Hiking is a long, vigorous walk usually on trails (footpaths). It is a popular activity with numerous hiking organizations worldwide, and studies suggest that all forms of walking have health benefits. According to hikers, hauling oneself up a stony path in unfamiliar areas is a very enjoyable and relaxing activity. Here in Addis Ababa hikers say that the activity is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, writes Tibebeselassie Tigabu.
One of the ancient monasteries, Debre Damo, is located on a flat-topped mountain some 2,200m above sea level. Located on an isolated mountain in northern part of Tigray, the monastery is unique compared with most Ethiopian monasteries. Founded in the sixth century AD by Abuna Aregawi it is accessible only by rope up a sheer cliff, 50 feet high.
With the exception of a few footholds on the way up and a ledge about highway to get on top of this sheer cliff one has to use a thick rope (made of animal skin). This is one of the ancient churches that need persistence and endurance reach to the final destination.
For more than four hundred years the monks use this rope to go up and down as part of their daily routine. Pilgrims are also required to climb in the same manner. Metaphorically speaking, mountains symbolize divinity and many of the Ethiopian Orthodox, Churches including the one at Mount Ziquala, which is situated some 3,000m above sea level, are constructed on mountainous terrains.
Though climbing these mountains is an arduous task for visitors it has been a way of life for local inhabitants for thousands of years regardless of age or gender. Though it is a daily routine for the nearby communities, people from other areas go to these mountains as an adventure.
Hiking is one of the adventurous sports and many have climbed some of the highest mountains including Mount Everest. They also try to hike on difficult terrains. One of those difficult terrains is Mount Hua Shan, China. A lot of pilgrims have climbed to the temples on the five spires of Mount Hua Shan for centuries. Almost all of the climbs are treacherous, with nearly vertical stairways and few handholds. However, the plank trail to the south mountain is a different story. Believed to be one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, it consists of wooden platforms bolted onto the mountainside. Trekkers need to be tied to an iron chain paralleling the boards, which hover thousands of feet above the ground. Even getting to the trail is difficult and includes a climbing up of a vertical rebar staircase. At one point the planks disappear entirely and hikers must use small divots carved into the rock. There are no official death statistics, but the unofficial estimate is that 100 people per year die on Hua Shan. Multiply that over centuries and it maybe the deadliest peak in the world. Hikers from all over the world go to many mountains in the world even in places such as Hua Shan that has a reputation for fatal falls. For some, the reason for hiking it is the adrenalin push and looking for adventurous risks. However, there are also those who hike for health benefits, pilgrimage and entertainment.
Many hikers also come to Ethiopia to hike on the Semien Mountains.
With over twenty peaks towering above 4000m including Ras Dashen, which rises some 4620m above sea level, Semein Mountains has become an attraction site for trekkers who are inspired by challenges.
In this regard, it is not only tourists who are attracted to hiking the tallest peak in Ethiopia. Ethiopians from different urban centers are taking hiking as a hobby. While surfing on the web about Ethiopian hiking one might stumble on page called Addis Hiking Group. This is a group of people who love adventure, explore the beauty of nature and build friendship along the way. The group explores the terrains of Addis and also looks for new routes.
This Sunday they also plan to start at Sanusi near Asko area and hike all the way through the Gulele Botanical Garden that covers 12km. Their destination is to reach 2,783m sea level mark on Sullta hills. Wearing the same T-shirt many of them post their experience on Facebook. Their recent hiking from Menagesha to Sebeta, which required the crossing of dense bushes, covered some 14.3km. They reached 2,547m above sea level passing through the Suba forest. Biniam Shirfo and six of his friends established this hiking group two years ago.
For Biniam, who is a gym trainer, hiking is a very natural thing. Even before joining this group, he used to hike on his own from his house located around Torhayloch area all the way Shiro Meda then to Sululta. Though he did not mind being a loner, meeting other hikers changed the whole process into something communal. After coming together they decided to look for other people who share their passion and started this Facebook group. They do hiking every now and then and also prepare various events and celebrate that with hiking. One of them is an international global wellness day that brought together more than 30 hikers. This is not a group that takes dangerous routes. Rather it is still in its formative stage and it is Biniyam’s and his friends’ responsibility to make sure the road and the area is safe. They trek the area first with the neighborhood boys and mark the distance by dividing it in kilometers. After making sure the area is safe they take the whole group to the hiking area. The first thing they do is orientation about resting stops and the whole process of hiking. The group also prepares sandwiches, snacks and water.
Each participant also has to pay 200 birr to be part of the hiking team. Though the number of the hikers is growing, Biniyam does not hide the fact that many come not only for hiking but also looking for other fun activities. Biniyam, who loves hiking, says that he discovered the terrains of Addis and its neighborhoods through walking and exploring. One of the toughest hikings they did so far is at Debrelibanos where they had to endure the scorching sun without any shade. He says that they walked the hill for hours. Still, Biniam is too careful not to expose in risky hiking journeys. They had a plan to do hiking in Yereer that was interrupted when Biniyam heard it was not safe. Some of the territories are not well marked or trekked which is challenging for Biniyam. He had a experience where he was lost; however, now he says that is highly unlikely that it would happen. They use mobile applications like Samsung Health and Google Maps to find their way and make sure that the route is safe for hiking. But this was not easy since they have to ask approval from some government offices.
“It is taken as people aimlessly wondering in different areas and they do not understand the health benefit associated with it,” Biniyam says.
That is also one of the reasons they decided to get registered as an organization and get a license. Many children are adventurous and want to wander around to study their areas. In that regard, Yoftahe Manyazewal, a hiker, has managed to embark on his childhood dream. He grew up in Egziabher Ab area, which was covered with a dense forest. That gave him an opportunity to satisfy his childhood curiosity. Conscious about his lifestyle Yoftahe practices yoga and meditation and has added hiking as a hobby. That gave him the chance to escape the chaotic urban areas. Usually, he does not plan on hiking. Rather he spontaneously hikes with his friends to Entoto. Sometimes he also travels with the Addis Hiking Group and another hiking group called Hash. They usually trek the renowned routes to Sullulta on various directions. In addition to that, he also hikes with members of his yoga and meditation center, Kihul Holistic Development Center. This becomes more of a picnic where they take snacks, drinks and also musical instruments. The vibe somehow changes into a musical community where one plays the drums, while another plays the harmonica. They dance, laugh and enjoy their outing. In addition to that, when they stop they also play various games. “This is one way of connecting with nature. It is more of a spiritual practice to calm one’s mind,” Yoftahe says.
Eyerusalem Yaregal also shares Yoftahe’s idea of this being a spiritual practice. For her it is one way of unplugging from the city’s commotion. Being a woman who loves walking, this activity has managed to bring her closer to a group of people who love to walk. Whenever various groups prepare a hiking event she takes part in it. One of the longest hiking she did was a 15-kilometer hiking with the Addis Hiking Group. She says that she does not get tired. In fact, she says that it has a relaxing feeling. Some people see hiking as aimlessly wandering but Eyerusalem sees it differently. “It is an escape from the city life. In addition to that your mind becomes calm,” Eyerusalem says.
Many hikers all over the world take dangerous routes wearing hiking boots, having a compass, trekking pole, first aid kit, knife, insect repellent, GPS navigation device and emergency blankets. Many hikers in Ethiopia only take a safe route but safe aid kits are available in their journey in case of emergency. Now planning to actually head to Semien Mountains Biniyam and his friends are preparing for one of their challenging routes to date.