Mt. Mulanje is the largest mountain in south central Africa. At its highest point, it rises 3002 meters high from the flat plains that surround it. It is called an island in the sky and creates a dramatic backdrop against the tea estates that surround it.
I’ve been to Mulanje before. I’ve eaten pizza at my favorite pizza restaurant, I’ve stayed at Kara O’Mula, I’ve visited the Mission hospital, I’ve seen where Sandy lived and worked when he lived there in 2005, and I’ve done the hour long hike to the waterfall. But I’ve never CLIMBED Mulanje. That’s because it’s the largest mountain in south central Africa – and I’m not is great shape.
But everyone loves it – Sandy’s done it several times, as have most of our friends. Hikes take anywhere from 4 to 7 hours to reach the plateau where there are different huts where you can spend the night. It’s necessary to have a guide and porters are a huge help.
It was recommended that we climb up to Minunu hut via the Ruo Gorge. I was excited but nervous, knowing that the four hour hike would be tough, hoping that once I was at the hut, I would love it.
Six of us planned to go last Saturday so we borrowed sleeping bags, packed snacks and food for dinner, and headed an hour south to Mulanje. The drive, once we got to Lujeri tea estate, was one of the prettiest I’ve seen in Malawi, which says a lot. The bright green of the tea spread out on rolling hills at the foot of the massif was gorgeous.
We stopped to hire a guide and porters (a process that can sometimes be stressful but went very smoothly) and drove up to the starting point at the hydro electric plant. The plant was built in the twenties and supplies the whole estate with power. We passed the hydro electric dam after thirty minutes or so.
The first two and a half hours were really nice. The path was shaded, the vegetation think and rich, and we even saw blue monkeys. We stopped at a waterfall for lunch. The second half of the hike was much more difficult. In fact, it was pretty much straight up. The six of us played trivia games to keep our minds off the sheerness of the ascent. We made it, but several of us needed to stop regularly. While I was always mindful of the beauty of our surroundings, there was about thirty minutes when I was really hating life. We stopped to admire a waterfall that fell dozens of meters, water falling in buckets into a deep pool. We felt like we were the only people on the whole mountain.
Before I knew it, we had reached the plateau. It’s the best feeling of accomplishment. The hut was adorable – wooden frame and blue shutters. It was outfitted with mattresses, a fireplace, cooking utensils, and blankets. As the sun sank in the sky and we sat on the porch watching the clouds change colors, it got cooler. We had warm bucket baths, changed into warm clothes, and began cooking on the grate in the fireplace. A glass of wine and a good dinner made it all worth it.
We were in bed by eight and despite one of our group waking up with a mouse in her hair (my worst nightmare) we all had a good night. The next morning, the boys climbed most of the way up a peak and then we headed back down after a big breakfast.