The Simien Mountains National Park in Northern Ethiopia is an exotic setting with unique wildlife and breath-taking views on a landscape shaped by nature and traditional agriculture. The natural beauties of this region have always filled visitors from Ethiopia and abroad with awe. Gentle highland ridges at altitudes above 3600 meters above sea level (m asl), covered with grasses, isolated trees (Erica &bored) and the bizarre Giant Lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) are found on the high plateau that ends abruptly at 1000- to 2000-m deep escarpments.
Jaw-dropping plateaus, ridges, gorges and gullies characterise this UNESCO World Heritage Site. With some of the world’s best trekking routes, endemic wildlife and luxurious lodges perched in hills, the Simien Mountains are Ethiopia’s most popular destination, and for good reason.
What to Expect
Whether trekking and camping, staying in Ethiopia’s best lodges and enjoying the views, or perhaps evening indulging in the best of both worlds, the Simien Mountains are on of Ethiopia’s highlights. You can:
Debark, the junction town for the national park, lies 830km from Addis Ababa, 275km from Bahir Dar and 100km from Gondar along a surfaced road. It is 250km southwest of Aksum along a road that remains unsurfaced for much of its length. The 100km drive from Gondar to Debark takes up to two hours. Transport can be provided by any operator in Gondar and taxis are also available to do the run.
The entrance gate at Buyit Ras is 14km east of Debark. Transport there, or to any of the lodges or camps, can be arranged through the national park office in Debark or using local tour operators located in the main towns.
A trek to Sankaber Camp and back to Debark would normally last 3-4 days. The path from Debark to the National Park runs along the northern escarpment over a distance of approximately three kilometers. Before the spectacular view on the escarpment is unveiled, for the first few hours the path crosses numerous, small side valleys of the Belegez Val ey, which flows south of the Park. Aber leaving the refreshing eucalyptus groves that surround the town of Debark, the path leads through highland pastures at an altitude of 2800 m asl. The scenery is characterized by very steep fields and scarpered hamlets along the path. Cereals alternate with pasture, revealing an age-old, deeply-rooted system of rotational land use that James Bruce of Kinnard (1190) came across in the years 1770-1775 already, except that the now widespread eucalyptus trees had not yet been introduced at that time. The first physically strenuous passage is Sawre Hill. which has adequately been named ‘heart-break hill’. Here, for the first time the path winds up to an altitude of above 3100 m asl. The fields on both sides of the path offer insights into traditional agricultural practices. Despite the steepness of the slope, fields are cultivated every year using oxen for ploughing. On the Sawre Ridge, the path follows the gravel road, making a detour to the left of a small hill. Nearby, travelers must pay a visit to the official entrance of the Park to show their permit. Visitors then take the path that leads above the scattered settlement of Minthgebsa, which is a century-old trail to Chennek Camp eroded by heavy rains during rainy seasons. There are possibilities to proceed northward to the escarpment, which has some spectacular observation points.
A trek from Debark to Chennek Camp and back to Debark would normally take at least 6 days. From Sankaher Camp a path leads to Dch Camp, where visitors will enjoy the most impressive parts of the escarpment and find extensive areas of highland grasslands and heather forests. The trek starts with a descent into a depression formed by the upper course of the Wazla Valley (the Kaba fen). Two small detours to additional spots worth seeing are possible:
After the short ascent from the Kaba fen, the path leaves the gravel road to the left, and leads through several side valleys to the Jinbar Valley. A new level of human-made landscape emerges between 3150 and 3700 m asl: the barley cultivation level. In this area, cultivation is done in a two-year cycle. One side of the valley lies fallow, while the other side is planted. Slope steepness, cultivation, overgrazing, erosive rainfall and limited land resources lead to extensive soil erosion in this area (Hurni, 1978). After crossing the Jinbar River and embarking on the ascent to the settlements of Gich, the path runs along the upper barley cultivation line—which is also the tree line — to the Gich Camp scouts’ huts (3600 m asl).
