“No one’s ever taken this trek before, but you’ll be fine.” Reassuring words, as I stand on the edge of the escarpment, surveying the patchwork of lowlands that spreads out beneath me. Little did I know that nine hours later, I’d be collapsing in a pile of sweat and blisters, close to tears of disbelief that’d I’d made it all the way.
My starting point is Limalimo, the only luxury eco-lodge in the entire Simien Mountains, and I’m to be the first tourist to hike from there to Buit Ras, a campsite in this majestic mountain range where many trekkers spend their first night.
We set off from the lodge early in the morning, trotting down the side of the first of the many steep valleys we’d come here to climb. It’s just me, my guide, Yeshi, and our scout, Fenti, whose only English extends to a stern “Good?” and a nod of the head. He wears a traditional white cotton shawl and a turban, and his job —carrying an ancient looking rifle that I’m not sure actually fires — is to fend off any rogue monkeys who might want to steal my lunch.
We walk through bright yellow fields of barley swaying in the wind waiting for the harvest and past children herding cows up and down the rolling farmland.
Our route, which follows cliffs that give way to undulating lowlands, carves through one beautiful valley after another, all green wild herbs, brilliant yellow meskel flowers and pungent juniper forests — in fact, the sweet scent of gin keeps me motivated to move on.
It’s tough terrain — at 10,000ft, altitude affects progress — but at the top of every precipitous hill there’s a view dramatic enough to take my last shallow breath away.
Gelada monkeys romp playfully on the edge of the escarpment and handsome martial eagles soared below us at every peek over the precipice. But as the sun grows stronger through the day, my confident hike turns into a weary, panting trudge. The air is thin and my lungs are gasping with every step.
The sun is beating down on my back, with two hours of gruelling trekking to go, I’ve only got 50ml of water left to drink.
Our final half-mile feels surreal: brooding clouds fill the sky, sumptuous drops of rain slap refreshment on my over-heated forehead and a rainbow on the horizon marks our final destination. Motivation returns. Determination takes me home.
That evening, sipping on a St George lager at Buit Ras campsite, sharing injera flatbread and chatting with locals, I can’t help but think Robert Frost might have been right, when he wrote: “I took the one less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.”