Mount Hambericho towers over Durame town, the capital of Kembata Tembaro Zone in the South region, and is one of the highest summits in Ethiopia. Though it rises to 3,058 meters above sea level, the 777 steps cut into the peak make hiking up the mountain easy for both local and international tourists.
The foothills, covering 18,604 hectares, reach out to four of the woredas in the zone; Kadida Gamela, Angacha, Kacha Bira and Damboya.
Zemede Eramo, Hambericho Eco-Tourism Site and Green Development Program Office manager, says one can see distant places from the summit of the mountain. “During the day, one can see as far as the town of Hossana, from a neighboring zone, Hadiya. And at night, the lights of the town of Shashemene in the West Arsi zone can be spotted from the summit.”
Composed of two Kembata terms “amba” and “aricho”, Hambericho means “place of the sun”. The people of Kembata say the mountain gained the name because its hills glisten during the rising and setting of the sun.
The administration of the Kembata Tembaro zone had the 777 steps built into the mountain in 2019 to encourage tourist flow to the peak and the area at large. The construction of the staircase was completed five months after the foundation stone was laid, and was opened to tourists by the zone’s administrators and the local community.
The zone spent four million ETB for the construction of the steps.
Zemede says the ascending steps show off the scenic beauty of the area and its rich history. He also explained the three symbolic reasons behind the construction of the 777 stairs up the mountain.
The founding fathers of the Kembata tribe are believed to be seven. These seven leaders headed seven clans that comprised the tribe and lived on the mountain of Hambericho. One of the sevens in 777 number of the steps stands for this myth.
Hambericho is also made up of seven chains of hills. This makes up for the second seven.
The third seven is for the seven streams that fall down the hills of Hambericho. These streams finally make up a river called lemele Lega.
The seven leaders of the Kembata clans had the power of a king, ruling over the land of Kembata. They used to be known as the Woma. This went on until Minilik II took control of the area, putting it under the nation’s central command in the 19th century.
The Woma ruled over 30 localities in Kembata. These localities used to be known as Seje Gocho. The gate of the steps to the peak of the mountain is now called by the same name, to represent the old glamor of the Kembata’s royal administration.
Information obtained from the zone’s Eco-tourism and Development Office shows that more than half a million domestic and foreign tourists visited Hambericho in the 2020/21 fiscal year.
Zemede explains that there’s no entrance fee for visitors to pass the gate to the steps. But he says this will change starting from October. “Tourists will start paying at the gate to hike up the hills. We are planning to earn direct revenue this way.”
Still, there are indirect ways the zone is earning money from visitors to the mountain. There are shops around the gate that supply traditional attires for interested visitors. Goatherders also sell goats and sheep to campers who plan to have cookouts on the mountain.
Zemede told us that more than 1000 people got employment opportunities in garment and animal sales.
Kassahun Erkalo, born and raised in Kembata Tambaro zone, says that Hambericho mountain has a special place for him and his friends.
“Before the stairs were constructed, we climbed up Hambericho for Mesqel celebration every September. We used to chip in some money and have a day picnic on top of the mountain,” says Kassahun, explaining the steps have made it easier for people to climb the mountain more often now.
Mesqel is the celebration of the founding of the true cross that is marked by most Christians in Ethiopia. This religious holiday has deep-rooted cultural ties, especially in the Southern part of the country.
Apart from the mountain vista, the area has various man-made and natural attractions. Gemesha Hambaricho hot springs, the Ajorau Mentia waterfall, Sodicho’s ancient caves, and Degele oak tree are among the other sites which stand out.