Welcome to the Mecca of professional walkers and climbers — the Chimanimani Mountains.
The Chimanimani Mountains lie at the southern end of the Eastern Highlands and rise to a maximum of 2 440 metres above sea level.
They are comprised of quartzite and form part of the African Frontier System. Most of the range, including its higher peaks — Binga (2 440m) and Dombe (2 215m) is part of the 17 100 hectare Chimanimani National Park.
The mere sight of the Chimanimani mountain range (of which you can only see a part of at a time), is the longest and most diverse on the African continent, is in itself an intense adrenalin rush for those who have a penchant for pain.
I’m certainly not among those.
A word for the wise before we go too far: experienced hikers only, and perhaps crazy attempters.
Said our guide, a local mountain guru in the Chimanimani area — Collins Sibanda — just as we stood at the base:
“It’s a steep and difficult climb and should not be attempted unless you are a serious hiker or climber.
“We’ve got a job to do,” I replied, certainly very much uncertain.
Having experienced the brutality of the sharply inclined dirt and rock trail leading to the top of the mountain I can now professionally recommend only taking on this hike if you are fit and nimble as it takes some sense of balance and flexibility.
Additionally, what makes hiking in these areas such a challenge is that the weather is subject to swift changes, especially during the rainy season, and hiking on muddy trails and slippery rocks becomes tricky.
The terrain of most of the mountains (ok, the very few that we came into close proximity with) is ragged, with few paths or tracks, but a jaunt into the range offers the tourist interesting views of some of the country’s most majestic mountain scenery and untouched wilderness.
Perhaps the best things about mountain-hiking are the sights and sounds.
The mountains are cut by numerous streams and rivers, some of which have been stocked with trout.
The mountains’ diverse flora includes wild sweet peas, proteas, yellow-woods, howmans, cliff aloes, mountain hibiscus and various species of ferns and orchids.
I suppose we arrived in Chimanimani a month too early because we missed out on sighting the brilliant disa ornithantha, a special feature in the area which is said to bloom only in January and February.
Sable antelope, bush buck and eland are regularly sighted in the mountains and there are a number of blue duiker.
Leopards are said to be present, but comfortingly enough for me, are seldom ever seen.
The avifauna includes purple-crested louries, malachite sun birds, laughing doves, trumpeter horn bills, secretary birds, francolins and several species of eagles and other raptors.
It is believed that there are a total of 186 species of birds in the Chimanimani Mountains, including several that are only found in this area anywhere in the world.
According to Collins, the rainy season has brought with it other bird species such as paradise flycatchers, dusky flycatchers, golden breasted bunting, miombo double collared sun bird, yellow white eye, bar throated apalis and kurrichane thrush.
The Chimanimani Mountains are perfect for birding, and also ideal for rock climbing and camping.
As we reach the top of the mountain, my colleague (sweat dripping, breathless) asks:
“So, what’s the name of this mountain?”
“This mountain?” says a somewhat astonished Collins, “It’s too small to be named. These are our hills in this area.”
We probably wouldn’t have made it up the 2 440m Mount Binga anyway.
Besides, the numerous trails throughout the Chimanimani Mountain range offer something to suit all levels of exertion — with trip options ranging from one to five days dependent on one’s desire and oomph.