After my early morning hike up a hill that was found just across the road from the Anja Reserve, I began my journey to Andringitra National Park. My goal would be to summit the highest climbable peak in Madagascar – Peak Boby. Like everything in Madagascar, you have to get there first, and that never comes easy. There are two ways to reach Peak Boby. The first is from the west via the Tsaranoro Valley. I would later find out that it is a much tougher hike coming from the west due to the greater elevation gain involved. The other way is from the east by way of the Namoly Valley park entrance. This is the way most visitors start their Andringitra National Park experience and where I would begin as well. Getting to the Namoly Valley park entrance involves an almost 3-hour bumpy ride to the park entrance from Ambalavao.
Not long ago, Madagascar was mostly covered by forest. It has since been slashed-and-burned to the point where much of the island is basically bare. In the central highlands where Andringitra National Park is located, the laterite soils are exposed and give Madagascar it’s nickname – the “Great Red Island.”
Malagasy Big Wheel.
After 43 kilometers of being bounced all around in the truck, I reached the Andringitra National Park entrance. I was ready to get on my feet and begin my three-day adventure.
Prior to my arrival in Madagascar, my guide/driver set up an itinerary for me. To my guide’s sometimes displeasure, I changed it throughout much of my trip. For the Andringitra National Park part of my trip, he planned the 3-day/2-night Peak Boby trek that the majority of visitors do. Now, I could have easily done the whole trek in 1-1/2 days but I don’t find enjoyment in pushing through treks just to tell people how fast I did it. Not to mention I was planning on seeing many plants in habitat in Andringitra that I would find nowhere else in the world. A nice relaxing three-day pace was perfect for me so I could enjoy the scenery and admire the plants. For those that have been following my Madagascar trip posts, you know that I used Strava to track my hiking details. Unfortunately, on this 3-day trip the battery died on my phone the second night. So the distance and elevation details below are only for two days of hiking. The red line represents the location of camp #1.
And we’re off… My two guides led the way. In what seems to be a Malagasy trekking tradition, I had to hire two guides. The guide on the left was the local area guide that took care of Ambalavao, Anja Reserve, Andringitra National Park and Camp Catta. To the right is my Andringitra National Park guide.
The real heroes of the trek – my two porters. They doubled as the cooks as well. Yes, that chicken was my dinner for the night on the right hip of the porter with shoes.
One final stop to grab some last-minute items before you pass the check point and enter the actual national park.
My entrance into the park was during the off season so the ticket check point was closed. Over the three days spent in Andringitra National Park, I would only see three other other tourists. Even in the off season this was a low number – for which I felt fortunate.
The first really interesting thing you happen upon during your trek to Camp #1 were these rounded out pools. During the rainy season there is so much water rushing down the river that the force of it causes these rocks to spin, and over many years they erode out these pools.
Even in the national park you will find irrigation canals that local farmers dug to help water their crops.
Aloe capitata could be found growing in many areas of Andringitra National Park.
3,300 meters into the trek.
Andringitra National Park has been called the Yosemite of Madagascar due to the magnificent massifs that erupt right out of the ground.
Hard to see in the picture below (due to the fact it was the dry season) are the two sacred waterfalls of ‘Riandahy’ and ‘Riambavy.’ Also called the queen and the king’s waterfalls, they cascade more than 950 feet in total. Once over that ridge it was only a short walk to Camp #1.
One of the streams that feeds either the ‘Riandahy’ or ‘Riambavy’ waterfall. The water was crystal clear and quite cold.
I arrived at Camp #1 around 4 PM. The sun was already beginning to hide behind the massif so it was getting chilly fast. The rats at the camp had no fear of humans. For this reason I was glad I rented a tent.
These zebu had to be chased away from the camp. Even in the national park zebu farmers are allowed to let their animals graze.
Time for dinner. I only caught traveler’s sickness once during the entire month-long trip through Madagascar. It was either this night or the next where I ended up catching it. I did’t see any soap or hand sanitizer in the porters’ packs, if you know what I mean.
Sun setting on my first night in Andringitra National Park. Once the sun was down, it got really cold. I was in my sleeping bag by 7 PM, as I had a 3 AM wakeup call to summit Peak Boby to view the sunrise.
