logo

The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt


image

Travel

Dec 15, 2018

The Bale Mountains: Formed by Fire and Ice

Located in southeastern Ethiopia, 400km from Addis Ababa, the Bale Mountains are a landscape created by volcanic fires and shaped by glacial ice, home to some of the rarest creatures in the world.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

Located in southeastern Ethiopia, 400km from Addis Ababa, the Bale Mountains are a landscape created by volcanic fires and shaped by glacial ice. The highlands are almost always ringed by clouds and covered in mist, rain or sleet. Giant lobelia plants stand guard over the undulating plateau and its numerous glacial lakes and swamps. You are surrounded on all sides by volcanic ridges and peaks.

Garba Guracha or ‘black water’, one of the many alpine lakes that dot the park. Photo: Sarah Kingdom

Only about 150 or 200 people a year trek in the Bale Mountains, and on our visit we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We didn’t see another trekker for the entire week we were in the park, and if it hadn’t been quite so cloudy when we climbed to the top of Tullu Demtu (Ethiopia’s second highest mountain at 4,377m) I know there wouldn’t have been another person below us in this spectacular, ethereal landscape, for as far as the eye could see.

The seemingly endless, undulating plateau. Photo: © Sean Sikinger

Many of the things that live here are found nowhere else

Averaging 4,000m above sea level there is nowhere else like it on the African continent, a place where natural selection has been hard at work; plants, animals and birds have all been fine-tuned to withstand the extremes of temperature, oxygen depletion, fierce winds and extreme ultraviolet radiation. The result has been the creation of an ecosystem that is one of those rare and rarefied places, where many of the things that live here are found nowhere else. There are more animals unique to these mountains than just about anywhere else on the planet!

All of the big-headed mole rats in the world are found in the Bale Mountains. Photo: © Sean Sikinger

The Bale Highlands are home to 20 endemic Ethiopian mammals (5 of which, including the magnificent and endangered Mountain Nyala, are found only here), 12 endemic amphibians, 12 reptiles, 16 endemic birds and all the Bale Monkeys and Big Headed Mole-rats in the world. They are rated as one of the four top birding spots in Africa and it is easy to see why, with such rare birds as the Blue Winged Goose, Abyssinian Catbird, Spot Breasted Plover and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill to be seen. Ethiopia has more than 860 species of bird, 283 of which are found in the Bale Mountains and 16 of which are endemic to these highlands.

In 1969 215,000 hectares of the Bale Mountains were declared a National Park and in 2009 nominated as a World Heritage site. But Bale is not a national park in the normal western understanding of the concept. Somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 people live within the park’s boundaries, divided between local villagers in the Harrena forest and pastoralists tending cattle, sheep and horses on the Senetti Plateau. Stock numbers now exceed the sustainable utilisation of the fragile moorlands, threatening the food source of the rodents, who are in turn the principle food source of all the carnivores, including the Ethiopian wolf.

An Ethiopian wolf stalking his prey. Photo: © Sean Sikinger

The star of the Bale show is undoubtedly the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis Simensis). With its thick, brick red coat on top and white belly below, its narrow snout and lithe body, it looks more like a large fox or a jackal than a wolf. The afro-alpine zone of the park is home to about half of the world’s total population of between 400 and 450 Ethiopian wolves… this is the rarest canid on the planet and Africa’s most endangered carnivore.

The campfire glows inside a cave. Photo: © Sean Sikinger

An even bigger threat to the wolves than the shortage of rodents to eat is the presence of several thousand domestic dogs in the park. These dogs are carriers of rabies and interact openly with the wolves. In 2010 rabies and distemper killed 106 of the wolves (about 40% of the Bale population at the time) and again in 2014 between 30 and 50% of the parks wolves were killed by rabies. The numbers have recovered slightly now, due to a rabies vaccination project and the ‘Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme,’ which attempts to vaccinate 4000 domestic dogs, and all of the wolves in the park, annually. We were lucky to see twelve wolves during our time in the park and also met some of the researchers working with the conservation project as they walked the plateau making notes on the wolves they saw. Conservationists worry that if a viable solution is not found and efforts to control the unsustainable exploitation of the park’s natural resources are not successful, that not only the Ethiopian wolf but a number of other rare and endangered animals in Bale will vanish.

