If you’ve already crossed the Appalachian Trail off your bucket list, hiked the length of New Zealand along the Te Araroa and walked through the Alps on the Haute Route, then I may have found your next big adventure: a new long-distance hiking trail set to open in Africa early next year that will give adventurous travelers an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a famous 19th-century explorer.
The Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker Historical Trail will stretch for approximately 360 miles from Gondokoro – near Juba, the capital of South Sudan – to Baker’s View, which is located near the shores of Lake Albert in western Uganda. The route follows roughly the same path that Samuel Baker used on his expeditions to explore central Africa, which took place throughout the 1860s and 1870s. Baker’s wife accompanied him on those adventures, which is why the trail has been named to honor her as well. In 1864, Baker made the greatest discovery of his career when he became the first European to set eyes on the massive body of water that he would name in honor of Prince Albert, the late consort of Britain’s Queen Victoria. Baker’s View marks the location where the explorer first caught a glimpse of Lake Albert itself and those hiking the trail will get to relive that moment a century and a half later.
The new trail is the pet project of explorer and anthropologist Julian Monroe Fisher, who recently walked most of the route as part of his Great African Expedition. Fisher is working closely with the Uganda Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife & Antiquities; the Uganda Wildlife Authority; and the Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation & Tourism for South Sudan to make this project a reality. The trail has the full support of the descendants of Samuel Baker as well and Fisher credits both RailRiders Adventure Clothing and Costa Del Mar Sunglasses for helping to push this project along.In June, Fisher will return to Uganda where he will begin placing historical markers along the trail to mark important locations from the Baker expeditions. Backpackers will then be able to follow the route and actually stop at those places, possibly even making camp in the same spot that the explorer and his wife did. All of this work is preparation for the official launch of the trail in January 2014, which will come just in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the explorer’s discovery of the lake.
While many of the great long-distance hiking trails across the globe are designated for trekking only, one of the more interesting things about this trail is that it will allow for mixed use. That means mountain bikers can ride the route and even 4×4 vehicles will be granted access. The route is reportedly very scenic, remote and largely untouched by modern conveniences, which should be a major part of its allure.
In addition to being a great attraction for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers, the trail is expected to be an economic boon for the communities that surround it. South Sudan in particular is struggling with having enough funds to help its development process as the country emerges from years of conflict as the newest nation on Earth. The influx of tourist dollars that could come along with the trail will be especially beneficial for that country.
I’m sure news of this trail will be most welcome amongst trekkers and mountain bikers alike. It sounds like it will be a beautiful and challenging hike that should prove popular with those who are truly looking to get away from it all.