Sanetti Plateau is  the largest alpine plateau in Africa and forms the centerpiece of the Bale Mountains National Park, southeastern Ethiopia.

By Stuart Butler (The National) |

The ghost of the high country moves with speed, grace and ease across these bleak moorlands. Every now and then, it pauses, lowers a long, thin, canine nose to the ground and takes a deep sniff. The wolf must know that I’m watching him, from my crouched position behind a rock that even at midday is icy to the touch, but he’s so busy chasing the scent of a giant mole rat that he takes little notice of me.

The wolf may be comfortable at such high altitude, but I’m suffering. My breathing is fast and labored; my head spinning with the first signs of mild altitude sickness. As the wolf vanishes out of sight, I raise myself slowly from my hiding place and continue to walk. As I carefully pace my way across the plateau, half-frozen grasses crunching underfoot, a horseman, swinging a whip and wrapped up warm against the stinging cold winds, gallops past me, while a golden eagle, perhaps the most majestic of all birds, soars high on the thermals.

I’m on the Sanetti Plateau, a vast Afro-alpine moorland four kilometers above sea level in southern Ethiopia. It’s the largest alpine plateau in Africa and forms the centerpiece of the Bale Mountains National Park (www.balemountains.org), which I’m quickly learning is one of the most diverse and exciting national parks I have ever visited.

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In the days that follow my wolf encounter, I descend a little from the head-spinning Sanetti Plateau to the ­Harenna Forest, a place where giant heathers the size of trees cling to the steep slopes and thick, green moss hangs from the spaghetti-like branches. There’s a sense of magic to this place where normally diminutive plants and flowers can turn themselves into three-meter-high monsters.

As I make my way through the under-canopy of the giant heathers, searching for the native Bale monkey, I half-expect to see a goblin scarpering along the trail ahead of me. But there’s plenty more zoologically certifiable wildlife around, including the rare monkeys. Lions, I’m told, are also occasionally seen in and around these forests. Lower still, in the open grasslands, my guide and I walk in the footsteps of the elegant Meneliks nyala (a type of antelope), comical warthogs and herds of petite reedbuck.

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