Ethiopia’s 3rd highest massif.
Abuna Yoseph tours behind Lalibela, a tantalising prospect to keen walkers and those of us who love to see mountains. Its peak, Rim Gedel, is marked on maps at 4,284 meters, although each time I have been up there our GPS’s made it a round 4,300!
Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) [LINK] have been running a wolf conservation project on the mountain for a number of years to protect the habitat of the Ethiopian Wolf – the world’s most endangered of the dog family.
It is a relic from a time when the more familiar wolves ranged this far south during the Ice Age. The retreat north of the ice left wolves in the Ethiopian highlands, with an ever shrinking range area and changing environment. They have now become specialists in hunting in the Afro Alpine moorland – hunting for rodents. The biggest concentration is found in the Bale Mountains far to the south. Next comes the Gwassa Menz highlands east of Addis. A few packs live in the Simiens, Abuna Yoseph, and some other mountains such Aboy Gara, a little to the south of Abuna Yoseph. Since the completion of the new FZS built guest house, Agaw Beret, near the peak, Abuna Yoseph is now once of the best places to see this illusive wolf. This is because you now can stay in the midst of the Wolves range area.
Your trek up Abuna Yoseph can be best done to end in Lalibela. The trek starts at Geneta Mariam community guest house. Geneta Mariam is 17km off the main road between Lalibela airport and town. You can reach Geneta Mariam on a trek from Eastern Meket [LINK] site Aina Amba or from Kurtain Washa in Gidan. You can also get dropped at the junction and walk the 17km along a small dirt raod, or pay a little more to be taken to the village of Geneta Mariam itself.
Geneta Mariam is home to one of the most famous rock hewn churches outside Lalibela. Its a bit similar in style to Lalibela Medane Alem, but has some interesting frescoes, including frescoes of elephants that were said to have been used in the churches construction.
The trail up the mountain from Geneta Mariam starts quite steeply with a zig zag trail up the side of the ridge. But when the trail emerges onto the top the views are lovely, and the surprise of finding farms on the top makes the climb more than worth it.
A little bit further along the ridge is a wonderful built up cave church called Mekina Medhane Alem, which is somewhat similar to its more famous neighbour Yemrehana Christos in style, yet is simpler. The church is constructed inside a cave, and it feels like you have stumbled across a lost wonder- which to some extent is true. Some 500 m past here is the lunch spot – the views!
From here it is a ridge walk, as the trail follows the spur of the mountain on both the north and south side of the spur. Some times the path is a little narrow, with steep slopes running down, so this is not a great path for those with a fear of heights. The path leads to the remote community guest house at Tadios Amba. This guest house is set at 3,600m, and has great views back west along the ridge.
From Tadios Amba the trail carries on up the spur, ever higher. There are still some villages around on the first few hours walk, but then the trail enters the Afro Alpine moorland at about 3,900m. Keep an eye out for Wolves, Lammergers and other birds of prey. There are also meadows of Giant Lobelia (like a massive cabbage on a stem). The path takes you onto the main body of the mountain, Rim Gedel is up to the north, and there is a drop of on the eastern side of the massif. Its here many Gelada Baboons can be seen. The views are completely different to the east with the land dropping down steeply towards the rift valley.
The FZS built guest house at Agaw Beret is round the corner from here. Take it easy here, the altitude is 4,000m. Have a rest at Agaw Beret, before going on to the peak or to look for the Wolves later in the day. You can enjoy the site of meadow below the guest house, often with numerous sheep and cattle grazing, with shepherds from the villages below keeping an eye on them.
Next morning, if you did not already climb Rim Gedel, it should now be in clear skies. Its a gradual rise towards the peak then the last 100 meters is a steep climb. Its a scramble using tufts of grass and boulders to pull yourself up. The magnificent views in all directions really make the climb worth the efforts.
On the way down you can have time to explore more of the mountain, climbing the smaller of the sharp Zigit peaks on the northwest side of the massif (4,030m/13,220ft). Between the two Zigit peaks is an extraordinary outcrop of basalt rock, broken up into pentagonal sided pillars. The whole of the side of the massif along here is a good location to see large troops of Gelada baboon, some troops with more than 200 individuals: young ones with their mothers and big puffed up males taunting each other.
From the Zigit area it is 3-4 hours walk down to the guest house run by the Ad Medhane Alem community. This site is perched on the escarpment edge at just over 3,500m (11,500ft) overlooking the ridge that links Abuna Yoseph and the Ashetan Mariam peak that rises from Lalibela town. There are lots of Rock Hyrax on the cliffs, plenty of birds of prey soaring around too, and even leopard (although your chances of a sighting are quite remote). Sitting on the cliff edge wit ha beer in hand you can look down towards Lalibela, and watch the sun go down over the ancient landscape.
The trail is the main route down to Lalibela and is lovely itself. You drop off the escarpment on a trail that follows the spur of the mountain to Lalibela. On one side of the spur is Erica woodland (Giant Heather or Erica arborea). These heather bushes can grow into 5 meter high trees and form a highland woodland that is becoming rare as land is cleared and firewood gathered. This woodland is protected. In here live ‘Netch Zinjaro’ – which translates as White Baboon. These white baboons are in fact Hamadrus Baboons living at an unusualy high altitude of around 3,000 meters. Not 50 meters away lives a troop of Gelada baboons on the southern slopes, and when the two baboon species meet they fight very fiercely.
From the Erica woodland the path drops down and goes through agricultural land and some woodland. For some parts you are on boulder strewn fields but the later its a good trail and you can make good time. You drop down into Lalibela with good views of he town, arriving by the Seven Olives Hotel – Up town Lalibela. We can arrange for a vehicle to meet you here and drop you at your hotel.