Backpacking on Horseback

In my efforts to live life to the fullest, I aim to do as many things on my 30 before 30 bucket list, one of the items on my list was to go backpacking on horseback. During my recent trip to Ethiopia I had a chance to cross it of my list.

My destination for this trek took me south in Ethiopia to Dinsho, a quite town surrounded by the Bale Mountains.  My first night happened to be on Easter Sunday and I had a chance to share the local traditions with my guide and his friends who lived in the national park.

Day 1..I relaxed after a long bus ride with a quite walk through the park. The scenery was breathtaking and the wildlife was abundant. During my short hike I spotted warthog, mountain nyala, and menelick’s bushback, as well as many different birds and smaller critters.

That evening I enjoyed a traditional coffee ceremony and foods for Easter. They had a malted barley drink that was sweet but pleasant, and reminded me of malt Guinness. For dinner, they served injera with beef tibs and it was delicious!

My sleeping accommodation was a tent set up under a canopy of trees in the woods. I was very happy being able to camp again, especially in forest. I woke up early morning to discover warthog snuffling around outside my tent and bushback grazing in the small clearing directly in front of me. It was a blissful way to wake up.

My guide gathered me and we walked to Dinsho town to get breakfast before setting off on our trek. It was a local place, I do not remember the name of, but they served two types of scrambled eggs (plain and with peppers and onions) with the most fluffy and delicious barley flat bread (ambesha). The use of barley in Ethiopia makes me want to grow it in Kenya and cook with it more.

We trekked back up the hill by mid-morning where our horses were being saddled up for our journey. I rode a white horse name Adi, who was stubborn but had a brilliant gate coming in and out of a gallop and trot. After, making sure everything was packed, we mounted and were on our way in no time at all!

Now, I am experienced at riding. I have been around horses my entire life and took summer jobs attending them. But this mountain trek was a first for me, not only backpacking, but scaling mountains. As experienced as I am, it definitely was a different sort of riding than I am used to and not for the inexperienced.

The duration of the trip was 3 days and 2 nights, and a total of 12 hours on horseback. We galloped through the grassy fields and trotted over riverbeds. Adi was a “prince” and didn’t want his feet getting wet so a few times we jumped over riverbeds. The most challenging part of the rides was the vertical climbs up the mountains. I have never done it before and maintaining my balance on the horse as we went straight up rocky hillsides, with the realization that if I fall off it was going to be a long way down (with zero chance of survival), was daunting. Of course I survived and managed to perfect my technique for a total of 4 more vertical climbs.

The climbs down were easier, but still with the rocky terrain and muddy ground, and as an experienced rider I was nervous. But overall the experience was amazing and I can now say that I can go mountain trekking on a horse.

As we surfaced the plateaus, the valley below us was a spectacular sight. Steep canyon passes looming in the distance, riverbeds carving the path we took below, and as we rode freely across the open plains we spotted indigenous Ethiopian wolves on the prowl only several feet from us, stalking some unsuspecting molerat.

A fact about the Bale Mountains : 26% of Ethiopia’s endemic species can be found here, 6 of 18 birds endemic to Ethiopia are also found here. There are also several rare and endemic amphibian species in Bale, and 23 different flowering plants only found in Bale. The species of animals endemic  in Ethiopia are only found in the Bale mountains like Bale monkey, one bovid, giant molerat, Ethiopian wolf, Mountain Nyala, Menelick’s bushback, eight species of rodent, and a hare. In the north you can find leopard in the forest and go south to the Harenna Forest to find the lions.

The different areas of the forest are the Juniper Woodlands, Northern(Gaysay) Grasslands, Afroalpine Meadows(Sanetti Plateau and Upper Web Valley), Erica Belt : Moorlands and Forest, and Harenna Forest. I will get more in details later, but I visited the first three areas and didn’t get a chance to go south, but the Harenna Forest is supposed to be amazing.

The first night was spent in a campsite on the plateau. There wasn’t much to hike around and look at but I climbed to the top to get a good look at the beautiful scenery. As we crossed the plateau I saw different birds and the rare hare and in our campsite a naked molerat was making a new home.

The second day we made our way to the northern forest. The forest was stunning and we got there just before the heavy rains descended, so I was able to hike around a bit to see more. I sadly did not see any leopards, but it was near freezing so I did not think we would anyway. We camped out under the thick of trees where a cave was, and during the high rains the area would have been flooded as a waterfall. I woke up the next morning to a moving family of baboons and watched in wonder as they crossed in front of my tent.

The final descent off the mountain took us back to Dinsho where my trek ended. There is so much that cannot be verbalized because it is something you need to experience to have the effect I had. However, it is an experience that will stay with me. From beginning to end, the entire trek took my breath away and stunned me from the wildlife, to the scenery, and the new experience I gained on horseback. My trek in the Bale Mountains was much more than I could have anticipated and I would do it again in a heartbeat.


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