Poised on the west side of Nyanga, Nyamakanga mountain is so big and steep and stony-looking that it forms an impenetrable barrier behind Nyamhuka 2.
As ever the approach was determined from Google Maps which showed the presence of some tracks or paths to the west side of the hill, branching off south from the Nyanga to Nyarumvurwe dust road. This turn-off was drivable past some houses / small holdings until it got to the point of stopping, walking forward to check, walking back again, driving forward… repeat; slowly edging southwards and upwards, all the time hemmed in by bush and not quite certain of the outcome.
However, there was a reason for this somewhat 4×4 passable V shaped track: access for other types of explorer such as those digging very deep holes but perhaps not really looking for water, and those looking for large specimens of arboreal flora to cook with. This is all part of the explorer’s dilemma here: accessibility to the wilder places is sometimes much improved / only really possible because of the efforts of timber millers and others just described, who are ‘forced’ to open up brand new routes to cut down or extract their trophies and in nearly all cases leaving a mess of pine tree tops or completely open and lethal shafts. So anyway, they were friendly and advised me to bring the car further up and park it close by where they would keep an eye on it.
(The V shaped tracks result from having large logs hauled down them by cows gouging out the ground and then heavy rain washing the dusty sandy soil away.)
Onwards and upwards through the Msasa woodland, pretty steep and no real paths until the top of western spur. Actually there were of course many paths – just higher up than this route up – that were easy to navigate right back to the car on the way down.
A couple of Shona dry-stone circles appeared at a strategic hidden plateau on the spur. The going was then easier and eventually a very well worn / eroded round stone ‘path’ was the easiest way up between the short Msasa trees. On top things level out and there are open sheets of rock in places. After walking over to see ‘the other side’ (west) turn northwards and start walking up again on top of the dwala – kind of a path – kind of follow your nose. As you go and keep looking back the views south, east and west will knock you out!
The top of this section of Nyamakanga is a trig point on a mini-peak surrounded by many more dry-stone walls and the views are even better from here. Below and eastwards is an unfeasibly large, sheet rock plateau criss-crossed with more dry-stone walls. The size and scale of the open space on top is implausible from below. This where Sheila, the augur buzzard, was perched fetchingly on a mufenje tree hunting for lizards. Her cousin also lives in the area.
Move eastwards for panoramas of Nyangani Mountain in the distance and then Nyanga below. Next the surprise was the remains of a logging operation visible down in the wooded high valley all completely invisible from ground level below. Follow your nose down through msasa into this valley along side the eroded start of a stream – dry in this season – and it is back to patches of milled pine, unused branches and tree stumps (on the other hand this pine is a weed here / an invasive species). How someone is going to get this timber out seems incomprehensible based on the hike up here as they must have carried in the parts of the Lucas bush mill by hand. Possibly back through National Parks along the whale back ridge southwards?
Following the logging patches the observer descends deeper into the steep stream valley and it was tempting to keep trying and hoping for a route down the steep side of Nyamakanga all the way to Nyamhuka 2 which would have made this a circular trip – albeit with a long hot walk back round to the car. Presumably the loggers had a path up? Surely they didn’t sleep up here when Nyamhuka 2 was only a few hundred metres away (and less than 100m below). Anyway it looked too steep and too much of a commitment for someone now considered an old mdhara! This was reluctantly left for another day; more Google Mapping required and hints from younger feet than these. (As I drove out and gave a lift I was already being informed of numerous, stupendous, invisible, direct routes up the northern side of the hill.)
The moral of this story is that you have to get to the top of Nyamakanga mountain – it’s right there in front of you in Nyanga and well worth the effort.
And yes I found numerous better paths on the steep way down the lower west side – presumably made by the non tree-huggers / land conservationists trying to make their lives work.