Ethiopia Part 7, Bale Mountains

We are sitting in the mist and driving rain in the Bale Mountains in southern Ethiopia waiting for it to clear slightly so I can start taking photos. The wind is buffeting the car and it doesn’t look very inviting outside. But that’s not surprising. We are up at over 4,200m in altitude on one of the highest roads in Africa in the middle of the largest expanse of Afro-alpine climate zone on the continent. It is freezing cold, especially after the Danakil, and quite desolate up here. I’m loving it!

We stayed in a nearby town called Goba last night and got up in the dark before 6am to drive up into the mountains. Thankfully it didn’t rain too much during the night. Not far out of town the road turns to an all-weather dirt road and we were soon climbing up some steep hills. Not surprising because we climb over two thousand metres in less than fifty kilometres. We show our pass at the gate and we continue our journey.

On the left edge of the road a torrent of water rushes down the hill but we couldn’t see much else because of the thick mist. 

Before too long I get impatient and I’m out of the car, stepping carefully across the spongy ground. The wind is blowing and it is icy so my hands are freezing but I’m enjoying being outside the car. In this mist I can’t see further than about forty metres. 

As I walk off the road I see a narrow stream flowing slowly across the marsh, winding its way back and forth before it disappears into the thick mist. I’m often stepping in shallow water so I’m very grateful for my good hiking boots which keep my feet dry. I keep hearing the sound of bubbling water and I soon find the source; a water fountain on a very slightly raised mound is feeding the stream and there are other fountains spread about the place. The ground is sodden and carpeted with tiny plants that obviously thrive in the cold and wet. I love these wild places. 

In another spot I take photos of a couple of small waterfalls tumbling down from a raised marsh over a small natural wall of rocks. I climb up about two metres to the marsh and find more rocks around small hills as well as giant lobelias which can grow up to nine metres high. There are some small tarns amongst the rocks and every now and then a little more sunlight makes its way through the clouds and mist to add some reflections to the flat grey surface of the water. Apart from the soft sound of the wind and the swirling mist the place is eerily quiet and still. The cold seems to pervade everything. 

In some areas the ground is riddled with holes but for a long time I don’t see any animals. Then I spot a mole rat scurrying across the ground, and disappear into one of the holes. Later I see a hare running away with black and white tipped ears. 

I take shelter in the car a few times to catch my breath and warm my hands but eventually the temperature warms up enough so that I can stay outside. 

At one of our last stops I step outside the car and look behind us. I quickly and quietly call to Julie to look out of her side of the car where two rare Ethiopian wolves are crossing the road. One of them heads away from us but the other trots over to some rocks nearer us to investigate something. It sniffs around for a while before taking off after its mate. We are thrilled. There are perhaps only three hundred of these wolves left alive. We vaguely saw a couple in the shadows the night we climbed the volcano in the Danakil Depression so it was wonderful to see them so clearly up here.

Giant Lobelias, Bale Mountains, Ethiopia

We drive back to a place on the road above a wide area which has several larger tarns surrounded by larger hills and a rounded peak, all of which are swathed in rolling mist. After we eat we sit a while to see if the mist will clear. At the first opportunity I am out taking photos. When the mist rolls in again we start back down the track we came up on. 

We have one last stop to take photos when the sun comes out for a while showing us the fertile valley nearly two thousand metres below us. What a view! In the east we can see a massive line of cliffs. I climb up to a viewpoint and I look down into a narrow and very deep valley to the west that carves its way through the mountains. This is a truly dramatic landscape. 

We had considered camping the night up in the mountains but we both felt that it was too cold and wet to be at all comfortable and we couldn’t get to the official campground because the road was too muddy. Even so it’s a very special place and we are very glad to have spent the better part of a day up here.

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