Simien Mountains: One of the World’s Most Elevated & Isolated Wonderlands

Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia can be visited year-round, but a trip during Ethiopia's main dry season, running from October to February, is recommended. (Henry Wismayer)

The Wall Street Journal
By Henry Wismayer

My new companion on the mountain ledge emitted a croak and hopped a little closer. A momentary standoff followed as I contemplated a beak like bolt-cutters and talons the size of butcher’s hooks. The ground dropped away for a vertical mile on either side of this slender promontory. This was no place for wrangling with a feathered brute. I shuffled back to let the enormous raven—twice as big as any I’d ever seen—scavenge from my picnic leftovers.

If you’ve ever wondered how Jack felt on that first foray up the beanstalk, you could do worse than to visit Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. Looming high above the volcanic outriders of the Great Rift Valley, 670 miles north of Addis Ababa, the range is nature junked-up on growth hormones: a 37-mile-long basalt escarpment staggered between altitudes of 10,000 and 15,000 feet. The area is populated by supersize plants, boisterous monkey armies 500-strong and supersize ravens with a penchant for cookie crumbs.

It’s not a place that has always welcomed outsiders. From 1983 to ’99, famine and regional warfare snuffed out its tourism potential. Today, however, with Ethiopia’s economy expanding amid a semblance of political stability, the country is becoming a relatively safe and accessible destination. It’s often the tawny grandeur of the Ethiopian highlands, cradling Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches and towering above the fabled tombs of Aksum, that most impresses visitors. And it’s here in the Simiens that this region can be seen at its biggest and most sensational. Inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1978, it is a place that has been extolled by Unesco as “one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world.” When I’d prepared to leave the scruffy, one-road town of Debark to begin a six-day trek of its high plateaus, I found myself wondering whether the hyperbole had left me expecting too much.

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