Early last year (2017), I was approached by Mark Phanga of National Bank of Malawi to see if I could help with organising a hiking event for their City Centre Wellness Club. Mark was working as a senior manager within the Wholesale Banking Division, where he continues to work to this day. The City Centre Wellness Club comprises of staff from the City Centre Service Centre and the Wholesale Banking Division.
I eagerly accepted the invitation and got to work. I was given a working committee and my key contact was Constance Nkosi. Constance poured her heart into the project, which yielded great results in the end. Out of the pool of possible mountains we chose Dedza Mountain largely because it offers a well-balanced trail. It is the second highest mountain in Malawi standing at just over 2,000 metres above the mean sea level. Yet it has parts that are not difficult and a few areas that guarantee sweating. It has a well maintained trail to the peak which is accessible throughout the year. At that time, it also offered shade for most of the way.
We settled for a date and got the estimated numbers interested to join the hike. Due to other circumstances, we shifted the date which affected the number that would participate.
A week before the hike, I was given an opportunity to meet the members and discuss the important points for each member to consider. I was introduced to the team by the Service Centre Manager, Charles Sawasawa (now managing the Lilongwe Service Centre). We went through everything from safety, attire, the correct mental attitude to benefits of hiking. It was emphasized that for one to enjoy the hike it was best to observe the appropriate attire, to stay away from drink, to be well rested, and be properly hydrated on the day of the hike. These are basics for a successful hike.
On 4 June 2017, the day for the hike arrived and everyone was ready. My technical team was composed of Captain Perry Mmanga and Peter Mvuma.
Perry, with his military training and extensive outdoors experience, was going to be our chief tracking officer responsible for security and safety. Peter, with his background in medical training was going to be our chief nursing officer responsible for first-aid, and general health of the entire team. We hired six porters to help with carrying food and water.
RIDE TO DEDZA
We arrived at the Service Centre at 6:00 am. Almost everyone was there. We were expecting about 30 people to turn up. We loaded all our provisions in the private bus that was hired for the day. A few calls later and it was apparent that others would not make it. When we got a respectable number we left for Bunda Turn-off, the exit route from Lilongwe City heading towards Dedza.
We picked a few struggling members on the way and started for Dedza. The crowd was lively. One of the porters who had shown up in a three piece suit had to get a change of clothes along the way. This entertained the members without measure.
We took a roll call in the bus, confirmed the numbers and deposited it with our chief tracking officer. We checked again if anyone had any medical pre-conditions, and if clearance had been obtained from their physicians. And then settled for the ride.
Shadreck, a member of the Wellness Club, was our appointed photographer, and media guru. He was also the self-appointed DJ, packing a bluetooth speaker all the way to the summit and back.
DEDZA MOUNTAIN IN VIEW
Dedza, which is 86 km away from Lilongwe, is about an hour’s ride. Just before entrance into Dedza Town there is a great view of the mountain. Somehow the optical illusion makes the mountain seem small. This is the best place to build confidence of the hiking members. So when the mountain was introduced from this spot, spontaneously some members jokingly said they would run up the trail in a matter of minutes. This was good for morale.
We packed the bus at the Forestry Plantation Manager’s residence. Blessings Chingaipe, the manager, has been my gracious host each time I’m in Dedza for hiking.
We divided the load among the porters, gave a few instructions and started off. I would go in front to set the pace, Perry and Peter would bring the rear. We emphasized on cleanliness. Whatever we brought up the mountain we would have to bring back with us. Littering destroys the natural beauty of the mountain. Immediately others were not impressed with the pace. This is all too familiar territory. I knew they would get to appreciate this in about 30 minutes.
After 5 minutes walk, the trail starts sloping up. One feels engaging with the mountain. The members handled the transition very well. Soon the hiking session was in earnest. The mountain was covered in green. The members were greeted by chirruping insects. Birds added high notes here and there. Here was a walk into paradise.
