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Malawi Trekking

Trekking in Malawi-Highlights

The main areas for hiking are the Nyika Plateau in the north of Malawi and Mt. Mulanje in the south. Other areas include the Zomba Plateau and various smaller peaks around Blantyre. An interesting place to visit on foot is Mwala Wa Mphini (the rock of the tribal face scars), which is just off the main dirt road into Cape Maclear, about five km from the park headquarters.The huge boulder is a national monument covered in lines and patters which seem to have been gouged out by long-forgotten artists, but are in fact a natural geological formation. If you want a longer walk, a small lakeside path leads southwest from Otter Point, through woodland above the shore, for about four kilometres to a small fishing village called Msaka. From here a track leads inland (west) to meet the main dirt road between Cape Maclear and Monkey Bay. Turn left and head back towards Cape Maclear, passing Mwala Wa Mphini on the way. The whole circuit is about 16 km and takes about four or five hours.


Nyika Plateau

Chelinda Camp lies at the centre of the extensive network of roads and paths that cover the Nyika Plateau. An 8km round walk from Chelinda to two dams offers good game viewing, with frequent sightings of roan antelope and wattled crane. Another good short walk leaves Chelinda from behind Chalet Four, taking you to the Kasaramba turn-off, then left along Forest Drive and back to Chelinda through the pine plantation, where leopards are often seen towards dusk. Guided overnight hikes can be organised through the management of Chelinda Lodge, assuming you bring your own camping equipment and food.

Mt. Mulanje

Mt. Mulanje rising steeply and suddenly from an undulating plain in the extreme south of Malawi is roughly square, measuring about 30km west and 25km north to south, with an area of at least 600sq km. On its northeast corner is Mchese Mountain separated from the main massif by the Fort Lister Gap.

Trekking information

Several peaks above 2500m exist on mount Mulanje, and these can be reached without technical climbing.

Mulanje Traverse

The first section of the route, up onto the of the massif, is steep but steps have been cut for much of the way. Routes from the huts up to the peaks vary: some are clear, although still strenuous. A trek on the route takes five days and four nights.

The Chambe-Lichenya Loop

This is a shorter trek and keeps to the western side of the massif. It traverses through two of Mulanje's largest basins, with some spectacular views from the edge of the western escarpment. A trek on this route takes three days and two nights.

Accomodation in Blantyre

There exists a wide range of facilities to choose from, most of them within walking distance of the city centre. Bottom end places include Wayfares Lodge, a dedicated back packers’ place and the Grace Bandawe Conference Centre, a small church hostel on Chileka Rd, about two kilometres from the city centre. On the middle and end class, choices include the Nyambadwe Cottage in the quiet suburb of Nyambadwe, off Chileka Rd. Blantyre's best is perhaps the Mount Soche Hotel, part of South African-run Protea chain, replete with international-standard ensuite with air-con and TV.

Mulanje Town

Mulanje Motel is just downhill from the bus station. Next-door is the Mulanje View Motel. Camping is possible at the Mulanje Golf Club, on the eastern outskirts of town.

Likabula

The Forestry Resthouse is just uphill from the Forest Station. Camping is possible on the grounds. The Likabula CCAP Mission Guesthouse is next to the forest station.

On Mt Mulanje

There are forestry huts, which can be used for sleeping but guests, provide for their own food and sleeping gear.

Getting there and away

The nearest city to Mt Mulanje is Blantyre. Access to the town is either by air or road. Mulanje town, just at the foot of the mountain is linked to Blantyre by a tarred road. Regular local buses and minibuses ply between the two centres.

Park fees

No charge is made to enter the forest reserve but hut or camping fees are paid at the Likabula Forest Station before proceeding onto the massif.

A Mulanje Traverse: Stage 1: Likabula Forest Station to Chambe Hut.

7km, 2-4 hours, 1000 ascent From the forest station follow the signposted Chambe Plateau Path up through the compound. After 10 minutes you'll reach a junction. Fork left, signposted 'Chambe Plateau'. The right track, signposted 'Chapaluka Path, Bottom Skyline Station', also leads to Chambe Hut- this route takes longer (3.5 to 5 hours), but it's less steep and more scenic, and is preferred by some walkers.

