East Africa 1996/1997

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East Africa Overland (Dec 1996 to Feb 1997)


Party: Steve Killick, Kate Buckley, Ryan Lishman, Gary Botha, Reon van der Wiel, Bruce Spottiswoode, Martin Kleynhans.

This 2 month overland expedition consisted of seven young, wildly irresponsible and alcoholic students, a toyota venture and a volkswagen fox. The motivating objective was to climb Mt Kenya (5199m) and the Ruwenzori’s (The fabled mountains of the moon - 5109m.) Of course there were dozens of additional spectacles of interest.

OK da trip:

Zimbabwe was zipped through in two days, the highlights being the Zim ruins and Harare. (Not to forget Zambezi lager) The anti-tourism in Mozambique was a shocker with a particularly nasty border post (my first taste of corruption) and five thorough road blocks. Many a landmine sweeping brigade was seen - we avoided the taped off areas for the roadside loo stops.

Malawi, the warm heart of Africa was a pleasant change from the hostility of the Tete. The roads were worse for wear though.

The debaucherous alcoholic spree starts here - X.

The next five days were spent on the shores of lake Malawi, snorkelling (tempting bilharzia), lounging on the beaches (tempting skin cancer), drinking Carlsberg beer (tempting other ill-factors) and feasting on fish.

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Snorkelling near Cape Maclear

A trip to Malawi is an easy and fantastic holiday for the average SA tourist. To stray further north requires a great deal more preparation. Tanzania proved to be more than the extensive, wildlife infested African plains we expected. There are numerous road rehabilitation schemes, so SOME of the roads were excellent. Camp sites were non existent, so up until Dar es Salaam we camped off the road. Dar was a hectic introduction to void-of-traffic-rules-urban-African-driving. What a mess. The next three days were spent on the spice island of Zanzibar, perusing stonetown and lounging around on the empty beaches. The snorkelling was superb.

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Slothing in Zanzibar

The one poor sod with us was tested positive for malaria which put him under the weather for a few days. Once back in Dar, we burned up to Nairobi in two days. We took a lesser known route through the eastern Kenyan tea plantations into Uganda.

Uganda is, well, green and friendly! En route to Kampala, the sites of interest were Jinja (The official source of the Nile - plagued by oversized fruit bats and lake flies.) and the dense tropical forests. The fruit in Uganda is awesome, especially the 3kg pineapples. To our extreme disappointment, the Ruwenzori mountains proved to be "out of order." One of the four civil wars in Uganda had migrated south, resulting in guerrillas hiding out in the foothills of the Ruwenzori’s - shit! Oh well, that gives another holiday to look forward too.

Plan B : Mt. Elgon, another central African extinct volcano, maybe not as impressive and mystical as the Ruwenzori’s, but with its own specialities. We spent 6 wonderful days in the Mt. Elgon national park. (10us$/day - no student, MCSA or sympathy discount) The highest peak, Wagagai (4321m) was "put down" the day before Christmas. Christmas day was spent walking across the 8km caldera (One of the largest in the world, the base of the volcano is the largest in the world!) to the hot springs where we had a 48 degree smelly (sulphurous) bath. Above 4000m, the altitude is already a bugger. The secret is to just force feed one's self with water.

We got back into Kenya without a single fill-up in Uganda. At R5/litre we made sure that the tanks and jerry cans were full on entry. Petrol in the other countries was around R3/litre.

Our next escapade was a drive north to lake Turkana, otherwise known as the Jade sea (About a hundred km south of Ethiopia.) The oasis we stayed at, Elija springs, is strictly a 4 wheel drive zone. It took HOURS to dig the two vehicles out of (aided by palm leaves) the dune sand. Four days were spent slothing in hammocks under the palms. The springs were luke warm and provided us with drinking water and a very soothing swimming pool.

The next three days were spent in and on one of the rift valley lakes, lake Baringo. (The birding paradise of Kenya.) Here we found an enticing cliff line and opened many routes on the crumbly rock. A morning birding/crocodiling/hippoing boat ride was also a lake Baringo feature. We then moved on to lake Naivasha, ANOTHER Rift valley lake. Hells Gate, an adjacent national park, is home to some of the best climbing in Kenya. We spent a day climbing above the hoards of animals - the park is wildly overpopulated.

