Two friend of mine, Dan and Paul, randomly visited a mountain range in the highlands of Zimbabwe in 2011 while traveling around Southern Africa. He told me about A few first ascents he did in the area but was unsure of the potential that the area held. It was not until this year that we were both in Cape Town at the same time that it made sense to make the trek to Zimbabwe in search of a new area.
I could feel the excitement and nervousness as we all packed our bags the night before leaving the comfort of Cape Town. The next day proved to be a beautiful one as we approached the border of Zimbabwe. It was only 5 pm and I had high hopes we would be able to get out of South Africa, over the Beit Bridge and into Zimbabwe in no time. What seems like a simple endeavor turned into a 4 hour horror show. On the South African side it turned into multiple mad rushes of Africans from one departure terminal to the next. At each terminal the local people made sure of it to not let us in line. They would squeeze themselves together so tightly and push us out of the line so that we would not be able to get back in. It was such a shame to see such racism in 2015 as we were the only white people trying to cross the border.
The Zimbabwe side was no easier. The people were more friendly but only because they demanded bribes from us. Do you want someone to look at your passport and get a visa, ok that is going to be X amount of money. Do you want your car inspected before midnight, ok pay this guy Y amount of money oh and the police over there, they want Z amount of money or else you won’t be allowed over the border. After hours of arguing with them and trying to deal with only actual Zimbabwe officials we made it over the border having paid a few hundred dollars not knowing if we had paid actual fees or been ripped off. Regardless, we set off into Zimbabwe.
After countless police checkpoints making sure we had the most obscure safety measures on the car, or else they too would want bribes, we began to get tired and needed to sleep. We set up camp at a small campsite on the side of the ride adjacent to a village farm.
The next day was full of more police checkpoints, pot holes the size of Texas, and a desire to finally get to our destination. After countless hours of driving, the crew had made it. It was dark, so there was no way to see the potential of the area but we excitedly set up our tents, made dinner, and went to sleep.
The next morning I was told about the trek ahead, 1.5 hours up a 450 meter mountain that would lead us to a boulder field of questionable rock quality. We made it this far, we had to go check and see. The trek was hard! It felt something similar to going to upper upper canyon in RMNP. Once we reached the top of the plateau all I could see in front of me was rock! I felt like a kid in a candy store. I dropped my pad and began hiking over little hills and into valleys finding loads of rock that was extremely reminiscent to the rock in Cape Town. What a funny thing, to travel thousands of kilometers and find the same stone you were just climbing on. I was not complaining though because this rock type is bullet hard and lends itself to some amazing climbing potential.
Soon after starting to explore, we ran across Derrick, the local Zimbabwe climber and a few of his friends who explained how awesome this place was and how psyched they all were on a new area. The climbers of Zimbabwe have mainly focused their time climbing on the granite boulders surrounding Bulawayo.
Day 1 quickly came to a close. Derrick told us of the porters that can bring your things up so that you can stay at the top of the mountain rather than hiking in each day. Dan had not experienced this on his previous trip and Derrick had only found out about it through pure luck before coming for his first trip this time. We left some gear with them, hiked down to our tents, and wished we had known as the hike just took forever!
The next day we hiked up again. We didn’t get porters because the plan was for the next day to drive and explore another valley in the northern section of the park. After another successful day of exploring and putting up first ascents, we again hiked back down to the camp and made plans for the next day.
The next day was not unlike the previous. We made it to what was called “corner camp.” A small Zimbabwean man greeted us with his family and explained that this was “corner camp.” I think it had been more than a year since this man and his family had seen a tourist. I pulled out my computer and showed him where on this google maps screen shot I wanted to go. I am not sure he had ever seen google maps before and was quite unsure how to give us directions. I began to pick out things on the horizon that looked like the topographic map. I soon realized where we were and asked how we get to this peak far off in the distance. He explained to us in a broken English that there was a trail and showed us where to begin. We said our goodbyes and set off. About 15 minutes into the hike he yelled to us and came running towards us. He arrived to where we were and explained that we need to take another trail and began to guide us. This “trail” was not a trail at all and just bush whacking through the forest. Once we reached a plateau we picked up another trail. Our guide left us and we set off for what seemed eternity trying to reach the notch in the mountain. As sunset was quickly approaching we made it to the notch.
In all directions there was rock but unfortunately the rock was not nearly the same quality as we had climbed on before at the other area. We were all a little disappointed but the sunset and views around us reminded me that even though we didn’t find rock, I was in one of the most beautiful and pristine mountain ranges I had ever visited. We did approximately 17 kilometers that day and came back to camp exhausted but ready to find more rock the next day.
The next two days were similar to the first few. We went back to the first area, made the large trek up the mountain and found more and more fun rock to be climbed. I found a really cool zone that I cannot wait to explore on a future trip and can now definitely say, there is way more bouldering potential than what lays in rocklands and the cederberg of South Africa!
Onward to Australia now 🙂