The main path climbs very steeply, up steps in places, parallel to the Skyline (see the boxed text on 'Mulanje Pine'). After 1.5 to three hours (depending on your rate of ascent) the path nears the edge of the Chambe Plateau and aims towards the skyline station (150 to the right). Take a small steep path up to the left for 100m to reach a track on level ground. There's a shelter here, sometimes used by people preparing food for the forest workers. Go straight across the track and follow a path down through pine forest to cross a stream on a log bridge. (If the water is high, go upstream about 200m where there's a larger bridge.) When you reach another track, turn right and continue through pine plantation. Ignore the tracks forking off left. The Chapaiuka Path joins from the right. Half an hour from the food shelter, you reach a junction by a bridge. Turn right, cross the bridge, and then turn immediately left. Keep on the track, turning right onto a footpath to reach Chambe Forest Station, one hour from the skyline station.

Follow the track through the compound, then down to the right to reach Chambe Hut, standing apart from the other buildings, overlooking an area of short grass next to a stream. There are good views of the southeast face of Chambe Peak from the hut veranda.

Sidetrack: Chambe Hut to Chambe Peak Summit

3-4 hours, 1000m ascent;
Plus 2-3 hours descent from the hut, follow the track back towards the forestry compound. Cross an area of open ground, and go down a grassy bank to meet another track. Turn right and follow this track, across two wooden bridges. Fifteen minutes from the compound take a path on the right up through plantation and tend right in front of a huge grey rock wall (the eastern end of the south-west face of Chambe), to reach a large boulder on the left. Scramble up this, with the help of steps cut in a log, and then up bare rock to reach easier ground. To the right is a small stream in a narrow wooded gully; this is the last water point.

About one hour from the hut, the path reaches a col. Turn left here and go up the crest of the ridge, following cairns, and avoiding false trails which contour off to the right. The path levels, dips slightly, then climbs again to reach a small cliff (5m high) at the of a bare rock slope. Turn right along the base of the cliff, then go up again to reach a large cairn on a broad level part of the ridge at the foot of the main face (two to 21/2 hours from the hut).

You might be happy with reaching this point, which offers excellent views over the Chambe Basin to the escarpment edge and the plains far below. The next stage of the route requires some steep scrambling which can be intimidating -and should definitely be avoided after rain. From the cairn, a grassy slope is visible on the lower right side of the main face. To the right of this is a thin strip of bare rock. The path follows this strip to reach the foot of a shallow gully running down a steep cliff. The route goes straight up the gully. This is the most difficult section of the route and great care should be taken. Near the of the gully, you reach a steep cliff, sloping down left to right. Keep right here, out of the gully, and follow cairns over to the right side of the ridge. Continue upwards, just to the right of the crest of the ridge, towards the apparent summit (the highest point visible). The path crosses boulders, then bare flat rock, to reach the foot of a bulging cliff with a boulder gully at its right side. Scramble up this gully and continue following cairns, keeping to the right of the ridge. Aim first towards the apparent summit, visible ahead, then towards the foot of a high (25m) rounded buttress at the left (northeast) end of the summit ridge. At the foot of the buttress turn left and up, then tend right, keeping the main cliff to your right. Where the cliff becomes less steep, turn right to scramble up several grooves in the rock to reach the ridge crest. Turn left (southwest) to follow the ridge across easier ground to the summit (2557m), marked by a large concrete and metal beacon which is not visible until you're almost on it.

The views from the summit of Chambe Peak in clear weather are superb; you can see most of Mulanje's main peaks, and much of the western side of the massif. Long stretches of the escarpment that surrounds the massif can also be seen, and below this the plains stretch out towards the Zomba Plateau in the north and the mountains of Mozambique in the south. It is often possible to see the waters of Lake Chilwa to the north-east and on very clear days Lake Malombe, at the southern tip of Lake Malawi, can also be seen. To get back to Chambe Hut, retrace the route. Go slowly on the way down; it's easy to go off route, and just as easy to slip and fall on some of the steeper sections.

Stage 2: Chambe Hut to Thuchila Hut 12km,

4-5 hours The path towards Thuchila starts at Chambe Forest Station, passes about 50m to the south-west of Charnbe Hut, and leads uphill, along the edge of pine plantation, following a wide firebreak. It can be complicated to find as there are other paths all over the place, so if you haven't got a porter ask the hut caretaker to show you the first half km or so. After 10 minutes, fork left as the path climbs steeply up through boulders. At a second fork, after another 10 minutes, take the right path through plantation and indigenous woodland before rejoining the firebreak. The path tends up and left across bare rock, then drops to cross a stream. Follow the path up to a small col and then along the left side of a steep valley. Drop to a large col, where the Chambe Basin is joined to the main massif, and contour around the side of a small hill, passing through woodland to reach a junction (about one to IIlJ. hours from the hut).

From the junction, keep straight on, up a steep path. (The path to the right leads to the old Lichenya Hut.) To the left are fine views down into the Thuchila Valley. The path reaches its highest point and begins to drop through the grassland of the Thuchila Plateau. About two hours from Chambe hut, you reach Chisepo Junction. The path on the right leads up to the summit of Sapitwa Peak (see Sidetrack in this stage).

