On our third day of the trek, we woke up around 7am in Chenek camp but did not finish breakfast and pack our bags until nearly 9am. I was amazed when I realized our scouts had sat out in the freezing cold all night with only blankets to ensure no baboons came into our camp. Since it was the last day, we collected 100 birr from each of the 12 people in our group and a couple of us donated an additional 100 birr so we had 1400 birr to divide amongst the 7 mule men and cooking assistants (200 birr each). After saying our good-byes to them, we set-off for the day’s hike to Buahit Peak (4430m ASL).
A few people from our group who had struggled the previous day decided to stay at camp, while the rest of us began our trek. I was very happy that Sara was feeling much better in the morning than she had the previous day, and she set off at her usual speedy pace up the road. Most of the trail was relatively easy hiking but the final hundred meters or so were a reasonably steep climb with some scrambling involved. When we finally reached the top of Buahit Peak, after 2-3 hours of uphill hiking, we were treated with 360 degree views including a view of Ras Dashen (4,550m ASL), the highest mountain in Ethiopia.
The highlight of the climb for me was that at the top, a friendly young Ethiopian man was selling Pepsi, Miranda, and Dashen beer! Thrilled with this development I spent 30 birr on an ice cold Dashen Beer to enjoy while absorbing the great views over its namesake (Mount Dashen). Those of us that made it to the summit sat, enjoyed lunch, and soaked in the views and sunshine for around half an hour before deciding it was time to head back to Chenek camp to meet the rest of our group and head back to Gonder. I found the climb down much easier than the climb up and I was even more thrilled with the slight high of more and more oxygen entering my lungs as I descended lower and lower from the peak. The whole experience greatly reminded me of summiting Mount Kilimanjaro which made the trek a nice way to re-live that adventure while also creating new memories and enjoying another great experience. Once back at Chenek camp we rejoined the rest of our group, who had clearly spent the morning relaxing in the sunshine, and were ready to return to Gondar.
We piled back into our shuttle bus (including the guide, two scouts, and cook) and headed back to Debark. Each member of our group donated another 100 birr for donations for the ‘senior’ members of the crew and we gave 400 birr to our favourite scout, Sonnet, 300 birr to the chef, 300 birr to the other scout, and 200 birr to our guide Menis who hadn’t really done much of a job guiding over the 3 days (a lot of us felt we shouldn’t have tipped him at all). The road was rough and unpaved and at one point half of the people in our shuttle had to get out to in order for the shuttle van to make it up a steep and rough hill. Then, our bus incurred a flat tire and once again we all had to get out while the spare was put on. We finally arrived back to Debark where we unloaded the remaining crew and equipment. After saying our good-byes to the crew, we set off back towards Gonder, where we had to stop for yet another maintenance issue on the van. I still don’t know exactly what they were doing, but I think they may have replaced the brake pads while on the side of the highway! Regardless, it was a great opportunity for us to interact with some local children and teenagers who clearly hadn’t met a lot of tourists before.
Overall, it was an incredible experience and I’d recommend trekking the Simien Mountains to anyone. I do believe that a 4 day / 3 night trip would be perfect, but if you’re crunched for time or hate camping, the 3 day / 2 night version of the same trip is also great. It’s very hard to know what to expect from the various tour operators in Gonder and while I do believe you can find some great deals, I’d recommend taking a look at the sleeping bags they provide to ensure you don’t freeze. If you’re unsure about the quality of the sleeping bags, I think it’s worth asking they provide extra blankets as it did get much colder than I expected (and I expected it to be cold!!)
We did see some more luxurious groups and camps along our way, including one with a chef in full white dress including a chef’s hat, but I was very happy with what we received for US$ 170. After a wonderful two weeks in Ethiopia, I definitely look back at the Simien Mountains as the highlight, and would happily return to hike there again.