Back to Nairobi to pick up the father of one of the party members for THE MT KENYA EXPEDITION.

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The ice cave at the snout of the Lewis glacier

11 Days were rapidly guzzled up on this beautiful mountain. We walked up the standard Naro moru route. The acclimatisation stunt was done properly for fear of "the alties". (Mt. Kenya has the highest Pulmonary oedema count world-wide, hosting 50% of the world’s cases!) Some of us made an acclimatisation attempt on one of the smaller peaks Midget peak - a good 300m rock spire! While two members did a three pitch ice route up the Pt. John couloir, the rest of us did the peaks circuit. The "malaria boy’s" typical streak of luck nailed him with the dreaded pulmonary oedema he was sent down immediately. Two members of the party went down with him, moved the cars around to the other side of the mountain to enable the rest of us to make our way down a different route. We spent a rest/acclimatisation day playing on the glaciers. ("Home made" corrugated iron toboggan, ex-toilet door) Other than the two days we chose to climb the big ones (Nelion-5188m and Batian-5199m. To conquer Nelion takes a good day’s easy climbing, to get to Batian from there involves a bit of technical ice climbing crossing the "gate of the mists"), the weather was marvellous. Foul weather turned the climb into a bit of an epic. We hit the rock at 5am, after a exhausting slog across the glacier and up the scree slopes. We reached the halfway point after 3 hours climbing, the weather menacingly building up all along. Just after we crossed the most iced-up section of the route (the head of one of the couloirs), the weather came down. The second half of the climb took 7 hours, a slow and painfully cold ascent. The snow piled up in every crack and on every ledge, the ropes froze, and all contact with hands and feet was lost. The summit of Nelion has a coffin like hut which is meant to accommodate 4 people shoulder to shoulder. Luckily it was empty (Everyone else was put off by the weather, we were the only stupid ones.) The weather cleared in the late afternoon giving us splendid views of the now snow covered peaks and majestic cloud formations so very far below. WHAT A FEELING!!! The five of us spent a cold and uncomfortable (sharing sleeping bags) night cooped up in this aluminium box.

The morning brought miserable weather, MORE blizzard. The path to Batian (the "Gate of the mists") for which we had lugged a set of ice gear and a few extra ropes for (one needs to leave fixed ropes for the nasty bits) was too iced up for a sensible ascent. And so began a 7 hour descent in the ever-present snow.

32 - The descent.jpg (159853 bytes) The descent     47 - Nelion after the storm.jpg (190952 bytes) Nelion (5188m)

My body still hasn't quite recovered from the last few miserable abseils. Needless to say, the following day required the adhering to of a strict lie-in-bed-recovery-program. Irony promptly cleared the weather! We descended via the Chigoria route, meeting up with the others. Back to Nairobi for an eat as much as you can exploitation.

Time and money running short, we made a snappy trip back to Malawi, where we relaxed on the beaches again. Then down to Mt. Mulanje, southern Malawi for 6 rainy days on the mountain. Mt. Mulanje is only 3000m high, so breathing (and an altitude-headache free environment) was a welcome option. A really beautiful mountain.

Despite funny stories about a cyclone, we followed through with our plans to traverse the Mozambican coast. Although the UN-troops (some armed with rocket launchers) were a bit unnerving, we encountered no trouble at all. The highlight was a dhow trip to one of the Bazaruto islands, Margaruc. The island measures about 2km in diameter (if that!) and is very sparsely inhabited. We camped the night on the dunes.

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Our dhow trip to Margaruc

All too soon and we were through Maputo and back in good old SA for a biltong and chocolate feast. Damn the roads are good here!!

We had surprisingly few vehicle troubles on the mechanical side. (Only 2 flat tyres between both vehicles over 15000km - that’s 15000km per vehicle!) We did however spend far too much time arguing with the coppers and sitting in police stations. The border posts were almost all archaic, but posed no threats. The roads were mostly doable, one could take a Toyota Camry up to Nairobi without a hitch if patience and time were in order.

All in all a great trip, far too short though!