Key information: Bale Mountains
- A spectacular high altitude plateau, cliffs, gorges, heathlands, cloud forests and grasslands in this outstanding National Park.
- A thrilling diversity of geology, flora and fauna.
- Walkopedia rating84
- Natural interest18
- Human interest2
- Negative points2
- Total rating84
- Note: Neg: altitude on higher walks
- Length: Your choice
- Maximum Altitude: 4,377m
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The Bale Mountains are extraordinarily interesting, and extraordinarily varied. Spectacular volcanic towers, babbling mountain brooks and serene alpine lakes; the mountains (actually escarpment) looming majestically high above, the famous high Sanetti Plateau edged by the vast cliffs of the Harenna Escarpment and fascinating vegetation and rich animal life, the Bale Mountains offer unbelievable diversity in what is really quite a small area.
The Bale Mountains are vulcanism galore, with a huge variety of formations – consisting of ancient trachytes, basalts, agglomerates and tuffs, for the geologists amongst us. The central peaks, covered by a capping of more recent magma flows, form spectacular rock ripples and pillars, and provide a constant and dramatic backdrop to any plateau trek.
One of the area’s fascinations is its very distinct eco-regions.
Below the mountains to the north, but still within the National Park, are the Gaysay Grasslands and Park HQ “reserve”. The Grasslands are a wide area of low shrub and grass, with rivers and pools of varying seasonal sizes and bush and woodlands on the hillsides above. Much of the year, they are verdant and full of animal and bird life, and a wander through them is a delight; but, in dry season, it is grey and empty. The enclosure (actually a small reserve) by the Park HQ is a delight at any time of year, with beautiful open woodland and a wealth of sightings of its un-shy wildlife.
Most people approach the mountains from the north, climbing through its different vegetation zones: forest (some of it state planted), then a band of lovely vivid green heather, before tipping over the lip of the central Sanetti Plateau into a new world of wide plains and gentle slopes punctuated by rocky bands and outcrops and some peculiar cliffs and towers, dominated by the mass of Tullu Deemtu (4,377m). This is a grey world dominated by low low silvery helichrysum shrubs dotted with heather of different sizes and some fine giant lobelias. If the cloud is down, it is inexpressibly lonely.
The plateau’s south is cut off by the vast cliffs of the Harenna Escarpment; below it you drop through heather, then mossy giant heather, then farmland and villages before getting to the southern Harenna Forest, Ethiopia's second-largest tract of surviving forest, a rich, damp cloud forest, its trees dripping moss and ferns at higher levels. Further in it is so remote that new species still get discovered. Even in the accessible areas the jungle is lovely and fascinating, and you have a good chance of seeing colobus and Bale monkeys, giant forest hogs and a vast selection of birds both beautiful and rare.
The mountains, and the National Park in particular, are famous for their thrilling diversity of wildlife, with around 60 species of mammal, and over 260 varieties of bird. Mammals include the majority of the remaining Ethiopian wolves, and other Ethiopian endemic mammals, the Mountain Nyala and Semien Fox. The chances of a wolf sighting on the high plateau are high, despite their being highly endangered. They are spectacular and gorgeous, and seeing one will be a highlight of any time in Ethiopia. You will see raptors including augur buzzards and, not unconnected, lots of mice and mole rats. Endless other birds and different animals – colobus and Bale monkeys in the Herenna Forest. Likewise lovely vegetation and birds, nyala and buck in the Gaysay Grasslands and Park HQ reserve.
While this is sensational landscape, it is not pristine, grazed for chunks of the year when lower reaches are droughted-out. Even much the Harenna Forest is carpeted with cropped grass below the shrubs, with the effect that you can see some way at ground level but perhaps a few metres at head height.
The main base villages (all in the north) are Dinsho, near the National Park HQ, and Dodola and Adaba on the main road in from the west. They all have accommodation of varying qualities and supplies, and are good bases for day walks or for starting a trek onto the plateau. In addition, community-led organizations provide local guides with real insight; recommended (indeed required) for most (if not all) walks. Up inside the range (mainly above Dodola) are some lodges and tented camps: you must forge through dense forest and past beautiful waterfalls, plus not a little wildlife, to reach them. Otherwise, it is camping once up in the mountains.
It is delving deeper into the park, however, that yields the greatest reward.
Walking Around Dinsho
Gaysay Grasslands and Park HQ “compound” (see above for details).
Gaysay Hill (named for the river) to Boditi Summit(3,520m); grand views of the Gaysay river flats and south into the park.
Day walk from Dinsho to Gasuray Peak(3,325m), along the steep Web Valley and through beautiful, fragrant forest. Then follow the connecting spur to Adelay Ridge, finally descending from the northeast corner of Adelay to reach the main road back to the village.
