The aim of this Secret Compass Classic Expedition is to mountain bike from Sankaber to Adiarkay, linking the mountain villages along the way through Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains, including a summit of Ras Dashen, the country’s highest peak at 4,543m.
You can expect long, hard days, riding challenging terrain in a remote and varied range of mountains. At times you’ll be hauling your bike over your shoulder as you scramble over steep rock faces, at others you’ll be flying down epic single-track to local villages where your bikes will be subject to the curiosity of an energetic contingent of local children.
- Discover the Simien Mountains National Park.
- Ride remote, challenging single-track through the mountains.
- Summit Ras Dashen, Ethiopia’s highest peak.
- Spot unique wildlife including gelada baboons, walia ibex and Simien foxes.
- Stay with local communities in remote mountain villages.
Ethiopia is home to 80% of the land in Africa above 3,000m. In the north of the country, the Simien Mountains are home to the country’s highest peak, and Africa’s tenth highest, Ras Dashen at 4,533m. In 1978 the Simien Mountains National Park was enlisted as one of the world’s first and Ethiopia’s only UNESCO natural World Heritage Site. With its unique flora and fauna, breath-taking views over highland ridges giving way abruptly to 1000-2000m deep escarpments, this dramatic landscape has long inspired both domestic and international visitors. The Simiens offer more than just a critical habitat for rare wildlife, they’re also an important watershed for the region, with several year-round rivers originating inside park boundaries. These rivers are an essential source of water for communities downstream in Ethiopia as well as Sudan and Egypt.
The Simien Mountains offer awesome single-track for challenging mountain biking with epic views, wildlife, and plenty of opportunity for interaction with local communities. A network of paths hewn over centuries connect the villages dotted throughout the mountains which make for fantastic challenging mountain biking. The majority of the biking is on the paths forged by animals and humans which link villages through the mountains. In some areas we will be pushing bikes uphill and carrying bikes on steeper sections, while the downhill sections will be a welcome reward, though technically demanding at times.
For an idea of what to expect, check out the Giro video below, filmed on expedition in the Simiens (managed by Secret Compass). Do keep in mind, this was a trip with professional riders and is not an indication of the expected level of riding ability, although it offers an excellent insight into the varied terrain you can expect.
As those familiar with travel by bike can attest, bikes break down cultural barriers and moving through the villages of the Simien mountains on a daily basis provides a great opportunity for cultural interaction. Most nights are spent camping in villages and you ride through many different communities each day, so there will be lots of chances for conversation over locally harvested coffee or simply through curiosity for your two-wheeled steel steed.
Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about Our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this Ethiopian Classic Expedition. A fuller itinerary is provided in the expedition handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.
All teammates arrive into Addis Ababa and make your way to the team hotel to meet your Secret Compass leader and teammates. The official expedition introduction, briefing and welcome meal will take place in a hotel in the evening on the first day. The next day you will take a short domestic flight to Gondar and then drive to Sankaber at the foot of the Simiens.
After a day to prepare your kit and acclimatise, you’ll jump on your bikes and head off into the national park. You’ll be carrying your personal kit and bike spares for the day with up to three litres of water. The rest of the equipment will travel on mules to your campsite each night. It’s tough, it’s steep and it can be very hot. Dress to keep cool in the heat, with layers at the ready for the higher, more exposed ridges and fast descents.
All your food will be sourced in country. In urban areas the team will eat in local cafes and restaurants and there’ll be a cook embedded with the expedition who will make up main meals with assistance from the team. On the trail, expect snack-style lunches to keep your energy levels suitably stocked.
Ras Dashen summited, the Simiens explored and some fantastic tracks ridden, the team will have a day to relax (and contingency day!) in Gondar – there will be the opportunity to visit the Debre Berhan Selassie Church and its surroundings before enjoying a delicious meal in a hospitable local guesthouse. On the expedition’s penultimate day, the team will take a domestic flight back to Addis Ababa, where there will be a few hours to explore or simply relax before a celebratory meal in a downtown restaurant and a well earned night’s sleep in a comfortable hotel. The expedition officially ends after breakfast, with teammates welcome to leave on flights departing at any time on this day (including early morning flights).
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Team members should be willing to be part of a team working together to achieve the goal of the expedition. As a team member, you should have an adventurous and robust spirit. The biggest challenge on this expedition will be the many consecutive days of challenging mountain biking across rugged terrain, much of which at altitudes of 4000m+. It will be tough at times, when going uphill you will be required to push or carry your bike which can be particularly demanding at altitude.
Applicants will receive a Handbook with further expedition information. View Secret Compass’s suggested Expedition Training Advice and get in touch with any fitness, health, training or kit questions that remain. Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go. Teammates must be comfortable with the following.
Minimum fitness requirements
- Ride: up to 35km per day.
- Daily activity: up to 10 hours of mountain biking per day.
- Carrying / pushing: up to 10kg of personal kit + bike.
- Terrain: over mountainous terrain at altitudes up to 4500m.
- Climate: in an equatorial climate. Expect conditions to be cool, windy and exposed with a chance of rain.
- Age: 21+
At a basic level, you should be comfortable jogging for at least an hour. You should be comfortable going out and riding a hard 40km day on single-track over mountainous terrain for at least 3 consecutive days.
- Professional Secret Compass expedition leader with full medical and communications kits.
- Local guides and support team.
- All accommodation throughout (wild camping unless hotel is stated).
- All food (snacks and meals) and soft drinks.
- All transport as outlined in itinerary, including internal flights.
- Local permits and permissions.
- International flights to and from Addis Ababa.
- Travel insurance (obligatory).
- Visas if required.
- Tips to local guides (discretionary).
- Alcohol unless provided by hosts with meals.
- Personal equipment including mountain bike (full kit list in the Handbook).
- Excess baggage on domestic flight.
On application to join this classic expedition to Ethiopia, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying.
I’ve never been mountain biking before. Can I come?
Being able to ride a bike is essential for this expedition and team members should be competent on UK Standard Red runs as a minimum. You are welcome to apply if you have never been mountain biking before, however we would require you to gain experience prior to departure – there are plenty of instructors who can teach you basic skills and build your confidence if necessary.
Do I need my own bike?
Yes, you will be required to bring your own mountain bike on this expedition. In-country rental is not an option. Prior to departure, ensure your bike is up to the challenge and is a good personal fit and check baggage restrictions for flying with a bike on your chosen airline.
Can I arrive a day late?
As the plan outlines, there is a chain of transport, including domestic flights and road transfers, to get teammates to the trailhead, so start and end dates are not flexible.
Can I charge electricals?
Once the expedition phase begins, there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.
Will there be telephone signal?
Your mobile roaming will work in Addis Ababa but you are unlikely to get signal once the expedition begins.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the button below to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team. The Handbook contains a kit list for this expedition.