expedition handbook

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Classic Secret Compass expedition to Ethiopia. Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on this expedition team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.

Key facts

  • Arrive: by 1700 on 13 Oct 18 into Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.
  • Depart: leave Addis Ababa any time from 26 Oct 18 onwards.
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 13 Aug 18
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.


The aim of this Secret Compass classic expedition is to mountain bike through the Simien Mountains from Sankaber to Adiarkay, summiting Ras Deshan, Ethiopia’s highest peak at 4,543m, along the way.


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 the 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.


You need to organise your own international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. We’d also recommend accommodating for additional transit times within your flight itinerary to allow for any unforeseen delays during travel. See our online Terms and Conditions.

You need to be at the airport in Addis Ababa by 1700 on the 13th October 2018 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on the 26th October 2018 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.


Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
  • Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the insurance page on our website.


Visas are your responsibility. All visitors to Ethiopia, with the exception of nationals from Djibouti and Kenya, are required to apply for a visa. Visas on arrival are only available for tourists from the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and most of Europe at Addis Ababa (Bole) International airport, at a cost of approximately $US50 for 1 month (Euros, US dollars and Ethiopian birr are all accepted). Please check with your nearest embassy or consulate on the latest advice.


All relevant local permits including entry into the Simien Mountain National Park will be organised by Secret Compass.


Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Ethiopia. Make sure you have two blank pages in your passport on arrival. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.

Day 1: Oct 13 – Addis Ababa

Arrive in Addis Ababa and meet your transfer for the team hotel by 1700 to meet your leader. Welcome meal and expedition briefing.

Day 2: Oct 14 – Sankaber

After the brief flight from Addis, we’ll take a vehicle up into the foothills of the Simiens and the camp at Sankaber.

Day 3: Oct 15 –Sankaber

Today will be a day to prepare your bikes and kit and take part in a short acclimatisation ride in the afternoon in preparation for tomorrows departure.

Day 4: Oct 16 –Gich

Cycle up from Sankaber into the foothills of the Simiens and the camp at Gech, which lies at 3600m.

Day 5: Oct 17 – Chenek

Head up to the escarpment for the view and ride the track up to Chenek.

Day 6: Oct 18 –Ambiko

A longer day today but the majority of it is downhill to Ambiko, a village in the valley between Chenek and Ras Deshan. Descent down rocky single track.

Day 7: Oct 19 –Ras Deshan

The longest day today, we start early to summit the highest peak in Ethiopia (4543m) before retuning to Ambiko. We will be rewarded after a tough climb by an epic descent!

Day 8: Oct 20 –Sona

After a 300m singletrack descent we start our move north today with a tough climb out of the Ambiko valley and through rolling farm fields. Long day of climbing with some winding singletrack contouring around the hills to Arkwasiye before a short distance to Sona.

Day 9: Oct 21 –Mekarebia

The descent out of Sona consists of steep switchbacks for nearly 1000m down into a deep gorge, which will provide us with some rocky, technical descent, before following the valley to the village for the night.

Day 10: Oct 22 –Muli

We will push on today through rolling fields in the shadow of the main Simien range that sits to our south. Limited riding and a big climb out of the valley.

Day 11: Oct 23 –Gondar

The final day! We continue the short distance through undulating terrain in the foothills of the Simiens to our finish point at Adiarkay. Drive back to Gondor in the afternoon

Day 12: Oct 24 –Gondar

Spend the day relaxing your legs or exploring the local town of Gondar.

Day 13: Oct 25 –Addis Ababa

Travel back to Addis Ababa for your final celebratory meal.

Day 14: Oct 26 –Onward Travel

You are free to depart anytime today or make arrangements to extend your stay. The expedition officially ends after breakfast although many flights depart early in the morning.

About Secret Compass itineraries

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.


All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.

