Sunday, 30 September 2012


A new direction for the Ghana Mountaineers: northwest from Accra rather than northeast, along the rutted, quarter-built Accra–Kumasi road. Kevin had spotted two inviting-looking hills near Nsawam. The only problem was finding them.

The early-morning mist that hung low across the road was atmospheric but didn’t help with route finding. It was so dense that we missed Nsawam; a policeman guarding an overturned truck pointed us in the right direction. One U-turn later, we pulled up at a quarry cut into the foot of the larger of our two new hills.

The mist was clearing as we gained height quickly. A cheerful family, pottering about their farm on route, told us the names of the hills: Yasao (the bigger one, 425m) and Mamidi (240m). Their path to their fields provided an easy route up, and the singing from village church services far below provided the usual Sunday-morning soundtrack. Even though it was a new hill, it felt very familiar.
Stephen and Nathan take a breather

The only thing missing was a summit view. The top was a building site, with a new farm building in the early stages of construction. Any views were blocked by trees – good for the environment, bad for photos. So after a brief pause we headed back down. But a quick up-and-down felt too abrupt for a proper walk, so we headed across and take on the second peak, Mamidi.

A wide variety of crops grew in the valley farms: tomatoes, yams, maize, plantains, papayas, even onions, which are usually imported to Ghana. After weaving through the fields, we reached the foot of the hill. It looked benign; much smaller than Yasao, with clear grassy slopes up. I estimated an hour up and down. I was wrong.

The tall grass disguised sections of steep, loose rocks, which made the climb up tricky. It took a while to reach an exposed outcrop just below the summit, where we paused for breakfast. The reward was the view that had been missing earlier, and two more hills behind Yasao were noted for our next trip out this way.

Continuing over the summit, the grass reached above head-height, so we followed our noses down the opposite side of the hill, trusting to luck and a basic sense of direction. A very thin path weaved through the grass – formed by a farmer? a grasscutter? – and headed in roughly the right direction. We followed into a gully that would surely lead us back to the start.

It did – but not easily. The low-lying branches and rattan stalks made progress tricky, and every branch was swarming with ants. Not vicious biters, but their numbers meant they soon got everywhere – in hair, up shorts, down T-shirts. A five-metre, near-vertical rock face proved the final obstacle. As the ants nipped away at secret places, we headed down one by one, using a combination of sliding, root grabbing and swear words from several different languages.

Once safely down, it was one final push back through the farms to the cars. We passed two more farmers on the way. On our early morning walks, we often attract surprised looks from local people: what are they doing, hiking in this heat for fun? This time, the farmers looked even more bemused than usual. As we reached the car I looked round at the group – hot, grubby, sweaty and still brushing off ants – and concluded that, maybe this once, they had a point. But it was still fantastic fun.

Mist over Nsawam

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