Walking on the Sanetti Plateau: despite being a tough landscape, this is thrilling to explore, and shouldn’t be missed for stunning views and fascinating flora and fauna. Reasonably easy walking (but for the altitude) around the plateau, a multitude of animal tracks make path selection easy. Several volcanic peaks in the Sanetti Plateau area make for some more strenuous exercise: See more
Harenna Forest: Get here if you can for lovely walking in damp, rich forest.
From Dodola and Adaba: Dodola, a small town with a few lodges, sits on the main access road on the western side of the mountains. There are wonderful treks in the rugged mountains above (some argue even better landscape than in the NP, although the wildlife is less abundant); this is tough and high waking, though, so you will want to be fit, or take a horse. You can make day walks above Dodola, but the multi-dayers into the heart of this tremendous landscape are compulsory for the serious trekker. There is an outstanding lodge-to-lodge circuit. You can also head onward onto the Sanetti Plateau. See our Dodola page for more. You can also make walks from Adaba, east of Dodola.
Routes exploring deep into the Bale Mountains National Park and climbing the range itself mostly begin from Dinsho, the park headquarters, or from Dodola (see above). You can make a variety of climbs to and across the plateau (make sure time is allowed to acclimatise). Trails are so many, varied and interconnected that it is vital to use a guide, not least in order to select the best option for your interests/time/fitness. Ensure you make known your desires and confirm price beforehand.
A splendid shorter (3 day, or 2 day if time is short) walk on the northern mid-slopes heads up the superb Web Valley from Dinsho, taking in a fine waterfall, to reach the Sodota campsite in approaching 6 hrs. Day 2 explores the Kotera Plain, a wolf habitat, then descends to the campsite at Adeley (approaching 8 hrs) - or, indeed you could return to Dinsho if time is short. On day 3, you drop right back down and explore the very different Gaysay Grassland, for superb wildlife in the damper seasons (of less interest at the end of the dry season).
There are multiple options for longer walks taking in the Sanetti Plateau, but the key is to structure a route that will limit altitude problems. In particular, take your time getting there, and sleep low to the extent you can. A specimen route would be:
Day 1: head up to Sodota Camp on the first day of the shorter walk above.
Day 2: carry on climbing south-westward (obliquely to the heart of the mountains) up the stunning Web Valley to the higher campsite at Kerensa. Approaching 6 hrs.
Day 3: either:
- head south to the edge of the amazing sourtherly Harenna Esarpment, then turn west to circle below 3,843m Morobawa to the Morobawa campsite. Thence on days 4 and 5 back to Sodota and Dinsho. A less demanding trek, reaching a more doable altitude, but not getting the full bleakness of the high Sanetti Plateau.
- swing east across high ground, through rocky volcanic drama, to Rafu campsite in circa 5 hrs.
Day 4: cross the heart of the Sanetti Plateau, eastward at well over 4,000m, before dropping to camp at Garba Guracha: likely to be a tough 6 hr day at this altitude. Revel in the beauty of the eponymous lake.
Alternatively, meet the road and drop south towards the lower Harenna Forest.
Day 5: having had a go at acclimatising, an optional return to the highest plateau to climb 4,377m Tullu Deemtu, the Bale's highest peak, in getting on for 7 hrs: not that thrilling a climb, as peaks go, and likely to be an at times miserable experience at this altitude, but a peak bagged for those who mind about such things.
Otherwise, head north-east for home, crossing the plateau side (possibly climbing 4,203m Mt Batu if feeling up to it) to camp at Worgona, east of My Worgona and between the Shaya and Denka valleys. A shortish day (5hrs) if you don't climb Batu, so you may want to explore en route.
Day 6/7: descend down the lovely Denka valley to return to Dinsho in 5-6 hrs.
If time is short or you want less high plateau time, you could meet a vehicle on the road on day 4, or day 5 morning.
The altitudes, on the plateau at least, will affect walkers, as, unless you approach it slowly (hard unless you are on a long trek), you will be unprepared for the altitude at over 4,000m. Walkopedia found itself panting after a short climb. But, the good thing is that you will be likely to be sleeping a lot lower, so the chance of more than exhaustion and a headache are reasonably low. But come prepared to cope.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books which mention these walks
From tourist offices in both the Dodola and Adaba locations, guidebooks compiled by the sustainable tourism communities can be purchased for around USD$2.
Lonely Planet: Ethiopia & Eritrea– southern Ethiopia chapter: section on the Bale Mountains.
Footprint: East Africa Handbook– Michael Hodd.
Find these and other books on Amazon.
