From Debark to the Simien Mountains National Park
A trek to Sankaber Camp and back to Debark would normally last 3-4 days. The path from Debark to the Simien Mountains National Park runs along the northern escarpment over a distance of approximately three kilometers. Before the spectacular view on the escarpment is unveiled, for the first few hours the path crosses numerous, small side valleys of the Belegez Val ey, which flows south of the Park leaving the refreshing eucalyptus groves that surround the town of Debark, the path leads through highland pastures at an altitude of 2800 masl. The scenery is characterized by very steep fields and scarpered hamlets along the path.
Cereals alternate with pasture, revealing an age-old, deeply-rooted system of rotational land use that James Bruce of Kinnard (1190) came across in the years 1770-1775 already, except that the now widespread eucalyptus trees had not yet been introduced at that time. The first physically strenuous passage is Sawre Hill. which has adequately been named ‘heartbreak hill’. Here, for the first time, the path winds up to an altitude of above 3100 masl. The fields on both sides of the path offer insights into traditional agricultural practices.
Despite the steepness of the slope, fields are cultivated every year using oxen for ploughing. On the Sawre Ridge, the path follows the gravel road, making a detour to the left of a small hill. Nearby, travelers must pay a visit to the official entrance of the Park to show their permit. Visitors then take the path that leads above the scattered settlement of Minthgebsa, which is a century-old trail to Chennek Camp eroded by heavy rains during rainy seasons. There are possibilities to proceed northward to the escarpment, which has some spectacular observation points.
- Tiya Afat: With the completion of the new gravel road that runs along the escarpment. trekking along this part of the route offers very impressive views on the lowland areas to the north. The best views are near Tiya Afaf, where the steep terrain offers splendid panoramas westward towards the distinct cliff of Tuf and to the lowland village of Adarmaz.
Just after the Tiya Afaf Viewpoint. a footpath to the left takes a shortcut, while the gravel road makes a large detour to tackle the slope. The shortcut leads down to the most narrow point of the spur, where it meets the road again. After a few more minutes along the road, one reaches Sankaber Camp (3240 m as1), situated on the impressive spur between the northern escarpment and the southern Wade ravine. Sankaber Camp, still the best of all Park camps, is equipped with a modest infrastructure comprising a basic tourist lodge for sixteen persons. Cooking facilities may be available there.
From Sankaber Camp through Gich Camp to Chennek Camp
A trek from Debark to Chennek Camp and back to Debark would normally take at least 6 days. From Sankaher Camp a path leads to Gich Camp, where visitors will enjoy the most impressive parts of the escarpment and find extensive areas of highland grasslands and heather forests. The trek starts with a descent into a depression formed by the upper course of the Wazla Valley (the Kaba fen). Two small detours to additional spots worth seeing are possible:
- Nigus Aysimush Viewpoint: On the way down to the Kaba fen. it is worth making a small detour to the viewpoint situated on the ridge northeast of the camp, as it offers spectacular views of the escarpment and down onto the lowlands. The shortest access is by the path leaving the main road at the sign for Menelik’s Bushbuck. An alternative to this access route is the small footpath that follows the escarpment all the way from the camp. It starts at the sign-posted well in Sankaber Camp.
- Jinbar Waterfall: To get the best views of the impressive Sider River waterfall, the short trip to a small hilltop [Deche Nedala] east of the road is warmly recommended. The hiking trail leaves the road at the deepest point in the Kaba fen, crosses a small stream to the right and reaches the southern foot of the elevation. The last few meters to the top require caution, as the trail is very exposed on the flank of the incredibly steep face that leads down to the bottom of the waterfall.
After the short ascent from the Kaba fen, the path leaves the gravel road to the left and leads through several side valleys to the Jinbar Valley. A new level of human-made landscape emerges between 3150 and 3700 masl: the barley cultivation level. In this area, cultivation is done in a two-year cycle. One side of the valley lies fallow, while the other side is planted. Slope steepness, cultivation, overgrazing, erosive rainfall, and limited land resources lead to extensive soil erosion in this area (Hurni, 1978). After crossing the Jinbar River and embarking on the ascent to the settlements of Gich, the path runs along the upper barley cultivation line—which is also the tree line — to the Gich Camp scouts’ huts (3600 masl).
Gich Camp is an ideal base for various excursions through highland steppe and to spectacular observation points on the ridge of the escarpment. These trips give one unforgettable view of the most impressive parts of the escarpment and offer good opportunities to observe wildlife. In the past, the stunning viewpoints above jagged cliffs also served as observation points for ibex research.
- Gidir Got Summit: This edge of the escarpment (3428 m as1) forms the western margin of the Gich high plateau. It offers spectacular views down to Muchila and the lowlands. Access is either on a path that follows the ridge all along or up through the settlement of Gich — or both, which is a rewarding roundtrip from the camp.
- Saha Summit: Some of the most spectacular views of the escarpment are gained from the top of Saha (3785 m as1). A deep gorge leads down through the escarpment, in which the path used by local people to travel down to the lowland villages of Dirni and Antola can be made out.