  • Grade: 360 degrees.
  • Daily activity: ride up to 35km, 10 hours per day.
  • Carry: carry/ push 10kg + bike over steep and tricky terrain.
  • Terrain: over mountainous terrain at altitudes up to 4500m.
  • Climate: in an equatorial climate. Expect conditions to be cool and windy when we are on high exposed ground.
  • Ride: you should be a proficient cyclist. Red runs at Ride UK trail centres or the equivalent is a good standard to aim for. You can get off and walk on technical sections if needed.

Previous experience

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 days running.


Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful.

There is a malarial risk in areas below 2000m only. Little to no risk in Addis Ababa. Prophylaxis is recommended for all areas, except for Addis Ababa and for altitudes above 2500 m (8202 ft).
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.


It is recommended to take US dollars or GBPs and change for local currency (Birr). Most banks require bills to be paid in birr but you can pay for airline tickets, hotels and travel agencies with USD. ATM’s from the Dashen Bank in Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Gondar and Mekele accept international visa bank cards, however there will be limited access to cash once we leave Addis Ababa.

This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, just for a beer in the town and some souvenirs on the way or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips.

Secret Compass always suggest carrying an emergency fund of $100-$200 in cash.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2018 mountain biking expedition to Ethiopia. Secret Compass will supply tents, cooking equipment, a comprehensive communications and medical kit and a variety of bike spares and repairs.


Secret Compass have arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and sleeping

  • RUCKSACK: 65-80 ltr. Your main pack which will go on mules. This can be a rucksack or large expedition duffel bag
  • DAYSACK: 30-40 ltr. Carry on your back whilst trekking and riding so please ensure this is comfortable for riding in. This will contain water, snacks, bike spares, waterproof and spare warm clothes.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack and a few smaller ones to store individual items such as sleeping bags and clothing. It is also worth having two to put your inner and outer portions of your tent in if it rains.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort -5C. Down is lighter and more compact than synthetic options but also invest in a waterproof stuff sack. Nights may drop down below freezing with frost on the ground.
  • FULL LENGTH SLEEPING MAT: Inflatable roll mat, thermarest or the equivalent. Bring a repair kit.


  • LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: 2x quick drying long sleeve shirt or top (not cotton)
  • THERMAL BASE LAYER: 1 x long sleeved thermal top and bottoms. Lycra running/ biking pants are ideal under shorts (Optional).
  • LONG TROUSERS: 1x for wearing around camp.
  • SHORTS: 1x for riding in.
  • MID LAYER: 1x fleece or equivalent.
  • DOWN JACKET: 1x warm jacket for cold evenings at altitude. A down jacket is ideal.
  • WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: 1x Gore-tex or equivalent outer shell. Trousers are not mandatory.
  • TREKKING / BIKE SHOES: 1x trekking and/or bike shoes depending on how comfortable they are to trek in.
  • HIKING SOCKS: 4x pairs (optional).
  • SANDALS: For wearing around camp and for river crossings. Not flip flops!
  • WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT (optional).
  • WARM HAT FOR EVENINGS. (Optional) A buff can also be useful.
  • GLOVES. Warm gloves in addition to bike gloves.
  • UNDERWEAR. 3 x cycling shorts are ideal as they don’t chafe.


  • ROBUST WATER BOTTLE: Nalgene, Sigg or bike bottle.
  • WATER BLADDER: You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 ltrs of water.

Health and Hygiene

  • SOAP: Antibacterial and BIODEGRADABLE (optional).
  • TRAVEL TOWEL / SARONG (optional).
  • WET WIPES / BABY WIPES (optional).
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS: These will have to be carried of the national park with you so please bring enough zip lock bags to do so in a hygienic manner.
  • VASELINE: Mosquitoes are not an issue.
  • VITAMINS (optional.


A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.

  • WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: To keep kit dry and safe.
  • PAIN KILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard / original item.
  • REHYDRATION SACCHETS: Nunn, etc. You will need enough to make up 4 – 6 ltrs of water. Dioralyte are not recommended.
  • PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
  • EURAX CREAM: For bites.
  • ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You must make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel and to any changes in this post-booking.

