Mulanje Mountain Day 2
I did hear the guys stirring in the next room at 4am. Although I considered getting up to wish them well on their great ascent I thought better of it and stayed in bed.
My sheet sleeping bag plus the big thick blankets from the Mountain Club of Malawi locked cupboard were keeping me very cosy on that cold night. [A long time ago on a visit to Malawi, and when not a member of the MCM, I had one of the coldest and most uncomfortable nights of my life at Thuchila Hut.]
After a far more leisurely start to the day we decided to go for a walk. Breakfast and coffee in the kitchen / dining room / living room by the fire is a more relaxing way to start the day. I am sure the 4am guys were however inspired by the challenge ahead of them. In my mind were two possibilities for us 1/ a walk to the start of the Chambe Peak climb and perhaps up one of the ‘Chambe bumps’ or 2/ a walk to the edge of Chambe Basin to where Chambe is connected to the rest of the mountain by Knife Edge. Without porters we would have to carry the children and whatever we wanted to eat and drink.
In the end we decided to go for Knife Edge. The East Face of Chambe looks beautiful with the sun on it in the morning and our walk was up and in the opposite direction towards the imposing North Peak. As we walked up towards the edge of the basin we could see a better view of the bowl that is Chambe Basin. It is very different now compared with the days I remember when it was a pine forest. Old forest tracks spread across it like a little map below and some seem to head straight over the edge of the plateau next to the peak. I look forward to the day when, as is planned, a forest of indigenous Mulanje Cedar is covering the basin. Beyond and below the plateau we could see puffs of cloud pushing their way up.
I had a long conversation with Ruth, who was on my back, about what clouds do and why warm air pushes them up. Every time she says “Why?” I try to give her an accurate answer knowing that she cannot be expected to comprehend all the science and physics. However, she does seem to be satisfied with my words. Amelia said that she understands now why my brother Keith on Mulanje got frustrated with all my stops for photographs.
As we ascended the side of the basin and the view changed and the vegitation became more ‘Mulanje Mountain’ and less desolate I found myself wondering, and I discussed with Amelia, where exactly the guys would likely have been when the sun rose (they would have been on the same path a few hours before them. We could see their footprints including David’s trainers). If they had got a certain distance before light then they would look around them and almost feel as though they were on a different mountain.
As you reach the rim of the basin you can see over the steep valley towards the Lichenya Plateau. Ahead a narrow ‘Knife Edge’ will connect us to the main part of the mountain. However, by now cloud was coming up and around us and we could see the forested valley and the neighbouring plateau only through the breaks in the mist and the cloud. However, I do like these kinds of views, the sight of the unusual Mulanje plants in the mist and the mystery of what great walls of rock must be around and above us. The walk took a lot longer than I expected. At each point I thought – ‘well, let’s just go on a bit more, we cannot be far now before we get to Knife Edge and to new views of the mountain’. It is amazing how far a thought like that can get you.
Finally the path took us over Knife Edge and to a great crossroads in the path. Ahead was the way to Sapitwa and beyond that to Thuchila. To the right the path to Lichenya Plateau where the old wealthy tea estate owners would go to sit out the hottest months of the year. To the left was down the mountain to ‘Otto’s’ and behind us of course the way back to Chambe.
At this point I was very tempted by a small peak that sits on the edge of Knife Edge. I thought that it looked quite climbable and would probably have great views. Amelia was reluctant because we had small children on our backs and when we came to the first ‘steep bit’ we stopped and got back onto the main path.Our thoughts now turned to the others. We (Amelia) was due to prepare a meal for them on their return from Sapitwa. Having climbed Sapitwa myself from Chambe I estimated that they would be back at about 3pm. They only started at 4am because their guide wanted to get back down the mountain before nightfall. However, the time of their arrival is not perfectly predictable and our walk had gone on for several hours more than I had initially expected. I thought that we would be away for a couple of hours but it now looked more like six hours. We did however get back to France’s Cottage about an hour before they arrived. Amelia had boldly begun to prepare the meal before they arrived although I thought that their arrival time (estimated at 3pm) could be anything from 2pm (now passed) to 7pm. Fortunately they did arrive around about when i expected but we were surprised to find that they were not hungry…. In the end we ate about 5pm.
As leader of the party it was my duty to lead the discussions and advise on what we could do the next day. The great thing about Matthew was that he wanted to climb Chambe. I had already explained that Chambe is….and I hesitated and tried to choose my words carefully…potentially more scary. I had to explain that I had not climbed it because as a child my father had ruled against me joining the group climbing Chambe because it is too dangerous. I also knew someone who had been killed on Chambe. On the other hand I did not want to put them off if they wanted to climb it. I did want however to give a balanced view. One thing I was clear on however was that no one should go up alone and if there at any point was any doubt as to whether they were on the right route “you must stop and come back down.”
The chapter on the peaks in the MCM Golden Jubilee book says that Chambe is ‘not for tourists’. I could tell that David was a little bit put off by the description of the peak when he decided to describe himself as ‘a tourist’. Eerik said that he was not a tourist but a ‘traveller’. Unfortunately the guide does not give a view on that important distinction. Frank Eastwood in his ‘Guide to the Mulanje Massif’ says ‘A rope would be reassuring to parties which include inexperienced climbers.’ David was not reassured.
In the end we left it that we would decide ‘on the morrow’ depending on how we felt. From where we were the climb is only 2 or 3 hours so a morning that included one of the other options would allow us to make a late decision. The other options were 1/relaxing in a hammock and reading a book (Eerik), 2/ ‘pottering’ around the hut, 3/ climbing a Chambe ‘bump’ (some of the mini peaks around the basin or 4/ going to the pools for a swim.
It was not long before we were ‘sleeping on the decision.’
By the way – at night I always feel slightly nervous about going out to the toilet. I always imagine that there might be a leopard about. Actually, there is almost certainly almost no danger at all but I don’t mind admitting what happens sometimes when the ‘extremely unlikely’ comes into contact with my imagination.