The following morning involved a very dark hike with just our headlamps leading the way. It was pitch black out that cold morning. It was just over 2 miles to the summit and it involved some serious elevation gain. I still managed to get to the top with 45 minutes to spare. That was a mistake. It was freezing at the top and the wind was howling. I knew I would hike faster than most people they take to the summit, but I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see the sunrise from the top of Madagascar. Once at the top I put on what little cold weather gear that I brought with me on the trip. As I was freezing on the summit waiting for the sun to rise, I was cursing myself for not bringing more. But really, who packs cold weather gear for a 30-day trip where you only need it for one brief period? At the summit my guides knew where to hunker down and shield themselves from the wind.
Whether you call it Peak Boby, Boby Peak, Pic Boby, or Imarivolanitra, it won’t change the fact that it is the highest climbable mountain peak in all of Madagascar. Coming in at 8,720 feet (2,658 meters), you feel every bit of it during that dark, chilly, early morning summit. As is to be expected, the weather didn’t cooperate for the perfect sunrise. Even though the clouds stole some of the awe, being at the top was a surreal experience. I have been to the top of many mountain peaks, but there was just something truly magical about this one.
Sunrise from the roof of Madagascar. My two guides and myself would have that morning to ourselves. No other tourist made the trek. How cool is that? Even though I was cursing out the cold, it certainly could have been worse. The following morning it rained on the summit.
Peak Boby was named by a Frenchmen who first summited it back in 1956. His dog, who made the trek with him, was named “Boby.” The Malagasies actually don’t like the name, as the mountain is sacred to them, and naming it after a dog was offensive. The new name of the peak is Imarivolanitra, meaning ‘close to the sky.’ However, as is often the case, the peak is still known by its former name by all but the people that live there.
Even though it is not a high peak at only at 8,720 feet, Peak Boby is still a pretty barren, wind-swept summit. However, some plants do live at the top.
Once the sun was up, the wind stopped and it gave me a chance to warm up. I would spend about 1 hour at the summit after sunrise. My return back down the mountain to Camp #1 gave me an opportunity to see what I missed during the dark hike up. A lot of it was stairs, which I felt going up.
Rock route markers help guide you when you can not see the trail.
Not far off the summit, at about at 8,300 feet according to Strava, we found an endemic aloe species called Aloe andringitrensis. Named after Andringitra, Aloe andringitrensis was one of the main reasons I came to hike in this part of the world. Aloe andringitrensis is a very attractive species that exhibits a handsome purple coloration. Due to the difficulty of getting to the small locale where this aloe grows, it is still quite rare in cultivation.
Aloe andringitrensis prefers to grow in areas without much soil and was usually found in top form in rock crevices. I found a few growing right on the sides of cliffs.
Another aloe growing in the exact same area as Aloe andringitrensis was Aloe johannis-philippei. Easy to distinguish from Aloe andringitrensis, Aloe johannis-philippei has lime green foliage and a larger size. I found it to be a very attractive aloe even though it doesn’t get the same fan-fare as its purple-leaf sidekick.
Even though you would find Aloe johannis-philippei and Aloe andringitrensis growing right next to each other, I could never find a hybrid between the two. This was something I would take notice of throughout Madagascar. Not only with the aloes, but the palms as well. While many species overlap and live side-by-side, hybrids were few and far between. In cultivation, the plants hybridize freely. Not sure what is going on in the wild to limit this. The plants all appear to flower at the same time too, so it isn’t that. Perhaps without the indiscriminate, domesticated honeybee, the endemic pollinators are more specific or discerning?
Andringitra macrantha use to be called Dombeya macrantha. I wasn’t expecting a Dombeya up there.
Even though the aloes or Andringitra macrantha were not in bloom at the time, there were still some plants blooming that late October.
Somewhere in the fog bank was Camp #1 where I started my morning trek.
Can you see the bird’s head in the rock formation?
My guide showing me how this boulder could be rocked back and forth.
One last view of Peak Boby before you pass behind a rock face to never see the peak again. If you look closely you can see a small point on the top which was the cairn I was photographed next to in the sunrise photo.
The weather changes fast in the Andringitra. That fog bank had already disappeared. Camp #1 and breakfast were waiting for me down there.
Closing back in on Camp #1, I looked over my shoulder on what we had just climbed down. What a fun hike that was. But it still wasn’t over. After breakfast we would continue to Camp #2, which was almost 8 miles away. It would be a 14-mile day all totaled.
This seems like a good place to end this week’s post. Next week I will continue with the rest of the second day and include my third day, which includes Camp Catta.