Bike Kit

  • BIKE.
  • SHOES: If use SPDs or equivalent.
  • GLOVES: Bike gloves.
  • PUMP: Nothing worse than walking back up the hill to lend a pump!
  • MULTI TOOL: With chain tool.
  • PUNCTURE REPAIR KIT: For when those inner tubes run out.
  • SPARE CHAIN LINKS: Ensure correct chain speed.
  • SPARE REAR MECH HANGER: Bike specific.
  • SPARE SPOKES: 6x wheel specific.
  • SPARE BRAKE PADS: Brake specific.


  • WATCH (optional).
  • PENKNIFE (optional).
  • GAFFA TAPE: (optional) For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit such as your water bottle.
  • SPARE SHOE LACES (optional).
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings, etc.

Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.


In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Typical teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Teammate mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.

Risk management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key risks

Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include increased likelihood and severity of an injury due to mountain biking, remote locations with long evac times and RTAs. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email info@secretcompass.com

Incident management and medical

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to two days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.


Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.



It is recommended that females do not dress too provocatively as a courtesy to the locals. Outside main tourist areas, women should cover legs and shoulders to avoid offence. The Ethiopian Highlands are mostly Orthodox Christian with ‘fasting’ each Wednesday, Friday and during Lent when only vegetarian dishes are available (except in larger hotels). Homosexuality is taboo as well as being illegal and owning ivory is strictly prohibited. In the past a number of British nationals found with ivory jewellery have had their items confiscated by authorities and fined between 5,000 – 25,000 birr.


The majority of the biking will be on animal and human forged paths that link villages through the mountains, with some isolated jeep track. The downhill will be a huge amount of fun and will be technical in places. In some areas we will be pushing bikes uphill and carrying bikes on steeper sections.


This area has climate characteristics similar to those found in the Alps in summer. The daily temperatures can range from 20C to -2C at altitude. At night at altitude it will likely be chilly. We will be traveling just after the end of the rainy season and so rain is unlikely, but possible.


Addis Ababa airport is located on the outskirts of the city – team members will be transferred between the airport and the accommodation at the start and end of the expedition. Depending on the final team size, 4×4 vehicles or minibuses will be used to transport the team to the start and finish points.

During the expedition we will be pushing/carrying the bikes up the majority of the hils, culminating in the climb up Ras Desham (4543m). This will be hard physical work, your bike weighs 12-15kg on top of your daysack which will weigh around 10kg. We will be riding on mountain tracks covering about 15-25km per day.


The team will stay in a comfortable hotel in Addis Ababa at the start and end of the expedition, rooms will be on a twin-share basis and the hotel will be able to store any luggage which isn’t required for the expedition, any extra nights outside of the Secret Compass itinerary can be booked directly with the hotel. Whilst in the Simien Mountains, the team will be camping in mountain tents provided by Secret Compass, apart from at the end of the trip where we will be staying in a comfortable guesthouse.


All food will be sourced in country. In urban ares we will eat in local cafes/restaurants. It is advised that you carry trail snacks (nuts, dried fruit, cereal bars) to keep you going. We will have a cook in the mountains who will make up our main meals. Expect tasty but basic food – local breads, jam/honey, porridge, rice, beans, pasta, potatoes. The food is really good! When working hard at altitude snacks are key to keeping energy levels up. Secret Compass will provide some basic snacks (nuts, raisons and chocolate) but you may want to supplement this with stuff brought into country.


Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.

Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Your mobile roaming will work in Addis Ababa but you are unlikely to get signal once the expedition begins.

Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

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. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.

I’ve never done 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 to get teammates to the location where the training will commence, 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.

Do you provide further advice?

You might find our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, travel insurance, visas and our approach to risk management. (Hyperlink Get Ready to this: http://www.secretcompass.com/get-ready/ )

How can I apply?

Use the buttons below to contact Secret Compass with your questions or to complete our no-obligation Application Form to join this team. Someone will get back to you promptly.

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