If you’re planning a new route up Mulanje, ensure that you have a clear understanding from experienced members of how to get to the base from which you are to climb before you start off. There are clear, informative road signs around the mountain, but it is best not to rely totally on them. It will help your planning if you know approximately how long the journey will take and the likely road conditions, especially in the rainy season. Always set off with plenty of time to arrive at your starting point and complete the climb without having to rush unduly.
If you are starting off from one of the Forestry Department offices, inform the officer on duty that you are a MCM member, which is easily done by showing them your MCM stores key. You should not pay any Forestry entry or accommodation fees to the officer as these are combined with the club fees and paid to your key keeper. The Club Treasurer compiles a list of MCM members’ visits to Mount Mulanje on a regular basis and remits the total amount then to the Department of Forestry.
Selecting your porters needs clear understanding of some basic procedures. At all bases there is a roster system; at Forestry Department offices this will be organised by them, and at the other bases the porters themselves will organise it. Please do not select your own porters as this will antagonise the others who will be patiently waiting their turn. Should you wish to take a guide then you may select one directly yourself depending on your area of interest.
The guide and porters should be given a third of the total trip amount payable immediately (see current rates) so that they can quickly buy food – but stress to them that they need to be quick. Before you start, get their name(s) from their ID card(s) to record on the hut form and clearly establish how you want them to work for you. Should you have any trouble with a porter or a guide who, for instance, tries to extort money for some seemingly important reason, is inebriated, or causes any other problems, then please report this on your inventory and payment form.
Leaving and Going Down
Like any mountain, Mulanje is a rugged place where accidents often happen and it can be very dangerous in bad weather. Many tragedies and injuries have occurred on the mountain that could have been avoided, so don’t be complacent and respect your trip leader’s decisions. Always stick to these ten golden rules:
- NEVER, EVER CLIMB ALONE. A party of at least four is ideal, and do take a guide or porter if your party is small. Guides and porters are readily available and inexpensive on Mulanje and strongly advised if it’s your first time on the mountain, whatever your experience.
- Choose a route within the experience, ability and fitness of your group. Have a good look at the information on this site and elsewhere, and take advice locally before you decide what to do. Be honest about what you all want to do: it’s supposed to be an enjoyable experience, after all!
- Use a guidebook, map and compass (and GPS if you have one) and preferably go with someone who knows the way. Conditions on Mulanje can change rapidly, with sudden mists and storms that limit visibility severely. Always keep track of your position and be prepared to retreat safely.
- Ensure that at least one group member has a fully charged cell phone and preferably one for each service provider in Malawi. Coverage on Mulanje is patchy, and you should definitely not rely on getting through in the event of an accident.
- Always go well prepared (food, clothes and equipment) for bad, cold and wet weather. People have died on the mountain because they set off in sunshine and weren’t prepared for sitting out bad conditions. Consider taking some cheap survival bags.
- Tell someone your daily plan of where you’re going and when you’re coming back, and stick to it. Officials at the base of Mulanje and the hut watchmen will expect you to tell them in writing what your party intends to do. You should always leave a copy of your plans in the hut, and tell others who you meet on the mountain what they are.
- Travel at the pace of the slowest member of the group and attend to any foot problems at an early stage. You must agree to travel as a group, especially if you’re not used to travelling together. Change your plan if necessary so that group members don’t get over-tired, and that you all remain in good condition.
- NEVER SPLIT UP and go in different directions. The terrain on Mulanje is frequently difficult, and it’s extremely hard to find a lost individual. If you need to recce a short distance ahead, set a time limit and keep in touch constantly. Consider taking whistles for communication.
- Don’t push on into the unknown. Take note of your trail so that you can retrace your steps if you get lost. See Point 3, above. There are large-scale maps in all the Mulanje huts that are good for planning purposes. Identify the main features on it and, if necessary, make a sketch of your intended route to help you keep track of your position.
- If you are unsure of what to do next, then find shelter from the weather and stay put until it is clear. A reasonably well-equipped group can survive for several days in the relative safety of a cave or sheltered area. Most accidents happen when people try to get down in poor conditions and get lost on unfamiliar or dangerous ground.
Environmental Do’s and Don’ts
Mulanje is a special place that needs your sensitive thought to maintain its natural beauty. As a MCM member, you also have a role to sensitise others to appreciate this and to guide their actions to be more considerate.
Fire – is very destructive to the mountain’s habitats and great care should be taken to avoid starting them. Should you come across a wild fire and are able to reduce its impact, at your own risk have a go at putting it out!
Firewood – use only what you need to cook and keep you warm as wood use obviously impacts the forests and also has to be fetched from a considerable distance at some huts. Be aware that large fireplace fires in the past have caused the destruction of huts.
Rubbish – burn what can be burnt, bury biodegradable waste, and carry off the mountain what should be disposed of elsewhere. We should try to keep what doesn’t belong on the mountain off it. If you see litter along the paths and trails, feel free to pick this up and carry it off the mountain.
Rivers – it is a great experience to enjoy swimming in the pools on the mountain. Please avoid the use of detergents and soap in the rivers as there are many who rely on this water downstream for drinking and household purposes.
Insecticides – there are no malaria-carrying mosquitoes on the mountain so there is no need to use insecticides.
Exotic plants – we have a problem with invasive exotics on the mountain such as pines, eucalypts, Himalayan raspberries, and even Ma Brown’s foxgloves… In South Africa they’re called ‘aliens’ and, if you are so inclined, you are welcome to destroy them wherever you find them! But please ensure that you’ve identified them correctly first!