agony and ecstasy – Mt. Cameroon part 1

Hiking is fun.  Hiking is fun.  Hiking is fun.

This mantra played in my head as I harrumphed my way up the steep, rocky and rainforest-bound track that begins the ascent of Mt Cameroon – Africa’s 2nd highest peak (4,095m – 13, 514ft).  For our first short vacation in Cameroon we aimed to reach the summit, cross the volcano’s vast upper plateau, descend the other side and circle back around the mountain.  3 days. 51 kilometres. 20,000+ feet of elevation change.  7 of us set off – Greg, Caroline & Catherine, our guide Samuel and our porters Fritz, George and Aloisio.

Hiking is fun.  Hiking is fun.  Hiking is fun.

I hoped that this mantra, combined with sheer willpower, would get me up the mountain… I’d need all the help I could get.

Day one of our travail began with the packing of our porters’ bags. They carried at least 50 pounds in rice-bags turned into backpacks.  We carried our daypacks filled with extra layers of clothing, snacks and water bottles.

Never has a daypack felt so heavy!

After 25 minutes I was sweating like a pig, cringing from burning thighs and cursing my frailty with each stumbling step.  My stomach started to rebel and my vision transformed the cloud-forest into an surrealist painting. Caroline gamely stuck with me and urged me onwards.

At our lunch break I ate a few bites, shut my eyes and listened to the drip drip dripping around me.  The patter came both from raindrops and from my sweat-sodden pants and underwear that created a puddle below my bench.

I couldn’t be that out of shape … could I?  Probably not.   It was too low for altitude sickness.  My only guess was that I was suffering from dehydration after the previous day’s long bus ride from Yaoundé.  No toilet means no drinking.

I struggled up to the next rest point in alpine savannah, where I told everyone I didn’t think I could go on.  Caroline and Catherine didn’t believe me.  Our guide was miffed.  Our porters were scornful and thought I was too much of a weakling (or at least that was what I interpreted they were saying in Pidgin).

Caroline’s support and Catherine taking my daypack helped. Ultimately, however, it was anger that propelled me upwards.

Upwards meant a scramble straight up the mountain, over crumbling and shifting lava clumps and between tussocks of grass.  It was the kind of climb you don’t look down on.

Eventually we passed the Magic Tree – thus called for it’s sadomasochistic tendency to always seem just out of reach.  Eventually we reach our first camp at Hut 2 at 2800 metres where we collapsed in the sun and waited for our dinner.

Watered and fed on delicious fish stew, we crawled into tents that had been pitched inside a mouse-infested hut.  Two mice found their way into our tent, refused to be dislodged and, therefore, faced execution at the hands of our guide who was armed with a flashlight.

Thunk.  Thunk.

The next morning I felt better. My legs still ached and I was still a little nauseous. But I was good to keep climbing!

We climbed slowly but surely through savannah tussocks, up past old lava tubes and steam vents, eventually reaching Hut 3 and the final summit plateau.

Could it be true?  Would we make it despite all my grumbling, whining and bellyaching?

Only 300 metres more to climb?  I can do that!

The final push to the summit saw the mountain’s gods hurl gusts of bitter wind at us, trying to dissuade us from reaching our goal.  We just kept climbing a slow and steady pace to the top.

At 11:50am we reached the top of West & Central Africa. The sun shone, the wind subsided, and we did a dance of joy.

Hiking IS fun.  Hiking IS fun.  Hiking IS fun.

Good thing too… we still had 6 more hours of hiking to our next camp!

~ by Caroline Spira on March 11, 2010.

3 Responses to “agony and ecstasy – Mt. Cameroon part 1”

  1. Awesome stuff! Well done. You’ll never forget either the agony or the triumph!

    Presumably you made it home safely and intact… ergo the post…



  2. Reading your story brings back so many memories from my trip up and down the mountain. I didn’t have any mice, but the porters broke one of my water bottles the first day, so I spent half my time trying to dry my sleeping back at the first camp, over a smokey fire, which didn’t make it easy to sleep in half wet, and then again on the way down, they managed to do the same thing with another bottle, leaving me completely dehydrated. Lots of fun. Happy to hear you made it!! 🙂

  3. Re-read your blog twice, and I’m still giggling. 🙂

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