Mulanje-in-the-know

SAM_2329.JPG

Following on from my summary of our 3 day jaunt up Mount Mulanje I wanted to bring together some helpful information to help you plan your trip in case you also decide to do it independently. Even while living in Malawi and researching it online, as well as speaking to friends about it, I still found it hard to find all the relevant information in one place and fully understand how I was logistically going to organise getting up the mountain. Now having just successfully completed my first Mulanje trip I’m hoping I can help make things a little clearer for anyone else out there in the same situation.

It was a fantastic trip and I was really blown away by the landscapes of the mountains. Am dying to go back and try another route!

This information is based on a 3 day hike as below;

  • Arrive to sort out guides/porters/food
  • Day 1: Start early  Likabulu hut – Chambe hut (3.5/4 hrs walking moderate pace) it was a steep route but arrived before midday and had full afternoon to relax. Am sure there are options to extend the walking time on this day if preferred.
  • Day 2: Off by 7am from Chambe hut – Chisepo hut (40 minute break and to leave main bags) – Sapitwa summit – Chisepo hut for the night (8 hours of walking in total)
  • Day 3; Descent down the mountain (slightly different route) via waterfalls. (4 hours walking)

We unfortunately only has 3 days and as the weather was ok were keen to tick Sapitwa off the list but I do know from friends that there are some other lovely routes of varying lengths which are perhaps more beautiful and interesting. This is not to say that the trek to Sapitwa is uninteresting or not-so-pleasing on the eye. Route preferences can be discussed with your guide.

map_mulanje_huts

So you’ve decided to go hiking in and around Mulanje, what do you need to know?

Do I need a guide? I am usually a keen venturer and where possible like to walk or explore independently however in this case for many reasons, a guide is important. It is a large area and as with any mountainous landscape the weather can change in minutes. We ourselves saw this happen and I was all too happy to have the knowledge and comfort of the guide as the clouds drew in and visibility became poor. Plus you’ll be supporting local employment so it’s all for a good cause.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

How do I find a guide/porters and organise everything? The most important thing to do before you start your trip is to head to the Info Mulanje office. This can be found above Mulanje Pepper pizzeria on the main road.

infomulanje

Blue arrow highlighting where infomulanje is. Click to expand.

 

 

infomulanje

This was the vital step we failed to fulfil due to unavoidable time restraints in our arrival day. Whether you’ve organised a guide beforehand or not this is an ideal meeting point to sort out the details of your trip, including;

  • As mentioned, find a guide and porters as required, if not organised before. This is the place to find them and negotiate on rates. For 3 of us we had the guide and then 2 porters which worked well. I will cover costs of a bit later on however you will need cash on you to give some money to the guide and porters to buy there food for the trip. This cost will be changeable depending on length of trip. (See cost breakdown later in article).
  • Discuss route with your guide based on difficulty, time available and weather. Let him know if you have any preferences and if you need to be back by a certain time on the final day etc.
  • Pay for your nights up the mountain in the huts, as well as for a mountain key. This is important! If you pay for a key you have access to cooking utensils and a sleeping mat. Some huts have a few mats for free but it’s first come first serve so you could be sleeping on the hard floor.
  • Organise a place to stay at base of mountain night before you’re trip, if not already booked. InfoMulanje can do this for you but is perhaps advisable to do this before in the busy season. The starting point may also impact your route for the first day.
  • Here at the office you can also find out about tours around the tea fields and other activities in the surrounding area.

What do I need to bring? A lot of this may be obvious but there are always a few things that get forgotten along the way. What I would say is be aware of the season you’re going in as temperatures fluctuate a lot and adapt accordingly. If you’re heading up in rainy season you will most probably get very wet so prepare for this.

  • Clothing: Firstly check the weather and average temperatures and pack layers accordingly. We did it in December when it notoriously warm (it was during the day) but I still got cold at night wearing leggings and a thin jumper in my sleeping bag. Shorts/leggings/layers/walking boots/socks/cap to keep the sun off/swimming stuff/flip-flops/waterproofs or quick drying clothes.
  • Items: Suncream/head torch/suncream/water bottle or camelpack/insect repellant (there are generally very few of these)/candles/playing cards or book for downtime/ camera/toilet paper/facewipes/sleeping back/small towel/small rucksack to carry/larger rucksack for porter/covers for bags in rainy season/food and snacks/first aid kit, plasters.
  • Food: Now this is where we had a slight mis-communication with our guide. As mentioned you give them money upfront to buy food for themselves and you could also give them money for your food but make sure it’s clear that you want them to get this for you. Alternatively, you can shop for food yourself at the local market and shops. I would personally do the latter but it completely depends on preference – you want to spare yourself the bother. Eventually when we got our food after the initial blip we went for simple food such as pasta, tomatoes, onions,bread, peanut butter, eggs, biscuits and tea as well as salt and sugar. The lack of variation was very manageable for 2 nights, 2 days and we weren’t so worried about eating luxuriously. The best thing for me was definitely being able to have a cup of sugary tea.

What can I expect in the huts? From the 2 we saw, they are simple but perfectly comfortable if you’re not too worried about your nice-ities for a few nights. Each hut has a fireplace for keeping the main room warm and for cooking. Usually one main room but sometimes 2 rooms with some small bunks. Drop toilets and water from a bucket for mini washes. The huts are also usually situated near a water source for drinking water. The only thing within them are sometimes a few soft drinks or beers to buy, a bao board and candle holders. They are of varying size but sleep on average up to 16 people. It can get busy in peak season but off peak you may be the only people staying.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Each hut has a watchman who is in charge of lighting the fire, general upkeep of the area, and washing up of the cooking equipment.

Your guide will usually cook your breakfast and dinner for you unless you prefer to do it yourself. We did half and half as there were only 3 of us and we had very simple food. Our guides and porters spent most of their time in the watchman’s hut and we shared various bits of food with them like the salt, sugar, tomatoes.

Wake up call is usually pretty early as 5/5;30 am.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Can I drink the water from the rivers and streams we pass? Yes – I think the guide will usually recommend only drinking the water passed a certain height (1000m) but overall it is perfectly fine to drink.  None of us had no problems at all.

What should I pay? So this is something that there seems to be much variation on. I will highlight what we paid and compare with what I have heard from others. Our overall cost for the 2 night 3 day hike, including a night at the base with dinner and breakfast was about 45,000 kwacha per person ($75). I have put outline costs below…

  • Set cost of guide is $25/day (15,000KW) and porters $20 dollars/day (12,000). Any money they need for food will come out for this. So effectively you pay for food their food upfront and the rest afterwards. Now I have heard that you can negotiate on this before you start your trip. We didn’t as we arrived later than expected, tired and were generally a bit disorganised. But I have heard people getting a guide for 8-10,000 kw a day. You can then tip additional as you see appropriate.
  • Entry into park 100KW per person and 200kw for a car
  • Tips for watchmen 3000Kw
  • 2 nights at huts – 2,000kw pppn – 6,000kw in total
  • Cost of being taken to summit – 1,000kw pp – NOTE; Am pretty sure this is not a required cost, but another way of them to get additional money. We paid for it but I would ask for a receipt or discuss at the beginning as am pretty sure this payment is not usual!
  • Cost for hut key -we missed this minor detail but think it is a small cost of 1,000kw or something.
  • Food total 15,000 (we kept this very simple)
  • Tips – this is up to you and dependant on the day rate negotiated. An extra half to full day is just a suggestion.

Useful links:

General information, The mountain club of Malawi site  has a lot of information about the mountain.  You can contact them too by phone or email;

Tel: +265 1 466466 / 506   Email: infomulanje@sdnp.org.mw

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES