January 2009

 


Welcome to the first edition of our Walkopedia Magazine, written by walk lovers for fellow wearers of rustling rainwear, which we are working to make the most beautiful and intriguing walking publication around.

Regular features will include expedition reports, walking icons, a Walkopedia favourite walk, a country feature, a city focus and a photo essay.

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Expedition report: Tanzania

Here are some outstanding walks in northern Tanzania, which we tackled in October 2008.

Mount Meru


Across to Kilimanjaro at dawn

The high ridge and ash cone from way down

A horseshoe of dramatic cliffs testifies to the cataclysmic explosion of this once vast volcano. Approach through magnificent forest which shelters a wide range of animals – from giraffe, elephant and antelope to colobus monkeys.

Meru is one of the world’s most thrilling ascents, and is in our Top 30. But at over 4,500m, the final struggle around the jagged crater rim is tough. The view across the sea of clouds to the mass of Kilimanjaro silhouetted, some 70 kms away, against a rosy-fingered dawn sky is unforgettable.

3-4 days. Walkopedia Rating 92.
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Empakaai Crater

A bright turquoise lake fills this magnificent, deep caldera (collapsed volcano). Descend through fine mountain forest to loll by the shore in the company of 10,000 squawking flamingos, or crunch across the lakeside soda flats as the Pink Ones flap away in surprisingly graceful groups.


Looking down into the crater

3-5 hrs. Walkopedia Rating 83.
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Ol Doinyo Lengai

Lengai is a perfect volcanic cone which rises approaching 2,000m from the floor of The Great Rift Valley. Lengai is very much alive, belching toxic gas and chucking ash about. You will enjoy outstanding dawn views over the Rift Valley, its hazy ochre grasslands pockmarked by lesser craters and fumeroles. This is a tough and currently genuinely dangerous scramble, only for the fearless and very experienced.


Cold beauty, early morning

10 hrs. Walkopedia Rating 83.
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Empakaai toward Lake Natron


Across Maasai grazing land to Lengai and the Rift Valley

Across Lengai's ashfall toward Natron

Walk from the rim of the magnificent Empakaai Crater, nestling a beautiful, flamingo-belted lake several hundred metres down, along the western escarpment of the Great Rift Valley.

Cross rough grassland, passing resolutely traditional Maasai villages and herds of cattle tended by young men and women in their famously colourful attire. Descend a long ridge under the looming presence of Ol Doinyo Lengai, a huge and perfect, but sinister, volcano, into a forest of yellow fever trees. After a night in a clearing, your tents brought in by donkey, wind steadily down weird, bare ridges covered in ash from a recent Lengai eruption, enjoying huge views far down along the rift towards Lake Natron in the hazy distance.

2 days. Walkopedia Rating 88.5.
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Our expedition (which was tailor made for our group) was organised by Natural High Safaris, who were helpful, imaginative and flexible to deal with, clearly well experienced, and, we thought, reasonable value (travel in Tanzania isn’t cheap, though).


www.naturalhighsafaris.com

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Icon: Huangshan, China


Huangshan, China

Artists, poets and thinkers have been making their way to eastern China’s amazing Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) for centuries. Their spectacular, mist-wreathed granite peaks and cliffs, to which cling fantastically twisted pines, are famous from generations of Chinese scroll paintings. The walk up is tough (cable car is a legitimate approach) and the main cliff-top paths are crowded – but you can achieve splendid isolation on the many less-frequented trails.

Walkopedia rating: 93.5
Read more...



Walkopedia favourite: Tongariro Alpine Crossing, North Island, New Zealand


Across the Red Crater to Ngauruhoe

Ruapehu and Tongariro, the great volcanoes of New Zealand's central North Island, loom, serene and ethereal when snow clad, above the surrounding heath and grassland. Between them stands 2,291m Ngauruhoe, an almost ridiculously perfect volcanic cone, a giant heap of rock and ash so regular that it looks as if it was deposited yesterday, which, in geological terms, it was. Ngauruhoe is a mere youthful pimple on the side of the Tongariro massif to its north, a cluster of much older craters whose explosions and eruptions have reduced the great mountain so that its parasite, Ngauruhoe, is now much the higher of them.

Tongariro looks as close as the earth's surface can to that of the moon, three huge conjoining crater remnants, now wierdly flat, like particularly liquid cowpats. A selection of oddities lies scattered around them: violently coloured craters, huge solidified lava bombs, sinister jets of smelly steam hissing from the rocks and acidic, brilliant waterlogged explosion holes.

The result of all this upheaval is some of the most dramatic, harshly beautiful volcanic scenery you will encounter anywhere, all compressed into a long day’s walk. Many say that the Crossing is the best day walk in New Zealand – with justice.

The Tongariro area was of great spiritual importance to the area’s Maori people, and became New Zealand’s first national park after it was given to the nation in order to preserve it, unsullied, from the encroaching settler way of life. The National Park is now a World Heritage Site.

The trail heads off up a lovely valley through pale scrubby grass, between the great uninterrupted sweep of Ngauruhoe's western slopes and a long ridge descending from Tongariro itself. A tough scramble up the harsh black rocks of the Devil’s Staircase

 

gets you to the Mangatepopo saddle. You can climb Mt Ngauruhoe from here. While the ascent is a long, dreary trudge, you are rewarded at the top by two concentric craters and extravagant 360 degree views.

The route then crosses the floor of the South Crater, an extraordinary platter of water-washed cinders a kilometer across surrounded by steep broken walls, Tongariro's low surviving peak looming to the left. A hike up the crater side reveals a superb view across the eastern foothills which, astonishingly, given the lush greenery of Central New Zealand, are desert. A tough and sweaty climb on red cinders reaches the highest point of the Crossing, a heap of cinder and pumice at 1,886m on the rim of the extraordinary Red Crater, a chasm violently ripped out of the mountain's side, a deep, angry red like a congealing wound. Sulphur steam rises from crevices among the boulders in the bottom.

At the bottom of a steep, narrow scree beside the crater are the beautiful but sinister turquoise Emerald Lakes. Further on, filling a long-dead crater, is the larger (and, like the Emeralds, thoroughly poisonous) Blue Lake. The views from its northern shore are outstanding. Behind, the angry Red Crater and the soaring Ngauruhoe. Ahead, a corner of Lake Rotoaira, nestling in forested ridges, appears between the steep slope of the North Crater and Rotopaunga, the active Te Mari crater below, like Ngauruhoe a youthful excrescence on the body of its old, exhausted parent.

A fine path gradually descends round the North Crater's flank, down to the Ketetahi Hut with its vast views out to Lake Taupo, past the hot Ketetahi Springs, to which access is neurotically prohibited. A steady downhill tramp takes you to a stunning hundred meter escarpment, clearly the end of a massive lava flow. In the grand valley below, a long trudge through lush forests gets you to the roadhead.

7-9 hours. Walkopedia Rating: 89

Further information ...


Emerald Lake

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City focus: Valletta, Malta


Valletta from Sliema flicr user Paul Stephenson

Malta’s reputation has suffered for its tourism. Chunks of the north coast are given over to the sort of chips, beer and nasty disco culture the Brits have exported all over the Med. But it forms, in fact, a stunning record of the Mediterranean’s bloody and contorted history. The desertified island’s position astride the key sea lanes and its huge deep-water harbour have made it a prime target for every empire-builder to work the Med. Every major culture from Neolithic times has left it mark here: an unknown race of Neolithic temple builders who bestowed the landscape with structures which make Stonehenge look like a bungalow, and, among others, the Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and, most recently, British Empires, have all come and gone. And, of course, the Knights of St John, who settled here after they were kicked off Cyprus.

The capital, Valletta is the jewel in this miraculous crown. Built with an eye to withstanding prolonged and ferocious Turkish sieges in the 16th century, it crams an entire capital city into a peninsula just over a kilometre long and three-quarters wide, overlooking the massive Grand and Marsamxett harbours, and is classified in its entirety as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Knights, led by Jean de Vallette, had this baroque gem largely completed in 15 years, between 1566 and 1581, under the direction of military engineer Francesco Laparelli and Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar.

Unique in its architectural homogeneity, Valletta remained preserved in amber until it was razed to the ground, with massive loss of life, by the Luftwaffe during Malta’s heroic stand against invasion during WWII. It was then reconstructed, stone by stone, in an equally heroic effort by its proud inhabitants: the only sign of the siege in modern times is the opera house by the city gates, left in its shattered state as a war memorial. It’s testament to the tough obstinacy of the Maltese that they have resisted Germany’s reparative attempts to fund its rebuilding for decade after decade.

Circumambulation of the peninsula can be done in an hour or so, but all routes are so crowded with historical and architectural distractions and foot-slowing viewpoints that you’ll have to wear

 

blinkers to do it in that time. Start at the kiosk in the Upper Barakka Gardens (and buy a glass of the local bitter-orange soft drink, Kinnie, while you’re there) and walk through the colonnade to be rendered speechless by the huge, azure panorama of Grand Harbour. Then leave the gardens for an instant contrast in the narrow, echoing confines of St Ursula Street, whence to St Paul’s Shipwreck church, a tardis of a place that’s part mausoleum, part wedding cake. From there go down the steps (Byron complained loudly of Valletta’s “cursed streets of stairs”) for more breathtaking views of de la Vallette’s harbor fortifications from the Castille Curtain and Lower Barakka. The road then carries you round the point of the peninsula, past Knightly Auberges and the Anglican Cathedral, affording deep views into Marsamxett, the secondary harbour, and across to the domes and palazzi of Sliema. More, steep, stairs lead up past the mad baroque Manoel Theatre (Europe’s third-oldest), through the historical red-light district of Strait Street and up to the grand squares that surround the crazy, Caravaggio-filled St John’s co-cathedral and the Grand Master’s palace.

Valletta is a place of contrasts: ringing silences and sudden crowds; mindblowing vistas and claustrophobic alleyways; elegant fascias festooned with TV aerials; Rococo campery and martial grimness. It is a city at once like, and unlike, any other, a true meld of Mediterranean cultures: as Middle-Eastern as it is Italian, as North African as it is British. It is also, despite the plethora of palazzi, churches, Knightly inns and grand museums, a working-class city (the aristocracy stayed in the old capital, Mdina, and the bourgeoisie prefer Sliema), which lends it an energetic, Neapolitan air (though without the crime levels). At night, it empties out almost completely, and a walk through the city’s dark, echoing expanses give one a powerful feeling of what the world would be like if civilization were simply to vanish off its face.


Valletta - Festa © flicr user maltavista.com


Walkopedia rating: 87

Further Information



Photo essay: Lake Manasarovar, Tibet


Gurla Mandhata

Lake Manasarovar lies on the high plateau of western Tibet, between 7,694m Mt Gurla Mandhata and glorious Mt Kailash to the north-west. It is the most venerated of all Tibet’s many sacred lakes, especially by Hindus, who have been walking round it for approaching 2,000 years. Buddhists associate the lake with Maya, Buddha’s mother.

Pilgrims come here to perform the kora, the clockwise circumambulation of the lake. Indian Hindus, huddled and suffering from the altitude, come here to ritually bathe. Tough, wind-burned Tibetans in their heavy fleece coats trudge remorselessly around the lake, oblivious to things of this world such as startling natural beauty.

Mansarovar may not match your expectations of a sacred lake. Rather than a mistily numinous world of deadened sound, its icy waters lap its stony shores under a fierce, astringently beautiful light. It is not a kind place, rather one of pure contemplation and sharp ecstasies.

At 4,560m the air here is thin and pure. The lake can shift from angry indigo, to dull pewter, brushed steel or polished silver, to wonderful lapis lazuli, all within 10 minutes.

Read more...


From Gossul Monastery

Prayer wheels

Mount Kailash

Chiu Monastery

Afternoon ciaroscuro

Afternoon shower

Kailash Range

Last sight heading toward Lhasa
 

Rainstorm over the Kailash Range


Vignette: foreign monkey: Emei Shan, China

High on sacred Emei Shan in western China, I was trudging up an ancient stone path through golden autumn trees. I was alert here for the famous Emei monkeys, which roam the slopes like post-modern Robin Hoods. They beg for food, consider a brisk body search part of a morning's work, and sometimes make off with possessions. I tightened the straps of my pack and practised kung fu twirls with my stick. A primate encouter is an integral part of every pilgrim’s journey and both feeding and baiting them are common. As a result, they can easily turn nasty, and a steady approach is advised, accompanied by hands clapped and extended to demonstrate that they are empty.

I never saw any of these marauding brigands but, as I came round a corner, I met a group of young walkers, led by a bumptious man in unreasonably smart clothes. As I approached, he clapped and extended supplicatory hands toward me. His friends chortled and I grinned sheepishly. All Europeans are big-nosed barbarians, but the monkey metaphor is more universal than they knew. A few years later, I could have hit them with a carefully chosen Mandarin retort, but all I could do was slink onward, a foreigner put in his rightful place.

William Mackesy

Read William's full account of this walk...



En passant

Cubist Ladders, Upper Humla Valley, Nepal.


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The Reluctant Walker: Serena Mackesy on Gradient Inflation

Each era spawns a new set of trades, and each new trade, a whole new jargon. So IT people talk in CISSP-ISSEPs, management consultants talk in holistic real-time end-product stratagems and reality tv stars talk in innits. It’s only a matter of time before wheelie-bin compliance officers have a whole slew of new TLAs to describe that contentious inch between lid and lock. And, though this Masonic attitude towards vocabulary creates an aura of mystique, it can be teeth-grinding for the world at large.

