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1967 Mlanje Expedition

David Bruno (Staff 64-70) who was the Assistant Chaplain, House Tutor in Grinham, the leader of successful expeditions to Mlanje and ran squash with great effect, was Dean of St George's Cathedral, Windhoek in the '80s after working with the Church of Scotland.

The idea was born, 1 suppose, many years ago with the reading of "Venture into the Interior" by Laurens van der Post. But it had lain deep in the sub-conscious so that, even when that idea began to take shape, and one saw the first sight of the large bulk that was Mlanje Mountain viewed from Zomba's distant plateau at Christmas time--the memory of the original thought had gone.

Mlanje is a mountain massif, rather than a single peak. Its vast bulk rises from the Palombe plain, near to the Portuguese border, some 60 miles east of Blantyre. The initial height is between 5 and 6,000 feet, and at this level there are a number of plateaux, variously joined to one another, from which rise fifty peaks or more, the highest of which, Sapetwa, or Main Peak, is just under 10,000 feet. It presented an interesting challenge, more from the point of view of adventure, and the fact that information about it was difficult to glean, than any thought of it being a formidable climbing proposition It was decided that a week, at the beginning of the August holiday, would be a good length of time to whet the appetite.

Five boys were enlisted - previous experience of Chimanimani was considered to be a useful foundation, but not essential - though, obviously anyone who had not enjoyed the latter expedition, would scarcely be interested in a similar venture So the party consisted of Graham Dunn, Steven Tennett, Hugh Borthwick, James Sherwood, John Andrews and Fr. Bruno. It had to be limited, so that only one car would be needed to make the initial trip from Salisbury to Malawi. and the first three named already lived there, and flew home as soon as term was over.

On the morning of Monday August 7th, after assembling at Limbe, where the Dunns had kindly given hospitality to the "Rhodesian" party, we set off in two cars for the mountain. Mr. Tennett nobly provided the other transport - going as far as he dared up the poor road, before our heavy weight forced him to stop! We collected two porters to help with packs, and began the long climb. The ascent was very steep - about twice that of Long Gully in the Chimanimani. Our unfitness forced frequent rests but, eventually, perspiring under the hot sun, we reached the plateau level, where the going was easy and, in another forty minutes we reached the Chambre hut. There are five such huts dispersed around the different plateaux, built by the Forestry Department, and used by members of the Mountain Club who had given us permission to use them, and their facilities in them, as well as offering some sound and helpful advice. The hut here was still under construction, with only three-quarters of the roof in place - no windows, and no doors! All the same, we made ourselves comfortable, and used it as a base, so that we should not have to carry too much around with us on our trips of further exploration.

Lichenya plateau
On the following day we set out for the Lichenya plateau which was about four hours distance. Unfortunately the rain came down, and the last, downward, slope to the hut was only accomplished with much slipping, and considerable soaking! It rained incessantly all the time we were there, but we made good use of our time - especially Hugh and John, who introduced us to a fine old tin bath which they eventually filled with water, laboriously heated under primitive conditions and then much to our delight solemnly sat in, side by side, and scrubbed themselves clean! After a rather precarious visit to a nearby waterfall, the rest of the party, singly, (!) followed suit. We returned to Chambe next day, the weather clearing as we left the valley, but we noticed that what had been streams the previous day were now torrents, far more tricky to cross Our next night, in the Chambe hut, was freezing cold, thought in our absence the roof was now finished. However, it soon began to warm up, with a bright blue sky.

We set off again, heading this time east to another hut--Tuchila - where we decided to spend the next two nights. The journey there took us five hours, walking rather more slowly as our packs were heavier, and we had more climbing to do. This was quite the best of the three huts we visited. The shelf on which it was situated, commanded a view directly to the north--towards Zomba, Lake Chilwa and across the Palombe Plain. Almost at our feet lay the plain, 3,000 feet below; to the west was the Chambe peak, which dominated the plateau we had come from, and behind us stretched a long chain of peaks with fascinating names--Nandalanda, Khuto, Dzole, Nakodzwe and, in the far west, Sapitwa. The view in the evening, as the sun sank between Chambe, dark and forbidding in the nearer distance, and Zomba Mountain squat and small in the far distance, was unforgettable We determined, here, to tackle one of the peaks which reared up behind the hut. The clouds did not give us cause for much hope, so we decided on one of the smaller ones. Unfortunately, we were only half-way up when the cloud, coming swiftly up from the plains, enveloped us, restricting our view and making progress difficult. There was nothing for it, but to return to the hut as best we could Steven profitably spent time in patiently measuring the shelf in front of us with a view to using it as a landing strip! The general hazards of landing up there, and the shortness of space, seemed good enough reasons for abandoning the idea.

Main Peak
The next morning it was back to Chambe once more, with hopes of bettering our previous time. However, ten minutes from the hut, with better-looking weather prospects, it was suggested that we might attempt Main Peak en route. It was decided that we should split up, with three to try the climb, and the others to return to Chambe at a more leisurely speed. So, with Graham setting a cracking pace, the climbing party reached the cairn, which marked the turn off, in 13 hours, where we left our packs, carefully remembering to extract something warm for the "top".

We started the ascent, having previously been informed that we needed to allow three hours up, and two down. We climbed steadily, following the barely distinguishable red arrows, and hoping the clouds would remain high. A few sheer rock faces had to be traversed, but we kept going, with only one brief stop. The summit seemed desperately elusive, but we finally made it, in only 1 hour and 40 minutes. On top there was an icy gale blowing, and we were very glad of jerseys, but, even so, we could only stay a relatively short time. There was time to see the superb view, and to eat a few raisins and sweets in the lee of a rock. The descent was quicker, giving us a total time two hours less than we were told. Then, pretty tired, we collected our packs, and made the long haul back to Chambe, for some welcome tea, and the last slices of Mrs. Borthwick's excellent cake!

The last day
Sunday, the final day, involved a great deal of tidying up, and getting things together. We eventually set off at about 11, going down in a leisurely fashion, stopping for a swim and to eat the last of our food, finally arriving at the bottom by 3 o'clock.

Our enjoyment of the trip was not only felt in retrospect, but also while we were actually up there. We saw, and understood, much about Mlanje; sufficient, anyway, to feel that further expeditions would be thoroughly worthwhile too. The weather had been good to us on the whole, and we felt as fit as anything, bronzed and campaign-hardened, when we returned, almost regretfully, to civilization. Much of what we were able to do was due to the help of the kind parents who assisted and encouraged us in Malawi, as well as to the Mlanje Mountain Club--and, of course--to the cooperation and cheerfulness of all members of a happy party.

David Bruno

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