Talk about hiking Mount Mulanje brings about mixed feelings for both the hiker, their family and friends

A place that had to be respected, we were not supposed to visit, it was like trespassing on the spirits of our fore-fathers.

Growing up in Malawi, I grew up believing a lot of things. As kids, we were told, that the highest peak on Mount Mulanje (Sapitwa) is the home of the spirits.

We were told stories of people that were taken by the spirits while hiking up on Sapitwa. Apparently, these people were never seen again. In rare cases, these people were found after a few years. According to the myths, people returned and seemed different. They never spoke again and they didn’t seem like they aged. The people themselves had no memory of what happened. They would often think they had been gone for two days.

In 2013, when I decided to go up Mount Mulanje for the first time, I dealt with heavy disapproval from my immediate family who thought I had a suicide wish. I tried to convince them how safe it is on Mount Mulanje and no one listened. My love for hiking outweighed my fear for being taken away by spirits. I also told myself that I would not go up to the highest peak, Sapitwa. This went well and I only went as far as Sombani peak – not bad for a start.

The hike was hard

But I was so paranoid, I did not want to hear any sounds or movements outside the hut. This turned me into a very religious person – for the night!

I returned home in one proud piece and although everyone was relieved, they all were still mad at me for being such a dare devil! My wife wasn’t really surprised as she has seen me attempt much more crazy acts than Mulanje hike – shark cage diving, for example!

Three years down the line, I decided to visit the spirits on Sapitwa. This was a bold decision but for me, this was going to be the day that I get answers to all the scary questions. There were four of us that had enough courage to face our fears. We set out for Mulanje on a Friday morning.

Day 1

  • We started our hike 5 hours late, at 1:30 pm (Malawi time). This was a very bad idea, but we did not know this at the time. 4 hours later, we were still climbing and we were only half way up, and the sun was setting. The fear started to grow. We had so many fears – spirits in the dark, finding our way and largely, hyperthermia. It was all part of the adventure!
  • Temperatures started to drop and the grass begun to collect the evening dew. As we had started our walk so late, we could hardly see the way and it became slippery as we approached the plateau. We had a very brilliant porter with us; Hard Helmet – cool name! He would go up ahead of us to find an anchor point for his rope. He would then throw it down to us and we went up using the rope, again, again and again until we made it to the top of the rock. Eventually, we arrived at Lichenya Hut at midnight. We made a good portion of Malawi’s staple food - nsima – complimented by tinned fish and we hit the sack!

Day 2

  • We woke up to amazing surroundings – something that was robbed from us the previous night by the darkness. Our destination was Chisepo Hut; the base camp for Sapitwa. At this point, some of us had started to rethink the Sapitwa mission – this was getting too real! Day 2 was a lot easier as we did 6 hours on an undulating surface, negotiating our way around the main ridge of peaks. We left Lichenya at 9:00 am and arrived at Chisepo around 3:00 pm. We quickly secured a place to sleep, good mattresses and blankets. We even had time to go down the river for cold water to dip our legs.
  • We sat down after dinner to make a strategy for the mighty Sapitwa. We found the courage to finally pop the million dollar question to our guide… ‘How true are the stories of spirits abductions?!’
  • Our guide explained that people have gone missing on the mountain but it had nothing to do with spirits – and that people just lost their way. We went to bed and it was a beautiful night. There was a heavy downpour through the night which threatened the possibility of reaching the summit the next day.

Day 3

  • By morning, we had clear skies – so at that point we realise it was really happening – we prepped and left at 7:00 am. This was a real test of our determination.  The rope was used again – almost all the time – but we kept going. Just close to the peak on Sapitwa, there is one more hurdle to conquer, I nearly gave up here and my friends urged me to keep going – reminding me of how far I came. There was a big rock almost my height and on either side of it was a literally a death trap! I couldn’t afford to slip up. When I gathered up courage, I grabbed the rope and went up – and finally we were on Sapitwa! It took us 4.5 hours. It felt so good to be that high. Unfortunately there was a cloud and we did not have great views from there, but we felt so good about it. We had lunch before starting our walk back.
  • Going down was the hardest part as we also constantly used the rope for safety. Despite having a few problems with my ankles, I refused to be carried down – it would have felt like cheating! J
  • We made it back to Chisepo but by 4:00 pm and stayed here for the night again. 

Day 4

  • We knew that we had a very long day ahead of us so we started off early again. We walked towards the elephant head view point, crossing a couple of rivers along the way. We arrived at Thuchila hut by 11:30 am. We stopped here, cooked more nsima and ate and by 2:00 pm, we were on our way again, descending using Otto’s path. It was quick and very, very steep!
  • We finally were at the bottom by 5:00 pm and met our driver. He collected us and we were on our way home.

Oh! The all important question…

No, I did not see any spirits, they were probably on vacation.

I look back and think that it was probably the best feeling I have had this year – a sense of accomplishment. I’m already planning my next trip…

Many thanks to The Responsible Safari Company for sponsoring the trip for me. 

If you'd like to follow in Inno's footsteps get in touch here and we'll do the rest!

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