Take the Health and Fitness world. Since the inhabitants of the western world allowed their lardy backsides to grow to fit their easy chairs, there has been an explosion in the number of people hoping to make a living from the concomitant unease we all, fit or not, feel about it. Some are highly qualified. Most are not – enthusiasm and a six-week personal trainer course are not, in fact, doctorates. So, to lend a professional air, they pepper their speech with glutes and abs, with core strength and circuit training and spinning and cardiovascular whatnottery. And, unless you possess an air-punching personality, it’s liable to render you stuck even more firmly to the sofa. Because the semantic rot has spread way beyond the gym, now. Every form of exercise is having hearty, it’s-an-achievement phrases attached to it. It’s easy to be intimidated by the self-important exaggeration of the fitness industry, and this fact is becoming part of the problem. If your friend tells you about the great hike they took in Central Park, it’s easy to start thinking it’s not somewhere where you can go for a nice walk.

And every walk is a hike, these days. A few years ago, I was diddled by a newspaper into joining a luxury self-deprivation holiday in Morocco, on which a group of well-off middle-class people shared dawn yoga, saltless-oil-less-flavourless-caffeine-less-joyless sustenance and a tendency to talk about their bowel movements. And ‘hiking’ in the Atlas mountains. Surrounded by a degree of zealotry I’ve not encountered since the last time I got canvassed for my vote, I felt a degree of dread. I like a nice walk, but I spend most of my time in front of a computer, and the Atlas mountains are high. And steep. And they go on for a long time. And these people were so very, very fond of talking about the endorphin rush they got in the gym.

Early on the fateful morning, with a stomachful of gruel, I get in a minibus and gaze longingly at the souks and coffee-stands of Marrakech. “Don’t worry,” said someone, “we’ll look after you”. “I know it’ll be tough,” said someone else, “but it’s worth it.” By the time we decanted, in a pine grove halfway up one of the lower foothills, I was feeling something close to panic. We put on our boots and set off along an unpaved road that rose so subtly through elegant almond terraces and small stone villages that one could only tell that we were rising at all by peering over the edge at the receding river valley below. The landscape was beautiful – lush and loved and full of tinkling herds of goats – but I didn’t enjoy a minute of it, because all I could think was: when’s the hiking going to start? The dictionary definition of the word - “to walk or march a great distance, especially through rural areas, for pleasure, exercise, military training, or the like” – danced through my head. If I’d wanted to join the army, I’d’ve done it.

After an hour or so, we turned right up a track that went steeply uphill. Oh, God, I thought, here we go. The familiar head-thumping, red-kneed uphill feeling filled my body. I trudged on, determined not to show my fear. People panted along beside me, going “whoo!” and “you can do it!”. After five minutes we reached what I had assumed was the first of many false horizons. It wasn’t. It was a ridge. Which we walked along for a couple of miles, striped sandstone and insane wildflowers at our feet, the central plain vanishing into blue hazy distance below, until we turned right again and went down again. And at the bottom was the car park.

And this is the thing: if they’d called it a walk, which it was, I would have enjoyed it. The Atlas, with scenery that changes minute-on-minute, their waterfalls and terraces and sylvan glades, are breathtaking; there’s no need to add the taint of “challenge” and “achievement” into the prospect of a nice, five-mile walk through landscape you’d kill to get to.

This form of exaggeration - various sources I’ve come across describe the Via dell’Amore of the Cinque Terre, a paved section of 0.6km which can be accomplished, and usually is, in stiletto heels, as a “hike” or a “trail” – must put off far more people than it encourages. A bit of honesty, please. Don’t play down the strenuousness of a route, which can put the timid walker off for life, but for heaven’s sake – if you can do it in town shoes, it’s a stroll. If you get home in time for lunch, it’s a walk. Don’t tell people you’re going on a hike unless you’re carrying a backpack.


Serena Mackesy is a novelist, journalist and travel writer. Her latest novel, Hold My Hand, is published by Constable and can be found at www.amazon.co.uk.



New on Walkopedia website:

Walk of the month:

Latest walk:

Upper Humla Valley, Nepal

Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

• Follow an ancient trade and pilgrimage route up the remote Humla (Karnali) valley, crossing the Himalayas into Tibet.
• Revel in wonderful scenery: the milky Humla in its deep gorge, the forested slopes giving way to the crags and peaks of the high Himalayas.
• Pass through remote villages, witnessing a little-changed way of life.
• Experience the transition from the Hindu to the Buddhist world, and from the sharp new rock of the Himalayas to the crumbling bed of the ancient Tethys sea.
• This is a high walk in mountains (crossing passes up to 4,580 m): be prepared.

Read More ...

 

• The highest mountain in Africa, a spectacular, charismatic freestanding volcano. Justly famous, but can suffer from crowding.
• Pass through varied ecosystems, gaze at the cliffs, caves and lava fields. Catch the vast views at dawn.
• Six-day (or more) treks, using huts or camping on the lesser-known routes.
• This is a high walk and very tough, turning into an altitudinous slog at the end: be prepared.

Read More ...



Number of walks featured in Walkopedia:
over 300.



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Editors: William Mackesy and Serena Mackesy

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