Between 20,000 and 40,000 people live in small settlements within the park boundaries. Photo:© Sean Sikinger

A week was barely long enough to do justice to this beautiful park. We trekked across approximately one-third of the park, starting in the tiny rural town of Dinsho, crossing the Senetti Plateau and finishing in the Harrena Forest. It was a ‘rustic’ style trip, food was basic, to say the least, our cook had a repertoire that consisted solely of rice served with cabbage or pasta served with tomato sauce, and we ate these dishes with regular monotony; always knowing that whichever we ate for lunch, the other would, without fail, appear at dinner! The accommodation was tents, which were tiny but snug and warm and many mornings we awoke to find the outside of the tent covered with a layer of ice. This was an amazing opportunity to visit Ethiopia’s most important biodiversity hotspot and see some of the rarest creatures in the world.

Cover photo: Ethiopian wolf on the lookout. © Sean R Sikinger

Continue Reading

image

Travel

Jan 15, 2019

Not Your Father’s Ski Trip: Jackson Hole, WY

Inspired by images of her dad’s Jackson Hole college ski trip, the author heads north to tour the Tetons and tack a few pictures to the family scrapbook.

image

WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The author’s father launching a cliff at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort cerca 1987

This film shot of my father going big on a set of ridiculously thin, twin-tipped K2s cerca 1987 instilled in me a deep gratitude for today’s fat freeride sticks and a sense of duty to keep the family’s cliff-hucking legacy alive. Scrapbook open on his lap, my dad extolled the terrain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which he visited “back in the good ol’ days” at Colorado State University. He described a steep wonderland besotted with cliffs that beg for reckoning. After the past several seasons of wimpy Colorado snow totals whilst Jackson churned out foot-deep day after foot-deep day, I was enthused by the resort’s inclusion on my 2018-2019 Ikon Pass. With my own graduation looming in May, I figured the time was right for some Teton escapades. Like father, like daughter.

Car outfitted with a socioeconomically oxymoronic stash of ramen and expensive ski gear, I punched seven hours northward and arrived the night after a vicious storm cycle spat 20 inches of fresh flakes onto the mountains. The next day popped bluebird and my posse navigated the foreign slopes via trial, error, and the inexhaustible freneticism of college kids on vacation. We nabbed fresh tracks on Headwall and Casper Bowl, giggled down pillows on the Crags, and pinballed around the Hobacks. A ride up in the iconic Jackson Hole tram revealed a closed Corbet’s Couloir, ostensibly requiring another wave of coverage before its seasonal unveiling. I was forced to settle for a waffle at Corbet’s Cabin instead of matching my dad’s drop into the legendary chute. With the blood of my father and powder-fueled adrenaline surging through my veins, I willed myself over the most tantalizing cliffs on offer in Rendezvous Bowl.

The iconic Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram, cerca 1987
Corbet’s Couloir: a timeless classic
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, cerca 1987

In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

It’s part and parcel of parenthood to agitate over the safety and well-being of one’s children. I’ve subsumed backcountry skiing into my hobbiesnew territory for this family’s lineage. On my nascent out-of-bounds outings, my father, a textbook concerned parent, grumbled about avalanches, terrain traps, and my insurmountable naïvity. Several seasons of diligent education, one avy bag, and countless snow pits later, I’ve earned his reluctant acceptance, if not enthusiasm, for my backcountry pursuits.  In the words of the great Cyndi Lauper: Oh daddy dear, you know you’re still number one, but girls, they wanna have fun.

Finding deep snow on Headwall
Pillows aplenty on the Crags

After two days of charging in-bounds, my psyche longed for the solitude of the skintrack. Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park, and the resort sidecountry make the area a veritable playground for backcountry enthusiasts. It’s a family affair in Jackson; a fraternal ethos is evident in the fact that 97% of the nearly 4 million acres of Teton County are federally owned or state managed. Locals are quick to mark their territory on Teton Pass with the exclamatory hieroglyphs of first tracks, but the terrain is ample enough to find virgin snow. After giving the snowpack several days to stabilize post-squall, we found wiggle room on north-facing aspects along the Mail Cabin Creek drainage. Our final line of Day 1 was the Do-Its, a bifurcated powder track that converges and meanders twelve hundred feet back down to the road. At the hill’s zenith, minute snowflakes collapsed into liquid and rolled from our hardshells. We stood atop a wind-plumped knoll and observed the gnarl of peaks, foregrounded by Mount Taylor and Mount Glory, tumbling into a horizon of exposed rock and liquescent white. The unperturbed flank below screamed for human contact. I was all too happy to oblige the siren’s call with a quick tuck into the void. My skis made that sanctified first contact with the snow below. A crescendo of polestrokes invoked a maelstrom of flakes to drown the world in white. Hips squiggling, mind locked to the minutia, dopamine and adrenaline flooding the nervous system, and a raven on high with a vantage point a ski cinematographer would kill for. Then I burned through the mountain’s vertical; the dance with gravity ended in an expository wave of white smoke. I looked back and the sublime evidence was a single, undulating track across the otherwise unblemished face.