We took frequent rests to allow members to sip their water. At designated places we would stop for an energy snack. Anything from groundnuts to chocolate helped restore sugar levels in the bloodstream. That, plus water make up the fuel to see us all the way through to the plateau.
Dedza has some gorgeous boulders, some as big as a multi story building. Most of these are hedged by exquisite greenery. The part of the trail we were on gave the team occasional glimpses of these natural beaus to whet its appetite for nature.
Sometimes this trail is transversed by army ants. These tiny soldiers have a nasty bite, swamping their prey. They wouldn’t kill a human but in worst cases they will force you to disrobe, a very embarrassing situation. This was often the case when we were young and had erroneously wandered into their territory. On this day we were fortunate enough not to have such an incident.
The first peak to reach was the Towers’ peak. It offers a fantastic view of Dedza Town below. From here one can trace the National Road that passes through the town connecting between Blantyre City in the Southern Region and Lilongwe City in the Central Region.
When were got to the Towers those that had challenged to run up the mountain avoided repeating the subject. Rather we all settled in for lunch. Normally, lunch on a hike is a simple affair. But on this occasion, lunch was a grand display of pleasure. Not too opulent, nevertheless it was sumptuous enough to make everyone forget about the two particularly challenging sections just before emerging on the plateau.
We dined and we wined. No. Not the actual wine. Maybe I should say we dined and we juiced. Aha! Now I’m making up words. In short, we had a lovely picnic. Some members wanted to return to the base afraid of the next stage of the hike. But after resting them for an hour, having fully digested the good provisions under the barrage of never ending jokes, they all declared ready to continue with the hike.
At that point I had already arranged with my technical team to split the team. We were glad that everyone would attempt to walk to the summit about an hour away. This next stage is not as difficult as the first segment.
We took off, with Peter ahead, and with Perry and I bringing up the rear. I was comfortable that we could all go at a good pace. We sent back most of the porters to base and only retained the ones required to carry our water. We roped in a new porter who knew three places where one could find mountain water sources should ours ran out.
The highest peak on Dedza is surrounded by a natural rockery. It is not treacherous but after walking for some hours it was enough to melt the heart of some bankers. My group, which came up last, declared it mission impossible. “How would you say it is impossible when it was your first time here? I asked.
After some motivational exchange and a little bit of encouragement, we went up the rockery and found ourselves on the peak. Some respected individuals broke down into tears of joy. Aha! I always knew bankers had a soft heart hidden in layers of banking decorum. With a proper business proposal, that big bank loan is yours to have.
As part of the outing package, I delivered a short motivational talk at the summit based on the hiking experience. Hiking has many benefits and offers many lessons in life.
Once rested, and after taking photos at the summit, we set off for the base camp. One small group ventured out on an alternative route and discovered the power of sticking together. We had two injuries, one with a minor dislocation of the knee, and the other with a skinned leg. Peter ably stabilized both conditions. Perry performed the last head count, and when all were accounted for, we returned back to Lilongwe.
This was a day to remember.
National Bank of Malawi is the oldest, largest and leading commercial bank in Malawi, offering a wide range of products and services. It has the largest national presence. Visit its website on www.natbank.co.mw/.
OUR PHOTO ALBUM AT THE SUMMIT
THE ACTIVE MEMBERS THAT WENT TO DEDZA MOUNTAIN ON 4 JUNE 2017
Members of the National Bank of Malawi (NBM) City Centre Wellness Club that hiked Dedza Mountain on 4 June 2017 were as follows:
- Mark Phanga
- Thoko Malwich
- Constance Nkosi
- Bruno Lumbe
- Maggie Mtupanyama
- Komiha Gatoma
- Justin Kaisale
- Robert Mpalika
- Shadreck Msangaambe
- Lytton Kadzokoya
- Elton Chipeta
- Evance Kaundeni
- Phillip Gama
- Hanna Kanyenge
- Chifundo Coroa
What fun. Let’s do this again!