Mulanje Mountain Trek is the most difficult on the second day when you actually reach the summit at Mountain Sapitwa, though the gruelling first day actually prepared me a little for it. The extreme sun, lack of trees, and a steep hike - these the words which sum up the day.
After a tiring day, I slept off as soon as I got into my sleeping bag, and the morning came way too early. Even before my muscles relaxed, it was 05:00 am and my guide was already up and seemed almost ready to move. I was not! It was a big day with quite a bit of trekking and he didn’t want to take any chances. I barely managed to finish my morning ablutions and David told me it was time to go. I wanted a cup of coffee, but for now it was a distant dream. We decided to cover as much as possible in the morning when it was still cold and sun wasn’t there to tire us down quickly like yesterday.
As we walked on top of the mountains, moving one hill after the other, I completely forgot about how tired I was. The view was simply magical, right out of a fantasy movie. Some say Tolkien was inspired by the landscapes as he created his wonderland, and looking at it all I was not surprised at all. The initial parts were also not very tiring – a little hike up, a little hike down and we were making good progress. We stopped for breakfast at a gorgeous spot and ate the usual peanut butter with bread and bananas. I had a few eggs, which we shared.
I was also really surprised by the lack of company up there. We had not yet come across a single trekker here, the whole mountain range was just our own. This changed just as we were getting ready to move again. A group of local young men came walking towards us from the other side and had a few dogs with them as well. We said a quick hello and moved ahead. David later told me that these could be poachers as they often travelled with dogs to catch small animals. We met a few more of these groups later, and all of them were harmless – they always looked at us and would give a huge smile the moment I would greet them.
An hour later, all the happy hiking ended as we came across one of the steepest parts of the trek. It was not just steep, but also fairly long. Sun was up by now and I struggled to climb it, stopping many times to catch my breath. Even David stopped a few times which made me feel a little better. I kept asking myself if I was not pushing myself too hard this time! I hadn’t climbed up a mountain this steep of late and a few times also regretted making this plan at all!
Another hour after the terrible climb and we could see the hut at a distance. It looked beautiful and inviting and I wanted to go there and sleep for a while. However, it took about forty-five more minutes before we reached there. It was just about 11 am when we landed there as against the plan of 12noon, so we had about an hour to take rest. Surprisingly there was Coke there, and though it was rather expensive, I decided to buy one for myself and one for David. Taking off my shoes and socks, I walked all around the hut sipping the super delicious coke, not bothering at all about the hike coming up next.
It was noon and we decided to make a move again, this time to Mount Sapitwa, which is the summit point of this mountain range. It was not visible from the hut and I was told that I will be able to see it only when I would come quite close to it – something I found hard to believe. Unlike morning, the final six hours of trekking started on a very tough note. David showed me a huge mountain of just rocks and told me that we will climb it and go on the other side. I was sure he was kidding until our climb began. We walked on stark rock and almost continuously straight up for almost two straight hours.
With no trees and lots of sun, I was completely exhausted. I was not just worried about going up but also coming down as the trail just looked too steep! This was one part of the trek when I really regretted coming there. David mentioned that many trekkers come here to climb and many give up after the morning hike itself. Only a few actually make it all the way to the summit. At this point I didn’t want to go to the summit, I just wanted to go back to the hut and take rest and make some gorgeous pictures. But I was more scared going down than coming up, so kept up with the trek.
Things got a little later after we ate our lunch when the straight hike ended and we mostly climbed rocks and walked through dry trees. I also saw an animal, Hylax, for the first time in my life. They come to sunbathe in the afternoon and were extremely curious to see us sharing the rocks with them. They were something like huge rats with a little bit of rabbit in them. They were posing but I was too tired to take many pictures.
The last one-hour of the hike was great. We climbed up on bare rocks, moved through some natural caves and did some scary maneuvering to reach the summit. David helped me twice to climb two huge rocks, but apart from that I did well myself. The final half an hour I completely forgot about the aching muscles and punishing sun, and kept pace with David.
The summit was beautiful and absolutely nondescript. And the view was stunning, as expected. It was almost 3 pm and so after spending just about 20 minutes we decided to trek back. Even the downhill trek took us more than two hours as we were extremely slow coming down on most of the rocks. My shoes were awesome and I thank them completely for saving my life on multiple occasions. I slipped so many times with nothing but deep valley on my side that I am surprised that I came back in one piece. Of course I suffered multiple cuts on both my knees and had blisters on my foot, but somehow I managed to come down the rocks without tumbling over even once, though I was very close on at least two different occasions.
We reached the hut just as the sun was setting and I was tired and battered. But I was also extremely proud of myself. I took a shower with warm water while David cooked Malawian dinner for me – seema and tomato-onion curry. It was absolutely delicious. We had become good friends having spent hours walking together, though most of our conversations happened over breakfast and lunch breaks. I slept like a very satisfied man. Somehow I thought that the next day would be easy as we would be simply walking down to the town – though David had told me already that it would take more than six hours of continuous trekking. For now it was Good Night!