animals and birds, with a finish in the historical town of Gonder.

EthioSports.com posed the following questions to Clare Bottle.

Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself?

I work as a Logistics Specialist and in my spare time I Chair a networking organization called Women in Logistics UK. I have been an avid supporter of our industry charity, Transaid, for several years. I’m 38 years old and I live in Warrington, Cheshire with my husband and teenage son.

Did you book your flight online or use the services of a Travel & Tour company?

Our fundraising trek was organised by the charity, Transaid. They used the services of a specialist charity tour operator, Classic Tours. I understand that Transaid has a long-standing relationship with Classic Tours, who specialise in operating charitable events all over the world.

What airline did you take? How long was your flight?

We flew overnight from Heathrow to Addis Ababa (about 8 hours) and then took a short flight from Addis Ababa to Gonder (about 1 hour) the next day. Both flights were with Ethiopian Airlines.

Was this your first trip to Ethiopia? If so, what are some of your impressions about the country, its people and culture?

Yes, this was my first trip to Ethiopia, although I have previously visited three other African countries (Nigeria, Morocco and Zambia). I found the countryside in the Simien Mountains spectacularly beautiful. The people surprised me in many ways. In particular, I was amazed to find that so many people could speak English; hotel staff, most market traders and even some of the children we met in the mountains could address us in our own language. Another revelation was the elegant Amharic script which is unlike any other written language and has over 250 different characters. I was humbled by everyone’s strong grasp of their country’s history. I would struggle to name Britain’s former monarchs, but Ethiopians seem routinely familiar with the genealogy and dates of the Solomonic emperors.

How many days did you stay in Ethiopia? And where did you stay?

Our trip took 9 days, but because we flew overnight twice, we only stayed 6 nights in Ethiopian accommodation. First, we spent one night in a hotel in Addis Ababa, then a night at the Goha Hotel in Gonder. After that we had three nights under canvas at successive campsites in the Simien Mountain National Park. Finally, we spent another night at the Goha Hotel before our transfer back to Addis and flight home.

What was your expectation of the country before you left the UK?

As a teenager in the 1980s, I thought Ethiopia was synonymous with drought and famine. When I began to prepare for my trip, I learned that this legacy has blighted the country. I was also aware of coffee as an important export and I knew there was political strife in neighbouring Somalia. Aside from this, I was quite ignorant about Ethiopia and I’ve been pleased to have the opportunity of learning something about its culture and history.

Has your initial expectation about the country changed or remains the same after the trip?

My opinion of Ethiopia has changed. On reflection, I now appreciate the pride that Ethiopian people have in their country’s position as the cradle of humankind. I found that the arrangements for trekking, (the guides & scouts and the campsites), were better organised that I had expected, but I have mixed feelings about encouraging other tourists to go! On one hand, I can see that tourism is a great economic opportunity for Ethiopia, but on the other hand, it was refreshing to spend time in such a vast unspoilt landscape and I think the experience was richer because it remains remote and deserted. And I didn’t see any evidence of drought or famine, although I did observe some people living in unacceptable conditions of poverty, particularly in the capital city.

If there was one thing that amazed or surprised you about this trip, what was it?

There were lots of modern buildings under construction, especially in Addis Ababa. It’s a trivial comment, but I found it really amusing to see the scaffolding was all made of wooden branches, expertly lashed together. It’s very common in Ethiopia, but I’ve never seen that kind of scaffolding before!

What were some of the challenges that you faced?

I didn’t like the basic toilets and lack of washing facilities during the trek, but I suppose that is typical for this kind of adventure. I also found it surprisingly cold at night and I didn’t sleep very well when we were camping. There were parts of the trek which were scary because we had to walk alongside a precipitous drop, climb over a narrow ledge or descend a steep hillside. But the views are indescribably stunning, so it was worth it!

Can you describe the trek?

We drove part-way into the park on a dirt road and started our trek near the main Simien Lodge. On the first day we trekked to Sankaber. On day two we saw the Jinbar Waterfall which is over 500m high. Then we trekked up a steep path from the Jinbar River to Gich village which cannot be reached by road. On day three we went to Inatye and saw some of the most breathtaking views across the surrounding mountain ranges. We stayed overnight at Chennek and then climbed Ras Bwahit (14,500 feet – half the height of Mount Everest!). We didn’t go to the highest peak in the Simien Mountains, Ras Dashen, as it’s only possible to reach it by undertaking a longer trek of about seven days. Throughout the trek we were accompanied by a local guide and two scouts armed with AK47s. I was pleased to learn that the guns are not loaded, although they do carry ammunition (mainly in case of hyenas). Most of our luggage along with a copious supply of bottled water was carried by mules. There was a local chef who prepared an exceptionally delicious and plentiful three-course meal every night, using only a single gas-ring carried by one of the mules.

How long did it take you to complete the trek?

It took nearly four days. We started the trek at lunchtime on Monday and finished it on Thursday afternoon. Each night we reached our campsite before it went dark. On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings we got started by 8am, but on Thursday morning we started much earlier, getting up at 5am and setting off in the dark at 6am.

Did you know the other trekkers before? If not, would you say that was an advantage or disadvantage?

We were a team of twelve – 10 fundraising trekkers, plus a Tour Manager and a Doctor. I knew one of the trekkers, because she works for Transaid. I had met a couple of the others when we went for an Ethiopian meal in London in preparation for the trip. I hadn’t met most of them, but the fact we were all trekking in support of a common cause meant that we quickly bonded as a team.

From an adventure sports’ perspective, how do you rate the trek? And would you recommend it to friends & colleagues?

I am an inexperienced amateur, not an accomplished trekker, so it is difficult to make a comparative judgment. I enjoy occasional walks in the UK countryside, but trekking in Ethiopia was more challenging than that for three reasons. First, the extremes of temperature ranged from 0oC in the early morning to 30oC in the middle of the day. Second, I have never been above 2,000m altitude before: all of our party suffered persistent shortness of breath which meant you couldn’t walk as fast as you normally would at home. Thirdly, some parts of the route were very steep uphill. I would definitely recommend it, but for anyone of below average fitness, like me, it would be essential to do some training before undertaking the trek.

Would you do it again if you have the chance?

Yes!

Do you have any advice that you want to pass on to other aspiring trekkers?

The terrain is quite physically demanding, but as an inexperienced trekker, I found that after doing a few weeks’ training before departure and then taking the walk at a steady pace, it was much more of an enjoyable experience.

For more information about Clare Bottle and Transaid, please visit their websites: Clare Bottle –  Transaid.

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