ecstasy and back to agony – Mt. Cameroon part 2

What goes up must come down.

While I would classify the climb up to the summit of Mount Cameroon as “Caroline pace”, the descent was, well, errr… different.  Through lava rocks and sand, we crossed the peaks vast summit plateau and descended towards our next camp.  The vegetation reminded me of hiking through Central Washington – dry, rocky, and barren, complete with the Cameroonian equivalent of prickly sagebrush.

The adrenaline rush from reaching the summit dissipated by mid-afternoon.  Our guide Samuel tried to push me along.  Perhaps if he carried my pack I would go faster.  Faster???  Was this a race? I tried to push harder regardless– hiking as fast as my little legs could take me – which, granted, wasn’t really any faster.

An hour before we reached camp, we traversed the craters created by the eruption of 1999.  Up close I saw many lava rocks in various pretty colours.  My knees were buckling under me and every few steps saw me ungracefully land on my derriere. Bless his heart, Greg didn’t utter one laugh or chuckle.  The embarrassment was enough.

Greg got Samuel – our guide – talking about farming, sustainability and eco-tourism  – a distraction for which I was immensely grateful.  Between the finer points of turning Mount Cameroon into a national park and the opportunities for economic development of the neighbouring villages, I thought about the spaghetti that George was making for dinner.

At camp, wild mint tea and a hearty dinner waited.  Sitting around the cooking fire, chatting about how Africa is portrayed around the world and the importance of football (soccer), the evening was perfect.  A good night’s rest in a mouse-free tent followed.

Unfortunately, the glow of the morning sun over the trees and the knowledge that just beyond the hills and clouds was the ocean, didn’t improve my speed.  One knee started being attacked viciously by unseen daggers.  The other knee bent and straightened at random regardless of my brain’s well-intentioned commands.  This made any downhill terrain into a painful chore.  It was brutal.  And slow.

Having lost sight of Catherine somewhere in the thickness of the rainforest, Greg carried my pack and played “keeper of the happy spirits” two steps behind me.  Samuel’s confidence in my abilities floundered.

After a couple of hours of straggling and unintentional grunting with each step, he gave me an ultimatum.  At my speed, he said, we might get off the mountain by nightfall.  But if the porters carried me, we’d be out in two hours.

I failed to see how there was a choice.

I had never NOT finished a hike before.  I’ve finished limping, crying, cursing in multiple languages and wishing for death, but I’ve always finished under my own steam.  But this is Cameroon and lessons needed to be learned: pride had no place on this mountain.  They were going to carry me out one way or the other.

So, shifting their rice-bag backpacks and re-arranging their loads, I was loaded onto George’s back.

If you saw the movie Twilight and thought that it was romantic for Bella to be carried by Edward Cullen at mach speed through the forest, think again.  Romantic it is not.  While I must admit that flying through the rainforest on the back for a porter, piggy-back style, was impressive at first, it was rather disconcerting.  Even at the best of times, I can’t hike at the speed these guys were carrying me!

Down step slopes, around rocks and over branches at a runner’s speed – they were flying!!! Fritz, my second porter/carrier, broke his sandal.  I thought that was it.  But no, he fixed it with a soft little tree branch and on I jumped for another run through the forest.

After two hours of riding porters – everyone drenched in sweat and exhausted – they deposited me at the edge of the village.  It seemed like I would at least get a quarter ounce of pride back on this return journey. The villagers only saw a stinky, wobbly, broken woman strolling ever so slowly through the village.

I had a fresh batch of bruises behind my knees from being carried, a sore back and even sorer arms from holding on.  The porters, speed-demon Catherine and I waited for Greg to make his way out of the forest.  He wasn’t very far behind at all– slightly worse for wear, but he’d made it.  We all did.  Mostly.

We each received a certificate to commemorate out successful ascent.  Official proof beyond the photos and stories.

We wore big tired grins on our faces on the ride back to Douala where we spent the night in a nice hotel with hot water.  And I was wearing something else extra special:  “Eau de Porter” – the 3 men edition.  Very rare.  Very, er, pungent.

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~ by Caroline Spira on March 11, 2010.

4 Responses to “ecstasy and back to agony – Mt. Cameroon part 2”

  1. Eau de Porter may actually sell well in Cameroon. We could bottle it up and sell it to captive audiences…say on buses

  2. Good for you for taking the smart way home!

    Just think, before you part ways from that lovely land two years (less a couple of months) from now, you can bookend your adventures in Cameroon by doing the same trip again — and aim to hike the whole thing yourself! A worthy goal you could (should) be very proud to achieve! 🙂

    Either way, you’ve had an unforgettable experience. Just hiking it like everyone else would never have been so interesting or memorable!

    🙂

    ea/

  3. This is an amazing story and so well written. We are all honored to be reading this. I for one am exhausted just reading about the climb. Well done you amazing lady!

  4. your porters were much friendlier than mine, who took off on the way down, leaving us with no water to drink, no snacks to eat, and no help when people were struggling to keep up. I actually had to sprint around the craters and down to the last sleeping spot, in order to start dinner myself before sundown. And we didn’t even get certificates out of it!!!

    Anyway, happy to see you taking the smart route down, rather than suffering with something much worse than bruises and short term pain. Congratulations!!!

    Brian 🙂

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