Cloud inversion over the Teton Valley from the top of Mt. Glory
Top of Mt. Glory

My final day in Jackson came courtesy of Exum Mountain Guides, an 80-year-old Teton-based guiding service that offers instruction and adventure on rope and skis in North America, the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. The service traces their lineage to local legends of the 1930s like Glenn Exum, Paul Petzoldt, and Barry Corbet. They’re the granddaddy of Jackson guiding services and the resident experts on Grand Teton National Park. Despite the government shut-down and limited National Park operations, dedicated employees were plowing the entrance road and ensuring access to some of the Tetons best snow staches. My guide for the day was Brendan O’neill, who informed me of the birth of his daughter Jessie three weeks prior as we puttered to the Taggart Lake Trailhead.

If newborn Jessie was taxing this new dad’s sleep and energy reserves, his athletic, assiduous pace on the skintrack suggested otherwise. I asked Brendan about fatherhood, hoping to glean some insight into my own dad’s relationship with raising a daughter. He hopes to have Jessie on skis the second she can walk; he would be thrilled if she took to alpine or nordic racing, but amenable if she chose not to compete; he is excited to show her the world beyond the boundaries of a ski resort. As we muscled up towards Amphitheater Lake, I mused that twenty years from now, Jessie might look at pictures of her dad guiding in far-flung locales and make plans to fill and transcend those footsteps. I wonder if Brendan knows how much she will look up to him and his accomplishments.

Exum Guide and new father Brendan O’neill

  Even the evergreens projected patriarchy: the tallest trees nucleated their sapling broods with paternal solemnity, each molecule of powder glistening in the shaggy green branches. We broke through the forest onto snow-covered Amphitheater Lake, a cirque bounded by the bald, mangled granite of Teewinot to the north and Disappointment Peak to the west. On a snack pitstop, we watched another party of skiers lay down tracks in Spoon Couloir, a steep, enticing chute on Disappointment Peak’s lower haunch. Brendan seemed to sense my desire to get after a big alpine line and suggested we bootpack the Spoon must have been his newly acquired parental mind-reading superpower. After crossing the lake, we cut a haphazard zig-zag to the top of the Spoon’s apron and transitioned to the bootpack. 500 feet of vertical boot-punching propelled us up the gut and bookended the nearly 5,000 feet of vertical notched from trailhead to objective. From our humble perch on Disappointment’s flank, an electric blue sky slumbered atop a soupy mass of clouds, hallmark of a Teton Valley temperature inversion. Backgrounded by this topsy-turvy atmosphere, I skied down the hard-packed snow of the spoon’s handle into its apron of softer powder.

The Spoon Couloir visible on looker’s left of lower Disappointment Peak (center)
Bootpacking up the Spoon

Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest

To redeem the remainder of our hard-earned vertical, Brendan led us through a mellow glade percolated with unrumpled pillows aplenty. Matching his cuts through the pines was reminiscent of a childhood spent following my dad around the resort as I learned to trust my edges and my body. As I ripped skins back in the parking lot, giddy with alpine energy, I turned to gaze up at the Grand Teton, senior pinnacle of its range, poised with patriarchal authority over Middle Teton, Mt. Owen, and all the rest. I owe this unforgettable trip to Jackson Hole to my father for choosing to raise and inspire (and generously fund) a skier.

Thanks to Exum Mountain Guides for making this trip possible.

loadContinue readingLess Reading

Recent Articles



Climbing for a Cause: Returning to Kilimanjaro for Elephant Conservation

Sarah Kingdom returns to Kilimanjaro, not for the first time, but now with a team that are fighting for Elephants in Africa, that are under serious threat.

The Outdoor Journal’s Biggest Stories of 2018.

From harassment within the climbing industry to deaths and environmental degradation in India. Furthering conversation on deep-rooted problems within the wider outdoor community, to Outdoor Moms, and explaining an unexplained tragedy.

Colin O’Brady: The 50 Highest Points in Each US State and Another World Record

Colin O’Brady sets his third world record, undertakes new challenge in 2018 with support from Standard Process Inc.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other