An Ill-Fated Walk in the Simien Mountains, Part II

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 | Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

An alpha male Gelada baboon patrols the perimeter of his troop's grazing area.
The ridiculous packing process was soon bested by a yet more absurd scene: the two clients carrying bags (Jacqueline had our daypack with lunch and water, and I my trekking backpack) and traipsing off down the road, accompanied by a small army of locals who, despite ostensibly being paid to help us, walked empty-handed.

We soon turned off the road, following a path along a massive vertical escarpment.

For the next several hours, the sheer dropoff loomed to our left. Behind it, a dramatic view of the mountains floated in the midday haze.

For Jacqueline and I, the uphill sections—even small ones—proved brutal; the altitude was definitely a factor on this trek. Short of breath, our mouths dry, we guzzled water like parched dogs, and eagerly seized every opportunity for a break.

Our best chance for a break arrived around noon, when our path topped a gentle rise, suddenly giving us a view of a large troop of gelada baboons, one of several fauna that, in addition to the scenery, draw thousands of trekkers to the Simien Mountains each year.

The baboons cavorted around, rocked their babies, wrestled and played, bared their teeth at one another, scratched their butts, and occasionally smacked each other, but mostly just dug in the dirt of the roadside for insects. They allowed us to approach to within a few meters' distance before their suspicions rose, and they hooted and scampered away.

Early that afternoon, we reached the Sankaber camp, pitched our tent, and ate lunch.

Later, Jacqueline, who had been sliding toward a meltdown, finally hit bottom. The official flea bite count had surpassed 30, and was continuing to rise, despite her efforts to exterminate them the previous day. Our scout's stench, our guide's unsettling sleaziness, and our mule handlers' astounding display of incompetence weren't helping matters either.

We talked at length about our options—continue the remaining three days of hiking, or turn back now? I tried to remain open to all options, but was definitely in favor of continuing. Against her better judgment, Jacqueline finally gave in, and agreed to trudge onward.

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