Bale Mountains

  • Huge Sanetti plateau - © William Mackesy
  • Harenna  Meadow and escarpment from Bale Mts Lodge - © William Mackesy
  • Park HQ reserve - © William Mackesy
  • Vast Sanetti plateau - © William Mackesy
  • Gaysay grasslands from park HQ reserve - © William Mackesy
  • All tame in Park HQ reserve - © William Mackesy
  • Colobus tail, Harenna - © William Mackesy
  • Escarpment from Harenna - © William Mackesy
  • Ethiopian wolf - © William Mackesy
  • Gaysay Grasslands, dry season  - © William Mackesy
  • Gaysay Grasslands, dry season  - © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • © William Mackesy
  • Lonely giant heather - © William Mackesy
  • Never got used to  ibis in trees, Harenna - © William Mackesy
  • Park HQ reserve  - © William Mackesy
  • Park HQ reserve  - © William Mackesy
  • Park HQ reserve, evening light - © William Mackesy
  • Sanetti skyline - © William Mackesy
  • Shepherds" huts, sanetti - © William Mackesy
  • Stately Harenna forest trees - © William Mackesy
  • Warthog in the distance - © By Flickr user AGoetzke
  • Semien Fox - © By Flickr user Gill_Penney
  • Bale houses - © By Flickr user AGoetzke
  • Nyala in Bale Mountains - © By Flickr user AGoetzke
  • Dodola, Adaba - © By Flickr user ShaunDMetcalfe
  • Mountain Girl - © By Flickr user AGoetzke
  • Bale Mountains - © By Flickr user RubenXaus11
  • Bale, Lobelias - © By Flickr user AGoetzke
  • To Dinsho Market - © By Flickr user AGoetzke
  • Bale Landscape - © By Flickr user Gill_Penney
  • Colobus Monkey - © John Aird
  • Ethiopian wolf - © John Aird
  • Ethiopian Farm - © John Aird
  • Giant Groundsel - © John Aird
  • Nyala Antelope - © John Aird
  • Ploughing with oxen - © John Aird
  • View from our first campsite - © John Aird

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 rating

  • Walkopedia rating84
  • Beauty33
  • Natural interest18
  • Human interest2
  • Charisma33
  • Negative points2
  • Total rating84
  • Note: Neg: altitude on higher walks

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Your choice
  • Maximum Altitude: 4,377m
  • Level of Difficulty: Variable
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Harenna  Meadow and escarpment from Bale Mts Lodge - © William Mackesy

WALK SUMMARY

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.  

Long treks: 

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.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Guidebooks/maps/background reading

Suggest books and maps

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.

Other books

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.

Maps 

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.

See also: http://mappery.com/Bale-Mountains-National-Park-Map

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. 

Weather

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!

For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.orgor www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides

Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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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 

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  • 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?

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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?).

Guided/supported

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:

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.    

Accommodation

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.

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Other information and tips

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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.

Add a comment

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.

COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS

Name: johnaird
Posted on: 31/05/2015


Comments from Walkopedia friend John Aird (thank you John!)

We did part of this walk on horseback in May 2015, I feel a bit of a fraud writing about it on Walkopedia, but I hope our comments may be of some interest to genuine walkers. 

We started a the Bale Nation Park Headquarters at Dinsho where we camped in a campsite with spectacular views over the valley below. In the morning we took a guided walk through the forest led by a very knowledgeable local park guide where we saw Mountain Nyala, Meneliks bush buck and a lot of warthogs. 

We then met up with our horses at the Park headquarters. The horses were small and thin, but strong and tough. They carried us up to 4,000 mts without difficulty. We were a large party with 10 riding horses for the 8 guests and 2 guides, plus about 10 pack hoses to carry the camping equipment plus 16 cooks, helpers etc who walked the whole way. 

We started up a well established track through many isolated small farms consisting of a thatched mud walled house and two or three acres of land being ploughed with a pair of oxen pulling a single furrow plough. We were soon above the tree line and the hill sides were covered with Kniphophia plants (Red hot Pokers) a few of which were coming into flower. As we got higher,the farms stopped and the track disappeared, to be replaced by a few herds of sheep and goats. Eventually above 3,500 mts, there were only a lot of rodents living in holes in the ground, a few Ethiopian Wolves living off the rodents, some Ibis birds and other smaller birds. We camped on three Park campsites, where we were the only campers. The facilities were very limited, an Open A Frame shelter and a long drop toilet. The scenery and the views were spectacular. There were a few wild flowers in flower. At the Highest Elevations we saw many Giant Lobelias and no other humans. The only motor vehicles we saw on the whole ride were two young men on motorcycles on the first day. I would not describe the route as difficult walking. There were a few places especially on the way down at the end where we had to get off the horses and walk, but though it was difficult for horses, it was not too difficult for a human on foot. After 4 days, we got back to the highway at Robe where we drove for 3 hours to the Bale Mountain Lodge in the Southern part of the Bale Mountain Park, driving over the Sanetti Plateau which is at an altitude of 4,000 mts plus. Again the scenery is spectacular. You see a lot of Giant Groundsel and a few Ethiopian wolves. At the southern end of the Sanetti Plateau the road descends the Herenna escarpment where you get spectacular views and where we saw a surprisingly overturned Caterpillar bulldozer and a little further on a big 360 degree JCB digger that had fallen off a low loader. At the bottom of the Herenna escarpment there is a beautiful rain forest that extends all the way to Kenya. 

We stayed two days at the Bale Mountain Lodge which opened in January 2014. It was built by a retired British Army officer who had been part of an African Peace keeping force. It is very well built in a spectacularly beautiful location and very comortable but it is very remote, 12 hours by road from Addis Addaba and with no operational local airport. 

We did some excellent walks from the Bale Mountain Lodge with very knowledgeable guides through the rain forest. 

The wild life is not as numerous as it is in East Africa and you have to work hard to find it. but it is rewarding when you do and there is no one else there. We saw many different birds, Bale monkeys and several magnificent Colobus monkeys. 
There was wonderful lush vegetation and old trees, many wild flowers, fine stands of Bamboo, but little big commercial timber. The Bale Mountain Park is enormous and it would take you three weeks or more to walk the distance we travelled.


Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

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Vast Sanetti plateau - © William Mackesy

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Gaysay grasslands from park HQ reserve - © William Mackesy...
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