Keep straight on, following the clear path, across several streams (some with large pools) to meet a firebreak, and tend left round the head of a large valley. Continue down the side of the valley to cross more streamS' and rivers, either by wooden bridges or by paddling. These are all the headwaters of the ThuchilaRiver. At a fork, the right path leads to forestry workers' houses; keep straight on for 200m to a crossroads and turn right to Thuchila Hut.
If you sidetracked up Sapitwa, you will probably be pleased to spend the night here. If you didn't, you could carry on to Chinzama Hut.

Sidetrack: Chisepo Junction to Sapitwa Peak Summit

3-5 hours, BOOm ascent; plus 2-4 hours descent The summit of Sapitwa is the highest point on the massif, at 3001m (some maps have 3002m). You can walk to the , but it's a toughie, and the upper section involves some scrambling and tricky walking among large boulders and dense vegetation. ('Sapitwa' in the local language means 'don't go there'.) If you're feeling fit, you could divert from the route between Chambe and Thuchila huts and go up to Sapitwa summit and back. Large rucksacks could be hidden in the bushes and collected again afterwards. Alternatively, spend two nights at either Chambe or Thuchila Hut and do Sapitwa on the day in between. However, Chisepo Junction, the start of the route, is about halfway between the two huts, so this doesn't save much time: it's still going to be a long day. If you're doing Sapitwa from either Chambe or Thuchila, add another four to five hours onto the times for doing the peak itself. H you do run out of time, the small Chisepo Shelter, near the junction, provides some basic protection. (Some hardy hikers bivvy here.)

From the junction, pass the shelter and cross a stream. Turn left and follow the broad ridge that aims roughly towards the summit. The route is clearly shown, for most of the way, by red marks painted on the rocks, so step-by-step directions are unnecessary. The paint spoils the image of untouched wilderness, but it ss a lot of people from getting lost- and there are a few marks missing, just to keep you on your toes! As you get near the summit you can see the , but the route winds tortuously through an area of huge boulders and dense vegetation.

The views from the , when you do finally make it, are worth the slog. On a clear day, you get a panoramic vista of the whole plateau, the other nearby peaks, the edge of the escarpment and the plains far below.

Stage 3: Thuchila Hut to Sombani Hut, via Chinzama Hut

12km, 4-5 hours
From Thuchila Hut, retrace to the main path and turn right to reach a bridge and junction. Turn right (straight on leads to Lukulezi, also called Tinyade), and follow the path as it climbs over bare rock and through bush to reach a col and junction. Take the left path (the right path leads to Minunu Hut) and drop down into a valley, keeping left to contour round the valley side. Cross several fire breaks, but avoid dropping towards the valley bottom until the hut is visible on the opposite side of the valley. At a clear junction, about two hours from Thuchila Hut, turn right to drop down into the valley, cross two streams and climb steeply up to reach Chinzama Hut, after another 10 minutes.

From Chinzama Hut aim eastwards until the path climbs a small rise with a firebreak on the left and a narrow path forking off to the right. A signpost points back to Chinzama Hut. Take the narrow path as it heads right and climbs up the valley side, through grass and bush and across patches of rocks, to reach a small col. Cross into the next valley, and drop through rolling grassland, crossed by several firebreaks, to reach a junction. Take the left path (the right path leads to Madzeka Hut) and go through grassland to cross a wooden bridge and some small streams (no water during the dry season). The firebreak swings left; take the narrow path straight on, through woodland and plantation, to cross another small stream and reach a fork. The left path leads outside the plantation; the right path climbs through the trees to reach Sombani Hut, about two hours from Chinzama Hut.

Sidetrack: Sombani Hut to Namasile Peak Summit

2.5-3 hours, 600m ascent; plus 1.5-1.5hours descent Namasile Peak is the large mountain that dominates the view across the Sombani River valley, directly opposite Sombani Hut From the hut, the south-east face of Namasile is clearly visible, appearing almost vertical. The path to the summit, steep in places but not technically difficult, spirals round the north side of the mountain and approaches the summit from the west (the 'back' of the mountain when viewed from Sombani Hut). From the hut aim north down a clear path to cross the stream in the valley bottom on a wooden bridge. On the opposite bank is a fork. Keep straight on (right leads towards the Fort Lister Gap), up a fIrebreak to its end. To the right is a small pool (sometimes dry).