- Imet Gogo Summit: This is the best-known observation point in the Simien Mountains (3926 m asp. Easily accessible from Gich Camp through wonderful long- and short-grass steppe. it offers spectacular views in all directions. The vie. down onto the lowland villages of Tiya and Truwata and north-east across to Silki Summit are particularly impressive.
The trip from Gich Camp to Chennek Camp can be continued either on foot all along the escarpment (about 6 hours), or also the track suitable for the pack animals (about 5 hours). The second route crosses Jinbar Valley to the southern ridge of Amber; from where it follows the gravel road to the upper course of Belegez Valley, where the easternmost Park facility of Cheneck Camp (3620 masl) is located.
- Kurbet Metaya: Just before visitors arrive at Chennek Camp, they can enjoy a spectacular view down onto the lowland areas to the left. This viewpoint is actually a gap in the precipitous cliff that reveals impressive views of the steep face towards the west, and the tightly clustered houses (tukuls) in the village of Dihwara below the cliff.
From the National Park (Chennek Camp) to the highest summit in Ethiopia (Ras Dejen)
A trek from Debark to Has Dejen and back to Debark or Ad Arkay would normally take at least 9-10 days. From Chennek Cam the path to Dejen Pass leads to Bwahit Pass – a two-hour ascent after which the view opens to the east over Mesheha Valley the Dejen mountain range. Although the distance seems to be modest, the summit of Ras Dejen (4533 masl) still lies more than 11 hours of trekking away from here.
- Bwahit Pass: At 4200 masl, this pass provides a good prospect back onto the impressive rock formations of Imet Got and lnatiye. The steep scarp towards the east offers views down to the bottom of Mesheha River.
- Bwahit Summit: Even better views of the scenery are available from the top of Bwahit (4430 masl), which can be easily reached from Bwahit Pass.
After the ascent to Bwahit Pass, trekkers have to cross the Mesheha Valley. Treeless slopes. mostly planted with barley, sho advanced soil degradation, and bear witness to an age-old human-made landscape that caught the eye of Eduard Rune (1838/40). Simien is thought to have been inhabited for more than 2000 years. but the region has experienced population growth only in the last few decades. With the steep descent from the vegetation limit at Bwahit Pass down Mesheha Valley, the temperature increases noticeably. An increasing number of arid plants such as the Euphorbia (Euphorh, schimperiana)indicate that dryness increases towards the bottom of this mountain valley.
After crossing the chilly Mesheha River (at about 2800 masl’) — which can be impassable in the rainy season from June September — the long ascent all the way to Dejen Pass (4,260 m as!) begins. Fortunately. the pleasant camping ground in Ambikwa (3100 m as]) divides this long ascent into two stages.
At the beginning, the path winds its way through barley fields and fallow land; later, above 3700 masl, it leads through mountain steppe up to the limits of grassy vegetation near the pass. On the left-hand side below the pass, between 4050 and 4250 masl, a most impressive moraine from the last ice age that took place in the Simien Mountains can be distinguished. was formed about 20,000-14,000 years ago, when mountain tops had small ice caps. The last part of the ascent for Dejen Pass to the summit runs through an impressive area of frost-rubble, where vegetation is only occasional. The summit that is nearest to Mesheha Valley is two meters higher than the one to the east and can be reached through a thirty-meter-high chimney that can be easily climbed by anyone.
- Ras Dejen Summit: A far-ranging view spanning more than ten thousand square kilometers invites the visitor to stay longer on top of the Horn of Africa’s highest mountain (4533 mash). Towards the west, the steep faces of the peaks in the National Park are visible; towards the north and east, one can see Tekeze Valley, which is at a walking distance of two to three days. Towards the south, the eye roams beyond the Wereda (district) of Beyeda down into the Mesheha Valley.
More extensive routes
Further ideas for visitors who intend to spend additional days in the Simon Mountains are offered below, though without details.
Within the limits of the Simien Mountains National Park, some trails follow the foot of the escarpment, passing through the villages of Dirni and Muchila. Both villages have Scout Camps run by the National Park authorities. Beware that most of the trail leading back onto the high plateau requires some climbing and is not suitable for pack animals.
An alternative return route from the summit of Ras Dejen through the village of Amffir is marked on the map. Instead of returning back to Debark after visiting the Park, some people prefer to head north to reach the main road from Adi Arkay. From Arkwasiye the trail descends down into Insiya Valley; a further camp can be set up in Mekarebye From there, the trail leads through Hawaza and Mulit (campsite) and then on to Adi Arkay, which is no longer far.
Another way of reaching Ras Dejen is through the Belegez Valley all the way up to Chennek Camp, leaving visits to the Gich at Sankaber Camps for the way back to Debark. Some visitors have even managed to walk all the way from the Simien Mountain National Park to faraway places such as the towns of Mekele, Aksum, or even Lalibela. It goes without saying that such extensive trips require far more preparation than is necessary for a few days of trekking near Debark.