Mt. Mulanje Mountains rise up to 3000m above sea level and is clearly seen from a distance. There is no official name for this Mountain range, charmingly called ‘The Isles in the Sky’ by locals. Unlike the Scottish ‘Isle of Sky’, these islands are not surrounded by waters.
The name originates when low clouds cover the mountain range, towering peaks dot the sky like islands, touching and piercing high above. Quite appropriate. The area is also well known for its tea plantations.
I arrived early afternoon in Chitakale, setting up camp at ‘CCAP Likubalu Mission’, a missionary for unfortunate kids. A school group from Scotland arrived the day before and integrated with local kids for school, sports, play, and laughter. Really nice to see.
I met recommended and experienced guide Nenani to discuss a route for 3 nights/ 4 days up to the highest peak, Mt. Sapitwa. He seems friendly and knowledgeable, but he doesn’t smile much. For Malawian standards I mean, everyone is extremely friendly and smiley. Let’s see where this goes, shall we? We came up with the following route for the three of us, guide Nenani, Porter Charles and myself. Usage of huts, food, and cooking was included in the negotiated price.
On our first day, we set out from the mission on our own mission. We are hiking up to ‘Chambe Plateau ‘ to follow on to ‘Chisepo Hut’. This is a good 6-hour hike.
On day two we climb up Mt. Sapitwa to return to the same hut.
On day three, we leisurely hike to ‘Chambe Hut’ and explore the area, to then walk out on our fourth day. All this was weather permitting, of course, one just never knows in the mountains. Maybe the weather gods will be with me once more, one can hope.
It was a clear, calm sunny morning as we left, passing reforestation areas and
locals going on with their morning routine.
A large band of white clouds moved in from the west, sneaking up the slopes, just as we did.
This is how these mountains get their name ‘Islands in the Skies’.
Porter Charles disappeared quickly, carrying the heaviest load. Nenani then told me, that Charles had won the last 3 ‘porter races’ up these mountains. A 24 km race, running up these steep and slippery slopes is pure madness in my eyes, most locals run barefoot. Charles best time to complete the circuit was 2 hours and 20 minutes! National and international participants flock here for this spectacular.
We were climbing higher up this fairly steep track, called ‘skywalk track’.
A gondola operated from the plateau to the foothills quite a few years back, transporting chopped pine trees down to The Valley. The cable is still visible.
More and more clouds moved in, almost stalking us. Mulanje means my friend in local Chichewa language. They sure weren’t my friend today, sweat was pouring off every single gland.
We had a quick break on the plateau, revealing Mt. Chambe in impressive size.
In impressive size was the hole ripped in my shorts too, bigger and bigger with each step over large boulders.
Meanwhile, Nenani was revealing his Samuel L. Jackson impression. In the land of happy smiles, he seems quite the opposite. I think I need to dig a bit deeper here.
Normally when high up the plateau, elevation doesn’t change too much, unless climbing up mountain peaks.
That is all different here. Further up, and a long way down again, and up again of course. This really is a tough, but scenic track.
Alpine flowers appeared in colourful fashion.
With the flora was quite similar to the Chimanimani Mountains in some areas.
Lush, green forest in sunnier pockets, alpine meadows in more wind exposed areas. Covering clouds added to the spectrum. Nenani told me that all communities around this mountain care for the flora and fauna of Mt. Mulanje. Wood chopping is only allowed at a certain time of the year, by licensed choppers only. We met a few on our way up, carrying a thick wooden plank on their head, weighing at least 50 Kilos!!!
Fauna is really scarce here though. There used to be a fair amount of leopards here, but no one knows, if, or how many are still calling Mt. Mulanje their home. Servals and Caracal live up here, but these shy, small and well-camouflaged cats are rarely seen.
Crossing a few different plateaus and tracks, there was always a different view in other directions if allowed by low clouds.
We arrived eventually at ‘Chisepo Hut’, gateway and base camp to Mt. Sapitwa.
This will be our mission for tomorrow, but for now, it is a cold shower and change of clothing. This was a long hike. Leo from the UK arrived a short while later, we met at the mission yesterday. Two English girls returned later from an afternoon walk, as climbing Mt. Sapitwa was impossible an impossible task today. I met both at Doogles Backpackers over the weekend too. Small world it seems. The open fire was cracking, a kettle for hot tea stood on the grill, thanks to the ‘caretaker’ of Chisepo Hut. Wild peppermint grows up here and is just added to the hot water for a healthy, organic peppermint tea. Gotta be happy with that. Nenani and Charles were greeted by other porters and guides in African fashion, they all know each other quite well. Good to see Nenani smiling too.
For me, it was time to assess the conditions of my shorts. It’s not looking good for further use, but since they are the only shorts I brought, they will have to survive these mountains. Nenani served chicken, rice, and vegetables which tasted really nice. I was hungry and needed to add some protein fuel for tomorrow’s hike. Two Belgian couples arrived late from a different track. They were happy enough to pitch their tents in front of the hut. A wee chat with fellow hikers in front of a warming fire, before it was time for bed.