Head left, for sOm, to reach a large sloping rock slab to the right of the path. Go up the slab and follow the path, marked by cairns but indistinct in places, aiming towards a low point in the ridge ahead. To the left is a small stream in a valley. The path tends towards this stream, and crosses it between two groups of waterfalls, about half an hour from the hut. This is the last reliable water point.

After crossing the stream, pass to the right of a very large boulder, and then aim west north-west up towards a low point on the ridge (actually a false ridge), immediately to the right of the main cliffs of the mountain. A very large undercut boulder lies at the centre of this apparent low point. Pass to the left of this to reach the of the false ridge. Now aim for a low point in the next ridge directly to the right of the main cliffs. You'll reach the foot of the main cliffs about Ilh to two hours from the hut.

Continue up through grass and bush, keeping the base of the main cliffs on your immediate left, to enter a broad gully, covered with vegetation, separating the main cliffs of Namasile from a minor peak lying to the north. Go up the broad gully towards a small col but, before reaching the col, head steeply left and up towards the main summit. The summit beacon is visible at the highest point. You'll think you're nearly there, but now comes the hard bit! The path crosses bare rock and enters an area of large boulders and dense vegetation. The path is marked by cairns, but care should be taken not to get lost on this section. Beyond the boulders the summit beacon is again visible, although the path does not aim directly for it, but zigzags up over boulders and grassy slopes below the beacon to curve round the summit area and approach it from the north-east. Scramble over large rocks to reach the summit beacon (2687m), about three hours from the hut.

Views from the summit of Namasile Peak are excellent: over the north-eastern side of Mt Mulanje across the Ruo and Madzeka basins and the upper part of the Sombani River valley. To the north-east the escarpment drops to the Fort Lister Gap, with the separate peak of Mchese beyond. Return to Sombani Hut by the same route. Take care on the way down; it's easy to miss cairns and go off route. Allow 1.5 to 2.5 hours for the total descent.

Stage 4: Sombanl Hut to Madzeka Hut 9km, 3-4 hours

From Sombani Hut retrace Stage 3 back to the junction. Keep straight on (right goes to Chinzama and Thuchila), then drop steeply to cross a stream in a narrow valley by a 'danger' sign. The path climbs out of the valley then passes through undulating grassland, across a wooden bridge in bad condition, then up to cross two small cols separated by a swampy basin. The path drops towards the valley, following a firebreak. About two hours from Sombani Hut you 'II reach a fork, marked by a stone pole, where the firebreak aims straight on. Take the left path. Ten minutes on, a path to the left goes towards Nayawani. Keep straight on, down the clear path, across several small bridges, to reach Madzeka Hut after another hour.

Sidetrack 1 : Madzeka Hut to Nayawani North Peak Summit

111'z-2 hours, 440m ascent;
plus 1-11h hours, descent
There are no major peaks that can be easily reached from Madzeka Hut, but Nayawani North is a pleasant little summit. This stroll can be turned into a longer circular walk, taking in the dramatic northern ridge of the mountain (see Sidetrack 2).
From Madzeka Hut, cross the stream that runs past the hut and follow the firebreak (zigzagging steeply in the final section) to a col between the peaks of Nayawani North and South. (From the col the path drops to reach Nayawani Shelf, a rounded terrace covered in natural woodland, on the north east slope of Nayawani South.)

From the col, turn left (north) to follow a firebreak. Cross a section of steep rock slabs (slippery after rain, avoidable by scrambling up the boggy tussock grass to the side) to reach Nayawani North Peak (2285m), which offers an excellent panoramic view of the south-eastern part of Mt Mulanje. Descend by the same route.

Sidetrack 2: Nayawanl Ridge CircuIt

8km, 311'z-5 hours, 440m ascent
This is an excellent route, with fine views from the ridge, but it follows firebreaks for much of the way, and these are steep and rocky, or overgrown and indistinct, in places, and can be quite strenuous, especially if you have already done a long walk to reach Madzeka Hut.

From Madzeka Hut follow the description given in Sidetrack I to reach the summit of Nayawani North after Ilh to two hours. continue to follow the firebreak along the crest of the ridge, which is steep and narrow in places. There are excellent views down into the Muloza Valley on the right (east) and to the Madzeka Basin on the left (west).

About two to 2Y2 hours from the hut, the path/firebreak descends to a distinct col, crossed at right angles by a firebreak running down into the valleys on either side. Turn left (west), to follow the right side of the valley down towards the floor of the Madzeka Basin. The going is tough when the grass is high. Keep right, to avoid losing too much height, then meet another firebreak that contours along the side of the main ridge. Turn right onto this firebreak and follow it up the valley (north then north-west), crossing several other firebreaks, to reach a large stream that flows along a wide (lOrn to ISm) strip of exposed rock down the centre of the Mad zeka Basin, about 45 minutes to one hour from the col.