Gich Camp is an ideal base for various excursions through highland steppe and to spectacular observation points on the ridge of the escarpment. These trips give one unforgettable views of the most impressive parts of the escarpment and offer good opportunities to observe wildlife. In the past, the stunning viewpoints above jagged cliffs also served as observation points for ibex research.
The trip from Gich Camp to Chennek Camp can be continued either on foot all along the escarpment (about 6 hours), or alo the track suitable for the pack animals (about 5 hours). The second route crosses Jinbar Valley to the southern ridge of Amber; from where it follows the gravel road to the upper course of Belegez Valley, where the easternmost Park facility of Chenni Camp (3620 m asl) is located.
A trek from Debark to Has Dejen and back to Debark or Ad Arkay would normally take at least 9-10 days. From Chennek Cam the path to Dejen Pass leads to Bwahit Pass – a two-hour ascent after which the view opens to the east over Mesheha Valley the Dejen mountain range. Although the distance seems to be modest, the summit of Ras Dejen (4533 m asl) still lies more tht 11 hours of trekking away from here.
After the ascent to Bwahit Pass, trekkers have to cross the Mesheha Valley. Treeless slopes. mostly planted with barley, sho advanced soil degradation and bear witness to an age-old human-made landscape that caught the eye of Eduard Rune (1838/40). Simien is thought to have been inhabited for more than 2000 years. but the region has experienced explosk population growth only in the last few decades. With the steep descent from the vegetation limit at Bwahit Pass down Mesheha Valley, the temperature increases noticeably. An increasing number of arid plants such as the Euphorbia (Euphorh, schimperiana)indicate that dryness increases towards the bottom of this mountain valley.
After crossing the chilly Mesheha River (at about 2800 m as’) — which can be impassable in the rainy season from June September — the long ascent all the way to Dejen Pass (4,260 m as!) begins. Fortunately. the pleasant camping ground i Ambikwa (3100 m as]) divides this long ascent into two stages.
At the beginning, the path wends its way through barley fields and fallow land; later, above 3700 m asl, it leads through mountain steppe up to the limits of grassy vegetation near the pass. On the left-hand side below the pass, between 4050 an 4250 m asl, a most impressive moraine from the last ice age that took place in the Simien Mountains can be distinguished. was formed about 20,000-14,000 years ago, when mountain tops had small ice caps. The last part of the ascent for Dejen Pass to the summit runs through an impressive area of frost-rubble, where vegetation is only occasional. The summit that is nearest to Mesheha Valley is two meters higher than the one to the east, and can be reached through a thirty-meter-high chimney that can be easily climbed by anyone.
Further ideas for visitors who intend to spend additional days in the Simon Mountains are offered below, though without details.
Within the limits of the &men Mountains National Park, some trails follow the foot of the escarpment, passing through the villages of Dirni and Muchila. Both villages have Scout Camps run by the National Park authorities. Beware that most of the trail leading back onto the high plateau require some climbing and are not suitable for pack animals.
An alternative return route from the summit of Ras Dejen through the village of Amffir is marked on the map. Instead of returning back to Debark after visiting the Park, some people prefer to head north to reach the main road near Ath Arkay. Camping sites an proposed on the map. From Arkwasiye the trail descends down into Ansiya Valley; a further camp can be set up in Mekarebye From there, the trail leads through Hawaza and Mulit (camp site). and then on to Adi Arkay, which is no longer far.
Another way of reaching Ras Dejen is through the Belegez Valley all the way up to Chennek Camp, leaving visits to the Gich an Sankaber Camps for the way back to Debark. Some visitors have even managed to walk all the way from the Simien Mountain National Park to faraway places such as the towns of Mekele, Aksum or even Lalibela. It goes without saying that such extensive trips require far more preparation than is necessary for a few days of trekking near Debark.
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