Spent the morning with the guide books trying to figure out how to see eight countries in ten weeks. It looks like I'm going to have to skip Zambia and do some flying.
Got the others to give me a ride to Chimanimani National Park and actually started hiking from Base Camp at noon. The hike up Bailey's Folly was very steep and two things were painfully obvious. One, I'm out of shape; and two, I'm not acclimated to the altitude (yesterday we were at sea level, now I'm above five thousand feet). The trail was not all that well marked and is more scrambling than walking. I lost the trail several times but always rejoined it. I made it to the top in an hour and took my first rest stop, one thousand feet higher than I'd started. From the top to Mountain Hut was an easy half hour hike through a fairyland forest of weird rock spires.
This is the first (and only) time I've seen anyone on the hike - three hikers from the hostel, and a ranger. I got directions, refilled my water bottle, and took a breather then headed across the marshy alpine valley for Skeleton Pass. My turn around time was 2:30 if I was already at the pass, or 2:45 is I was almost there. It was 1:50 when I left Mountain Hut and it the guide book claimed it was an easy 40 minute hike to the Pass - so I was right on schedule. When 2:45 came along I was almost at the pass so I kept on going. I got to the pass a few minutes before three and stepped over to the Mozambique side to take a short rest and admire the amazing view down into Mozambique's Wizard's Valley. I think the forty minute predicted hiking time must have been based on drier conditions - I had to make a lot of detours to get across streams and particularly marshy sections.
So now I'm running late. I wanted to try and be back at Base Camp by 4:30 so I could catch the shuttle back to the lodge (saving Dean and co. the drive out to the park). I left Skeleton Pass at three. I tried an alternate route back to Mountain Hut hoping for drier conditions, but the trail turned away twenty minutes later being in a hurry I set off across the valley floor rather than backtracking. Mistake. I ended up bushwhacking through very rough marsh covered by knee high grass hiding many holes and streams. Despite my attempts at speed and a mostly downhill trek it took me the same amount of time back to the Hut.
If I wanted to make the shuttle I had 20 minutes to get down - impossible. I decided to hurry anyway on the chance that the shuttle was late (this is Africa) or I could hitch with someone. The trail down was even harder. The markers (two or three small stones in a pile), which were barely adequate on the way up were nearly invisible on the way down. I kept losing the trail, but again finding it further down. At five I was on the trail still and not that far to go. At 5:15 the sun was setting (beautiful) and I had no idea where I was - I hadn't seen a marker in fifteen minutes and I was concerned about it getting dark. I kept going and the terrain got worse and worse. I stumbled and fell face first and twisted ankles a couple times and it was getting darker. A rock I was using as a foot hold gave way and I slid about fifteen feet down a nearly vertical cliff before managing to grab a tree. I'm clinging to a wall fifteen feet down from a ridge, and fifteen up from a small rocky ledge. The good news is that I can barely see the roof of the ranger station only a couple hundred yards across a ravine. I try yelling to get the rangers attention (it's 5:45 and the station is open until six). I'm pretty sure I can get to the ledge without killing myself, but there's a good chance I'm going to twist an ankle - or worse - so I at least want someone to know where I am. After fifteen minutes my voice is going horse, no one has responded (although I can hear weird chanting from over the mountains somewhere), and I'm running out of strength and light. I manage to break the sapling I've been holding on too and slide / fall down that to the ledge with no damage. Fifteen minutes later it's pitch dark and I'm back in base camp - no sign of the ranger, so much for them keeping track of who's supposed to come out.
Happy to have survived probably the stupidest hike (but one of the most beautiful scenery and solitude wise) of my life I rest to get the trembling out of my legs and ankles then start off down the road hoping to meet the others soon (they were going to try be here at six). Forty five minutes later I've covered more ground than the entire hike back and I get picked up. Dean, Brett and Darrelle have been playing Golf - it's sounded like a great course and the had fun - and buying out the towns supply of crafts. We went to a great cafe in town. It was definitely one of the best meals I've had in Africa, but it was a real struggle to stay awake. Back at the lodge it was a quick shower and in bed by nine.