Monday 24 November 2008

Ras Dashen ascent

Ras Dashen ascent

Let me give you a quick background to the reasons behind my particularly tough and exhausting last few days which saw me complete the ninth and last of the ten challenges on African soil.

In order to complete the Afritrex expedition as I planned it and arrive back in the UK to complete the tenth and final challenge of the final marathon back into my home town of Petersfield, I have to be at Lake Nasser on December 1st to catch the boat across from Sudan into Egypt. This will give me ‘just’ enough time to make it across the remaining countries and back to England. If I fail to get to that boat I would have to wait another week and my dream would be extinguished…..

To climb Ras Dashen takes a minimum of three days but I don’t have that long as every day is essential in order to reach my goal so I have to make time somehow and the simplest of ways is to cut down the ascent time by a day and try to do the entire climb in two.

So that’s exactly what I tried to do! I left Bre looking after the Colonel at the Chenneck base camp at 3600m above sea level on a cold a frosty morning with the sun just warming the cold rocky ground, I’d decided that I’d really put myself through it by carrying all of my own it including tent, backpack and water for the three days which gave me a combined weight of nearly 18kgs…it all felt god for the first hour!

My scout for the trip was called Nana and spoke two words of English, “good” and “ok”….as with many Africans these are standard answers to everything and have no bearing on what the question is! He came equipped with a funny furry hat and open toed sandals, not the most practical clothing to take on such a challenge but he set the pace anyway as we started up the steep slope to the first pass we’d have to cross.

I hadn’t really grasped quite how taxing this climb would be and based it on the fact that all of the others had been straight up and down climbs which involved the first few days ascending and a final hard push to summit and get back to the base camp by simply dropping down in altitude to the exit.

Ras Dashen involves three separate ascents the first of which takes you over the second highest mountain in Ethiopia at 4200m asl, it’s a hard trek as the air is thin and the backpack is full at this stage and as you break the summit you then drop down sharply in altitude over rocks and down dusty mule tracks until you reach the valley floor at 2800m, having lost 1400m in altitude but the day isn’t finished there as the camp for the night is another 500m up in a small village. By the time I got here is was shattered, the days exertions had taken their toll and my thighs were starting to cramp up, something I’ve never had before! Eek not good for the next day.

I set up camp in the afternoon sun and fell asleep in the warmth of my tent before waking an hour later and scoffing down three of the army ration packs I’ve carried all the way around Africa just for this moment! And delightful they were too…not! Lamb hot pot, chicken and herb dumplings and fruit dumplings with custard!

In the late afternoon I’d conceded to myself that in order to make it back to the starting camp by the end of the next day I would have to employ some local help or I’d never make it and organised a mule and boy to carry my backpack up the last of the slopes and through the pass.

Nana and I arranged to wake at 3am and to leave just after in able to make the challenge in one day. When the alarm went off the next morning Nana was nowhere to be seen and after a search of the living quarters where the scouts stayed failed to come up with anything and had no option but to head back to bed….damn him! I woke again at 4am and tried once more but the idiot was fast asleep still until I spotted him under his shawl and wriggled him with my foot to wake him from his slumber…

We finally left on the dot of 5am, two hours late! Our ascent in the darkness was lit by only my headtorch as Nana had nothing with him, and we wound our way up through the fields and villages which amazingly appear all they way up to 3800m, the very fertile soil and warm daytime temperatures providing good growing conditions. We arrived at the rocky slope leading up to the peak with the sun just breaking to horizon after a three hour ascent and made our way to the final hand-over-hand climb of the wall to the summit.

I took Nana’s rifle from him as he scrambled up and he took my trekking pole in return, then we were there at 4543m asl and at the top of the final one of Afritrex’s five summits which the expedition consisted of! Success indeed and after taking the obligatory photos of our achievement we gathered our things and started the descent passing others on the way.

We arrived back in camp at 11am, I found my boy and mule and tried to confirm that we’d be off in a few minutes time once I’d collapsed the tent, however there was no mule! Arse, all that planning the day before and it had fallen apart!

Instead a local boy offered to carry my bag for me, I packed up tent and bag, loaded my new ‘mule’ with my load and we set off down the slope to the valley floor below. We arrived at the river an hour later and ate the last of my ration packs to give me enough energy to take on the greater of the two climbs for the day, a massive 1400m!

We passed through the village with the local children following me and the guide saying “salaam” and “hello” over and over until I replied, very touching but also very annoying when your knackered!

It took a huge effort to get over that final 200m to the top of the pass for all of us and when we finally broke the summit we all stopped and congratulated each other before heading down the final 800m descent past Gelada Baboons and Mountain Ibix. Bre rushed to greet me and the efforts of the last two days hit home as the legs collapsed and I threw down food and water to replace the lost energy.

This was the hardest of the lot, the effort required was more than the Comrades, or it seemed so at the time, but two days later the legs feel back to normal and I now can’t wait to find an excuse to get to another slope sometime soon!

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