Posts Tagged ‘continent

28
Oct
09

A weekend in 2002 on top of Mount Cameroon

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After a carbohydrate meal I went to bed and tried not to think about the next morning so that I could get as much sleep as possible. Another week of work completed but I was not looking at another usual weekend. Last time I went to bed on a Friday night at 8 pm goes back to my childhood. The room at the lodge in the village at the foot of Mount Cameroon was humid and warm.
The AC was noisy but after a while the room chilled down. I came totally unprepared and was not sure if I could deal with the physical strain I was about to endure the next two days.
I thought about how I had gotten myself into this and how the hike would be and I finally managed to fall asleep.

We were stretching our lazy muscles in the early morning sun outside in the garden of the lodge for a good 30 minutes and at 5.30 am we started our hike. Soon we left the paved roads of Buea and entered a path that marked the start of a climb that would go on for the rest of the day. My guide was a cheerful sporty guy who did not have one gram of fat on his body, only solid muscles. While he wasn’t a body builder, he was strong like a horse. He explained how he often climbed the mountain as we made our first attempts up. We started a conversation about the surroundings and the local customs of the people of West Cameroon the region where people speak English instead of French as they do in the rest of the country.

Trees of the tropical rain forest gave us comfortable shadow to protect us from the immediate impact of the burning sun, the humidity was intense and I was trying to find a pace that allowed me to keep my breath. After a good hour’s walk up the steep and winding path I had found my rhythm and began to feel more at ease to respond to the questions of my guide who wanted to know everything about Europe. Like many people in Africa he had a glorified image of the place similar to the way many people in Europe have an underrated view of Africa.
The rain forest was just an amazing place and as we were getting deeper into it I was fascinated by the way the sunbeams colored the place one moment while thick branches of trees provided deep dark shadows the next moment. We were walking under an enormous umbrella where the sun managed to shine through only from time to time.

We were making slow but steady progress up and at around 10 am we reached the first camp on the trail.

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Mount Cameroon’s summit has two peaks one at 4070 and one at 4095  meters above sea level and the trail we used had two camps. Like Kilimanjaro, Mount Cameroon is a volcano, the most active on the West coast of Africa and the climb does not require any specific climbing techniques like one would need to climb some of the mountains in say the Alps. I recommend however to come prepared because the climb is a steep and long walk in humid terrain and warm temperatures.

As we all gathered together to have a rest, I decided not to sit down, but to stay on my feet. I walked around the camp’s grounds and had chats with some of my fellow climbers.
A friend of mine, chairman of a sports club, was responsible for organizing the climb and in total we were about 25 people. We decided not to stop too long to benefit from the relative cool temperatures of the morning and before long we were on our way to the second camp.

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About a good hour after we left the first camp, the tropical rain forest gradually changed into a savanna landscape, and another two hours later were walking under clouds this time, that gave us some protection against the sun. The terrain became rougher and I needed to pay close attention where I placed my feet, in order not to slip and make a nasty fall. Short plants with sharp spines were all over the place and you could easily hurt yourself if you were not careful.

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We reached the second camp around 3 in the afternoon. All this time we had been living off chocolate bars and water and as we reached the second camp ground a nice smell of food was coming our way. Porters had reached the camp earlier and had started to prepare food for the group. We sat together and were joking about the hardships making it this far up while we were waiting for the food to be served. After the meal, I went straight to sleep to regain energy for the final climb to the summit.

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There was a small hut that consisted of four walls with a tin roof, a small door and the entire place was divided into two layers by wooden planks. I decided to put my sleeping sack on top of the planks and fitted myself between two of my friends and fell asleep almost instantly. When I woke up I saw that the place had filled up and underneath us people were still sleeping and snoring.

At 3 am we prepared ourselves for the final part of the climb and with torches we started our walk in an otherwise pitch dark space. Clouds were between the stars and us and since it was half moon the light was very dim. We were at about 3300 meters altitude and the outside temperature was down to about 18 degrees Celsius. Although initially I felt cold, soon I started to sweat again like I had done the entire previous day because of the strain this final part of the climb was putting on me. Walking rough terrain required my attention but trying to walk this terrain in the dark with only a very small light coming from my torch added another challenge to it. Every step required concentration and by now I started to feel the effects of the altitude and increasingly I realized that I had come totally unprepared.
My guide had not shown any sign of fatigue and was walking calmly and steady as if he was strolling in a park. He kept telling me that we were almost there. He started to tell me this at the beginning of the hike and kept on telling me the same thing to encourage me to keep going.

Although the last stage of the climb only took us up another 900 meters, I felt it was worse than the entire first two stages, until just before 6 am the sun came up and I could see more clearly where to place my feet. We reached the summit by 7 am and I had difficulty not to through up. I was clearly suffering from the altitude and from the fact that I had not trained at all in preparation to the climb. After drinking some water I sat down this time to enjoy a magnificent view that was unfolding itself all around me. Slowly I started to regain my breath and to forget my fatigue and I was taken by the way the sun placed a golden layer over this top of the world. We were lucky that there was not too much wind. My guide came and sat next to me and for about 20 minutes we just stared in the distance without really talking much. The morning silence was so loud that we did not want to break it afraid to spoil the serene and peaceful scene.

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After a good final look we decided to start the descent and after two hours we joined some of the fellow climbers who had decided to stay at the second camp. Now we walked with bended knees downhill using a walking stick to keep our balance. After hours of walking this way my thighs were getting more and more painful. It was 6 in the evening when we reached the village again and on return to the lodge I took a shower that I still remember years later.

Once cleaned up, I got myself a good massage before getting ready to celebrate with the rest of the group. Africa would not be Africa without music and dance. While food was served people from the village came to share the moment of fulfillment with us and with my complete soar legs I pulled myself together to join the dancing crowd. Not sure where the energy came from but for a few moments I forgot about my soar legs.

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At 9 pm my friend told me that the car was ready to take me back to the airport. On arrival in Paris the next morning at 6 am, I was checked twice since I was carrying rucksacks, climbing boots while at the same time I was carrying a suit bag and brief case. I did not have the energy to argue much which probably was better anyway. I made it just in time to catch a flight to Montpellier in the south of France, where I had to host a Nigerian customer delegation that wanted to visit our competency center.

The customer asked me if I was feeling alright since I made funny faces when walking. I told the customer that I had overdone the morning exercises a bit. Nobody would have believed my story and I just wanted to get through the day and to my bed as soon as possible. It took me another good week before I managed to walk normally again.

If you go hiking mountains please take your time to prepare and take your time to hike so that you can adjust to altitude effects. If you want an out of body experience that you will remember for as long as you live just get on a plane and get off somewhere near a mountain and start hiking!

© Desi Lopez Fafié




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