John Ball was born in Mutare and studied botany and forestry, first at the University of Cape Town and later at Oxford, England having been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.
He arrived in Melsetter in the 50’s. Recognising the immense importance of the Chimanimani mountains he was instrumental in having the area encompassing the mountains declared a National Park. He was also Chairman of the Melsetter District Council for some time and worked to get the Eland Sanctuary established so the eland could be moved from the forestry areas where they were causing damage to the pine trees.
Ball also helped to site the Outward Bound school and to get it operating. Then raised funds to build the mountain hut which he constructed on his weekends over a period of 18 months and which was completed in 1955. One can imagine the logistics of moving material up the mountain. While local rock was used to construct the walls most of the building material was carried up by porter and donkeys. The final building is far from a hut – solidly built of stone and concrete it has two dormitories which can accommodate up to 24 people, a central communal room to the front with a large fireplace and a kitchen to the rear. It even had some surprising luxuries for the day at such a remote location, waterborne sewerage and gas lighting throughout. You can still see the pipes that supplied gas to the light points today.
Where the Hut is situated offers a a commanding view over the valley floor below and it is an excellent base from which to explore the Chimanimani mountains.
In those early days it was know as “Balls Hotel” and was a very popular stopover for all visitors to the mountains. Herds of eland and sable could be seen from the hut on the plains below. While baboons and leopards might be seen in the heights. Sadly there is little wildlife that survives in the mountain now. Entirely due to the encroachment of humans and in particular artisanal miners who mine the river banks for gold causing immense damage to the environment.