Climbing Nyangani October 2001

I traveled with Molly, my host, north to Nyanga.  Nyanga is a National Park about 100 km’s north of Mutare, Zimbabwe.  It is one of the jewels in the crown of Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands.  The Eastern Highlands have been compared to the Lake District in the UK but I have a different way of describing them.  Take the shape of the Green Mountains, stir in the Ponderosa Pines of Northern Arizona, and sprinkle in some shades of the Sonoran Desert and you’ve got the Nyanga landscape.  There were some dramatic granite slab faces on the some of the mountains but not as numerous as around Mutare.

We toured some of the beautiful sites of Nyanga.  We visited the Pungwe Drift and Gorge.  The Pungwe River is famous in Mutare because all of our drinking water comes from the Pungwe River.  It is drawn from the river just above the Gorge and flows in a pipeline 100 kilometers downhill to Mutare.  The Pungwe River gets its start on the North side of Mount Nyangani, the highest peak in Zimbabwe.  Mount Nyangani is well known in Zimbabwe because it is thought that several important Spirits live there.  Many people have disappeared while hiking or working on the mountain.  Supposedly, the Spirits create aberrations and if one notices and comments on them, the Spirits secret you away to a hidden place on the mountain, never to be seen again.  Only village elders may go to the North side of Nyangani-they climb the peak to ask the Spirits for rain.

Mount Nyangani is approximately 2592 meters or 8500 feet.  Our guide gave us good instructions on how to behave on the Mountain with regard to the Spirits so we were able to climb Zimbabwe’s highest peak and get back down safely; it was an interesting and new aspect to a pre-activity safety briefing.  We climbed the south side of the mountain-about an 1800-foot elevation gain from the parking area in 4 kilometers and didn’t go near the enchanted side.  It was great to watch Molly have a huge success in climbing Mount Nyangani-a true peak experience for her.    She sent cell phone text messages to all of her friends and family from the summit.  I got more grist for the mill of my anti-cell phone in the wilderness stance as Molly’s phone rang all the way up and down the mountain.  It’s been an unanticipated growth edge for me here in Zimbabwe-I’ve used a cell phone much more here than I ever had in North America.  From what I’ve seen, cell phones are the cutting edge of communications technology here since many households do not have landlines (i.e. phones that use wires).

In Nyanga, I went horse riding as they call it here and did some fly fishing for the famous Nyanga trout.  The horse riding was much more successful than the fishing-we were fishing at high noon, in a pond that wasn’t stocked, in a big wind, with flies that sunk-I hope you are getting the picture of a very low likelihood of success.   In philosophizing about fishing, based on my Nyanga experience, I think there has to be some anticipation of catching something in order to be fun.  Pavlovian conditioning at its best.  Molly ordered her trout from the kitchen that night since she’d been unsuccessful in her first fishing endeavor.

As for the ride, also a first for Molly, she was given a docile mare named “Blessing.”  I, on the other hand, had a young stud named “Knight” who probably should have been more aptly named “Nightmare.”  I think, perhaps, that the Spirits of Mount Nyangani possessed him.  Never have I seen a horse throw its head and feet around so much.  Knight and I almost went for a wild ride down the side of a mountain when a Water Buck (a rather large ungulate) got up suddenly and spooked Knight but fortunately, my sense of calm and order prevailed (read:  I pulled very hard on the reins).  On horseback, we visited the ruins of Nyangwe Fort, build in a similar style to that of the Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo.

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