Ethiopia – Elizabeth Berg, 2000 (an introduction to the geography, history, government, lifestyles, culture and current issues).
Ethiopia – by Philip Briggs (Bradt Travel Guide)
A History of Ethiopia – HG Marcus
Ethiopian Amharic – Lonely Planet Phrasebook
Journey through Ethiopia - Mohamed Amin, Duncan Willets, and Alaistair Matheson
Top 100 Birding Sites in the World – Dominic Couzens (Bale Mountains rank 3rd).
Ethiopia through Writers’ Eyes – Eland Books, selected by Yver-Marie Stanger – a fascinating selection.
Waugh in Abyssinia – the great writer’s funny if jaundiced take on the war with Italy.
The Pale Abyssinian: the Life of James Bruce by Mile Bredin. An extraordinary late of this adventurer’s C18 sojourn in Ethiopia. ’Bruce emerges … as one of the toughest, bravest, most effective and learned of British African pioneers.’ Robert Carver, Times Literary Supplement.
Find these and other books on Amazon.
Ethiopia (World Travel Map)– Cartographia.
Ethiopia: Itm.225– Itet.
Bale Mountains and Dodola/Adabatrekking maps can be bought for US$2 and US$4 respectively, from the tour guide offices in Dodola and Adaba.
Stanfords:www.stanfords.co.uk. An excellent (and user-friendly) online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
November to March have little rain and very bearable temperatures. Greener in November and December. Night-time temperatures can be very low on the plateau. Rainiest time is August to October.
As one might expect in high mountains, the climate is characterized by high rainfall and periods of damp cloudy weather, and yet can still bedazzle with periods of brilliant sunny weather and clear blue skies. The climatic year can be roughly divided into three seasons – the dry, early wet and wet seasons.
Can get very cold at night - come prepared!
There are direct or connecting flights from all over Europe and North America to Addis Ababa (Ethiopian Airlines have a good reputation as of 2019), from where most expedition organisers meet people taking part. All transport from Addis Ababa tends to be sorted out for you, and included in the price.
Internal flights to Robe. You will have to get into the mountains by car or by bus as far as the towns.
For entry into Ethiopia, you must have a valid passport, which will remain valid for at least the next six months, and a visa (whatever your nationality): check the current position, and whether one can be got on entry.
Permits are needed to walk in the National Park; these are available from the park headquarters in Dinsho.
You will have to get here by car or by bus as far as the towns.
Permits are needed to walk in the National Park; these are available from the park headquarters in Dinsho.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Altitude:can affect some; acclimatize appropriately, and come prepared to cope as it is likely to affect you a bit: expect to puff and perhaps a mild headache.
- Mountain weather:cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Come prepared.
- Heatand strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Heights:can be dangerous if climbing into the mountains; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
- Harmful animals:including (at least on off the plateau) snakes, mosquitoes, and stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
- This is remote country:food and other supplies will not be readily available and help will be hard to get if things go wrong.
- Health risks:this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
It is strongly recommended by the park to hire a guide. They are compulsory, for longer walks, at least (community – any views re shorter walks?).
Most people form or join organised/supported expeditions. Given the remoteness of the country and difficulty of getting supplies, travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages, and they are compulsory, for longer walks, at least. They are particularly useful due to the lack of established long-distance trails, also when it comes to interacting with the local communities dotted around the park. Organisers can also arrange for permits to be obtained for entry to the national park.
If hiring a guide/team locally, meet him/her/them and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you (and they) will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and, of course, remuneration!
Expedition organisers include:
- www.tourdust.com organise Ethiopia expeditions, including walking here. We had a wonderful time with them. They clearly have good local partners. We are proud to be their partners.
- We walked in the park HQ reserve with the knowledgeable and friendly Ayuba Ahmed, who through his company Bale Trails – www.baletrails.com– organises day walks or longer expeditions (lovely ideas on their site, including the long Sanetti traverse described above). He seems competent and impressive.
- www.balemountaintours.comhave some good-looking expediations.
Note that, if you fix up your trek locally, you need to fix your guide and other support team (including horses if you want) through the Nyala Guide Association at the park HQ.
The guidebooks have a selection of possible accommodation, but once in the mountains camping (and a few lodges) are the only realistic option.
Walkopedia stayed at the marvellous Bale Mountains Lodge[Add link] in the Harenna Forest on the southern flanks. This eco-lodge is delightfully sited with views across a stream and meadow to particularly luscious escarpment formations: knowledgeable guides will lead you on forest walks and birdwatching potters in the early morning cool. Some way to get to, but en route if you are visiting the Harenna Forest.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS
Posted on: 31/05/2015
share your experiences
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Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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