Wednesday, April 18, 2012
The Ethiopian Mother Coffee Tree: Walking up a Canyon to find the Legendary Tree
Map of our hike through the forest.
What an adventure! Two days hiking through the remote Kafa Forest attempting to find the “Mother Coffee Tree.” The Mother Tree is supposed to be the original coffee tree. This is the first tree that was used to cultivate coffee, the 2nd most traded commodity in the world.
I’ll spare some details, but this was the craziest hike I have ever done. As you can see from the map, the tree is rather close to the road to the North East. We started in the village of Chiri, to see if there was 2nd, more scenic route.
One guy in our party, Andrew, runs a remote hospital in Chiri and had access to a car. We were able to get dropped off a few kilometers from hospital, but we had to walk part of the road. It was too muddy for even a rugged Toyota Land cruiser. We walked down to the only bridge in the area, the Supak’s bridge constructed in 1999. This bridge, make out of concrete, was constructed to improve access to the remote coffee farmers.
From the bridge we hiked up river. We started out walking on the shore but quickly moved to rock hopping as the bank disappeared below our feet. A few hours into the hike the small rocks turned to 15 feet tall boulders and we had to start bouldering and rock climbing. At 5km into our hike, the boulders, the rocks, and the bank disappeared. It was nearly past 4pm and too late to turn around. With steep cliffs on both sides we had to start wading through the water looking for a camping spot for the night. It was a beautiful sight when we saw a small patch of grass and a bank of the side of the river.
We spent that evening dreaming of ice cream and sodas while drying our clothes next to the camp fire.
The next day we woke up early, cooked a simple vegetable soup with bread and we continued walking upstream. We luckily didn’t have to go far because we eventually found a trail that led us out of the treacherous canyon. With pure dumb luck, the trail we found led to the main foot path 3 km from the mother coffee tree. We hiked up to the tree and ate a beautiful lunch of canned tuna and cookies.
The tree is very hard to find, it is in the middle of a coffee forest. With the assistance of a few locals we found the legendary tree. For a coffee tree it is rather large, but not jaw dropping. It probably has a 6” diameter, and about 20 feet tall. Perhaps one day more information can be published about it.
After that, we hike over a sketchy bridge towards the town of Baha. This bridge had a 100 foot drop on both sides, crossing a narrow canyon. The bridge is made of nothing but 8-9 trees that have been fallen on their side and bound together with vines. While the bridge seemed safe that day, I don’t expect it to survive more than a year or two without some help.
From this point it was a walk straight uphill, from about 1500m to 2050m. The last section had an elevation gain of about 300m in 1km. We were all dead when we reached the road and waited for our ride home.
A great hike and I was happy that we could do it. It still makes more sense to access the coffee tree from the NE (there is a beautiful natural bridge up there too), but it’s nice to have other trails mapped. I’ll be using this data to help compile some tourism maps for future travelers. I am working with a local NGO and the government to help the industry develop.
Posted by Jonathan Schmierer at 6:31 PM