Cross the stream (which may be impassable after heavy rain) and follow the fire break uphill until it meets the main path running from Sombani and Chinzama to Madzeka Hut. Turn left onto this path and follow it down the valley to reach Madzeka Hut, about I Y2 to two hours after crossing the large stream.

Stage 5: Madzeka Hut to Lujeri Estate

9km, 3-5 hours, 1100m descent This section may be impassable. See the warning above, and take one of the alternative routes suggested if necessary. From Madzeka Hut follow the path that heads south-west, across a stream, and down into the large Ndiza Valley (also called the LittleRuo Valley). You'll pass through dense woodland in steep-sided tributary valleys, and over open grassland on the dividing spurs. The path crosses bare rock slabs on the edge of the escarpment and then begins to drop very steeply down almost vertical cliffs. Ladders and staircases have been positioned on the steepest sections. To the left (east) of the path the Ndiza (Little Ruo) River plunges off the escarpment in a spectacular waterfall. Far below, the smooth green fields of the Lujeri tea plantations can be seen.

Continue going down. Your progress will probably be slow: the path is very steep in places, and some of the ladders are rotten, but the views are spectacular. (Great care should be taken when descending in wet conditions.) Three to four hours from Madzeka Hut, the path finally begins to level out and enter conifer plantation, then the outskirts of Nadonetsa, a scattered village. To get through the village, follow the path, fork right, and cross a small stream. A path joins from the right; keep left at the next junction, enter small fields of tea, pass down the village main street, fork right and cross a small bridge. A path joins from the right.

Continue straight on, pass more huts, fork right, and pass some large white huts on the right, to cross the (Big) Ruo River on a large steel and concrete footbridge. (There's a fair chance of getting lost here; if in doubt ask for directions to the big bridge. Local kids will be happy to guide you here, or all the way to Office No 3, so keep some change handy for small tips.) From the bridge, the path runs parallel and to the right (west) of the river and then heads right, through tea, to meet a dirt road. Turn left onto this, keeping straight on at all junctions to reach Office No 3, a collection of low white buildings on the left side of the road, about half an hour from the large bridge.

Lujeri Estate to the Main Road From

Office No 3 it's still13km to the main road that goes back to Mulanje town and Blantyre. You may be lucky and find somebody in the office with a car or a tractor who can help you with a lift. If you're out of luck, you'll have to start walking. From the office, follow the dirt road through the tea plantation, aiming generally south, away from the massif. After 3km, turn sharp right at ajunction towards the large buildings of the tea factory. then right again, keeping the factory on the left, over a large river bridge. Turn left at a junction. and follow this road for about 9krn to reach the main tarred road. It'll take you three to four hours to do this walk, depending on the state of your knees after the descent from Madzeka, When you reach the main road, Mulanje town and Blantyre are to the right (west), Wait here for a bus (several each day) or hitch.

Alternative Descent: Sombani Hut to Fort Lister Gap

5km. 2-3'hours
This is an alternative descent to take if the route described above is not possible due to the ladders on Stage 5 being damaged, From Sombani hut aim north down a clear path to cross the stream in the valley bottom on a wooden bridge, On the opposite bank is a fork. Go right (straight on leads towards Narnasile Peak), through plantation and grassland, over another bridge, left at two forks and then down towards the gap itself. The path leads through some patches of indigenous forest, with great views over the surrounding plains, and keeps descending, although it is not as steep as the Chambe path corning up, and nowhere near as precipitous as the route from Madzeka down to Lujeri. There's a lot of forks, so a porter is useful to show you the way. If you're hiking alone though, the rule of thumb at every fork is 'keep going down'. For the last section you follow a dirt track. Camping is possible at Fort Lister Forest Station (US$O.35).

Fort LIster Gap to Phalombe

From Fort Lister Gap to Phalombe village is another 8km along the dirt road. It is in bad condition and there's very little traffic, so you'll have to walk (about two hours), but it's pleasant enough -through a couple of small villages. Most porters include this section in the fee you pay for the final day. From Phalombe you can get a bus or pickup back to Likabula or Mulanje. One bus a day goes direct to Limbe and Blantyre (US$3), on the 'old road' (to the north of the main road through Thyolo). There's also transport to Zomba.

Rock Climbing

Mulanje is Malawi’s main climbing area, with some spectacular routes (including the longest in Africa), although local climbers also visit smaller crags and outcrops around the country. The Guide to Mulanje Massif describes many climbing routes.

Last Updated on Thursday 26th November 2009

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