Trekking in the Bale Mountains

Getting There

The Bale Mountains are situated in south-eastern Ethiopia, to the east of the Rift Valley.  You can reach the area by first taking a bus from Addis Ababa to Shashemene, 200km south on a good tarmac road, and then by catching another bus east on a rough dirt road up into the mountains.  Alternatively, Ethiopian Airlines have flights to Goba, roughly 30km east of Dinsho, where we started our trek.

Trekking areas and Bases

The two centres for starting treks are Dinsho, a small village high in the mountains where the National Park headquarters is situated, and Dodola, a slightly larger town halfway between Shashemene and Dinsho, from where treks go into the forest on the lower slopes of the mountains.  From Dodola (or Adaba, another village nearby) you can use the simple huts which have been built in the forest, where showers and drinks are available.  Treks in this area are best organised at the Bale Mountains Lodge in Dodola, where you can stay cheaply before or after your trek (double room with en-suite hot shower 40 Birr – about GBP3).  Basic supplies are available in a couple of shops in town but you’d be better off bringing most things with you.

We trekked in the Bale Mountains National Park, starting in Dinsho, so the rest of this information applies to that area.


Dinsho is a small village situated at about 3000m in the very beautiful Web valley.  There are one or two very cheap hotels in the village with very basic facilities, which also serve cheap and tasty Ethiopian meals.  Alternatively, you can camp, or stay in clean, comfortable rooms, at Dinsho lodge, which is the National Park HQ about 2km from the village.  One of the campsites here is extremely beautiful, and you’ll almost certainly see warthogs, mountain nyala, bushbucks and loads of birds if you get up early.  It’s well worth spending a day here taking all this in and acclimatising to the altitude before you set off trekking.

Costs and Guides

You have to hire a guide and a scout for all treks in the National Park.  The guides are well trained, knowledgeable and english-speaking, so hiring one is no bad thing, but it’s difficult to justify the need for a scout as well, and certainly for a horse-handler on top of this!  (You’ll need to hire one horse to carry the gear of all your staff, even if you choose to carry your own stuff.  Most people hire a horse to carry their gear too – one horse per two or three people should be fine.)

You also have park entry fees, and camping fees to consider – it sounds like it’s getting expensive!  Fortunately, by western standards (or compared with costs in Kenyan or Tanzanian Parks) things are very reasonable:

  • Park Entry – 50 Birr per person per 48 hours
  • Camping – 20 Birr per person per 48 hours (includes camping at Dinsho lodge)
  • Guide – 70 Birr per day
  • Scout – 40 Birr per day
  • Horse-handler – 30 Birr per day
  • Horses – 25 Birr per horse per day

You might also want to buy a map of the park (10 Birr) from the lodge.  All this means that most treks will cost somewhere between GBP5 to GBP15 per person per day, depending on the number of people in your group (in 2005 there were 15 Birr to the pound.)  Here is a currency converter to work out the latest exchange rates or for other currencies.

Routes and Length

You can do treks ranging in length from a day to over a month – although longer treks might take a bit more organising (Kamal, our guide, had once spent over three months in the park).  The one- or two-day treks are fine for getting a taste of the area and probably seeing some wildlife, but to really get to grips with the Park and increase your chances of sighting the Ethiopian Wolf you’re better off spending a minimum of three or four days in the mountains.  Our trek lasted six days (five nights camping) which we felt was a decent length of time.


Starting from Dinsho, you’ll first ascend the valley towards the peaks.  Some of the most beautiful scenery is actually in this section, before you get up onto the Sanetti Plateau itself (around 4000m).  The plateau is a good place for spotting birds and the wolf, though, and offers opportunities to ascend Tullu Deemtu (the highest peak in the area) or Mount Batu.  There is a very beatiful campsite at Garba Guracacha, below the western edge of the plateau, where birds of prey are common.  Overall, the best plan is to discuss a specific route with your guide.

One thing to be aware of is that many of the campsites your guide will choose are determined by the presence of shelter nearby for him and the other staff.  If you want to have more flexibility to camp in the best spots, it’s worth stressing this at the outset and making sure they bring along a decent tent (not easy unless you’ve brought one for them!)

Another target, possible on longer treks, would be to descend into the Harena Forest, on the southern side of the range, where the environment is quite different and leopards are occasionally seen.

Equipment

The mountains rise to over 4000m, and even in Dinsho at 3000m it can be bitterly cold at night.  You’ll need warm clothes, a 4-season sleeping bag, and hat and gloves.  It rains most days for much of the year (but often only for a short spell, with warm sunshine before and after) so good waterproofs are pretty much essential.  You could manage without walking boots as you won’t be carrying a heavy load, but as it gets wet and slippery underfoot they aren’t a bad idea.  It’s best not to light fires, so a kerosene stove is a good thing to bring, along with most of the food you’ll want.  A few basics are available in Dinsho.

Further Information

A good guidebook such as the Lonely Planet or Bradt Guide contains information on transport and other practicalities.

 

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