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Mountain Club of Malawi, Social – Report

In Malawi people often gather into groups of believers. There tends to be a spectrum of beliefs within such groups but the group will have some sort of belief system centre of gravity. Yesterday I joined with my fellow believers who are united, more or less, I believe, around the self evident truth that Mulanje Mountain is, probably, the best mountain in the world.

[The word ‘probably’ appears quite a lot in Malawi because Carlsberg have a factory here in Blantyre.]

[I was prompted to start this blog post in that way because of a brief conversation I had with someone at the social who expressed an opinion about Mulanje which was very much along the lines of my own thinking (best mountain in the world). It felt good to be in the company of someone like-minded who seemed to understand what a great place the Mulanje Massif is. I then merely used my imagination to suppose that everyone in the mountain club thinks along similar lines – they probably do.]

This grouping used to be known as the Mulanje Mountain Club but due to liberalising trends and a more or less accepted interest in other mountains, has become known now as the Mountain Club of Malawi. Even though Malawi’s second highest mountain, Nyika, is an extraordinary and globally unique phenomenon from a montane flora and fauna point of view, it is so overshadowed by the lure of Mulanje that the Mountain Club of Malawi is still dominated by the great island in the sky. Each of Nyika, Zomba and Dedza mountains are reason enough to visit Malawi but Mulanje reigns supreme. (Why this is the case I hope to explain and demonstrate in future blog posts).

from this old manuscript - actually Frank Eastwoods Guide to the Mulanje Massif - we can see clear evidence that the club was once known as the Mulanje Mountain Club

The meeting took the format of a series of presentations surrounding a buffet meal. T-shirts were on sale with the MCM logo and a statement of belief. The presentations were all very good and varied, but with an international theme.

I sat next to a ‘seeker’ from Ireland who is in Malawi for just two weeks. I hoped that the presentations would convince him that Malawi is the place to be.

Perhaps I was not the only one who wondered why the talk on Fell Running (running around on hills) included the word ‘rant’ in the title. We soon found out that it was an appropriate word and I was convinced that the much misunderstood and ignored Fell Runners in fact contain some of the greatest and most unknown athletes in sporting history. It is an injustice that they are only known and ridiculed for their style of shorts. Although I was won over by the arguments (or facts presented) the rant was not without it’s lighter moments. I was proud to hear of the amount of Scottish-ness involved in the history of Fell Running. However, the mangled pronunciation of Scottish names and places, as can only be achieved by a true Englishman, was a source of amusement. I was stunned (into silence) by the pronunciation of a hill in Scotland (fortunately someone else at the back corrected him). By the time Dalzell (ironically from Keswick) was pronounced ‘Dal-zell’ (!) I had recovered and realised that the speaker was fair game for some heckling. I even corrected his ‘Glahhh-sgo’ towards the end of his speech. However, as I say, I was entirely won over by the case he made for fell running and the extraordinary achievements of some of the greats of that sport. A great report.

Mulanje Mountain has the porters race coming up next month – it was therefore entirely appropriate for us to hear about the history of Fell Running.

Another good presentation (they were all good) was on an international trip to Mozambique. The scenery was clearly fantastic and everyone was curious to see the views of Mulanje Mountain from the Mozambique side on the border. It was explained that ‘Mozambique is different’ which to a Malawi person is a polite way of saying something else. Fortunately there are more and more reports now of a lot of good and great things in Mozambique and as I have been thinking now that the war is over, Malawi is a great launch-pad to some of the more remote and wild parts of north-eastern Mozambique. The group in Mozambique climbed a remote mountain in two days when the trip should take a minimum of three days. It was clear from reading between the lines that the trip was characterised by endurance, determination and pain. The scenery was fantastic and the explorers should be commended. There was another international report on a trip to Uganda which added to the theme of ‘there are very interesting and impressive mountains outside of Malawi’ (inferior of course, but never-the-less worthwhile).

I bought the book celebrating 50 years of the Mountain Club (reprinted again after another nine years). Sadly, one of the first things I noticed on leafing through it was an article on a fatality that I remember. He was a sixteen year old American who we knew and whose younger brother I was at school with. He had gone on ahead from the rest of the group with one other teenager. Mulanje can be dangerous, but danger can be avoided as it is such a large mountain that there are endless possibilities for exploring, walking, experiencing the best scenery in the world, swimming, fishing, looking out over a sea of clouds from the great island and enjoying evenings by paraffin lamp (or candles now I understand) without going to the more dangerous parts. Obeying the rules of the mountain shuts out a significant chance of serious problems. My father and Silas Ncozana were both outside of the bounds of the first rule when they each nearly came to an early end. My father was on his own because, injured, he was left behind on the top of Matambale peak and Silas Ncozana was on his own (when he met a leopard) because he had gone to search for some missing students. The first rule of Mulanje Mountain is to not be on your own.

I should probably start to stop this blog post now. I have had a complaint about the length of some of my blogs. This one has taken a bit longer than it should because I have been leafing through the book – ‘Mountain Club of Malawi 1952 – 2002’. I just read that the club was founded by a Scot, Pat Hall, who worked for the CCAP for 10 years. These pesky Scottish presbyterians – you keep on finding them in the most unexpected places around here. However, he can’t have been too holy as I read in another report that he he led a group up Sapitwa on a Sunday… and they finished the trip with tea and whisky and one of them nearly passed out after a stiff rum.

Last word from Frank Eastwood's Guide to the Mulanje Massif


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