As if the long walk to Tutum Cave wasn’t enough for us, the heavens decided to open up and shower us some more during the night of Thursday 28th May. At that point, I was too tired to care. While I had asked my brother to check that my tent would not leak during the down pour, I also told myself that I would sleep right through the rain. After all, I was going home the next day, and so I did not mind whether or not my tent let in some rain. Luckily for me, my tent did not leak. However, two of my colleagues were not so lucky. Their tents leaked and I can only imagine the frustration and angst they must have felt that night.
On Friday 29th May, we woke up bright and early, packed our bags and had our last breakfast on the mountain. Our chef really outdid himself that morning! On offer for breakfast was maize porridge, tea, boiled eggs, fried eggs and frankfurters. I had a mug of maize porridge and some fried egg. By 7:00 a.m. we were ready to leave not just the camp, but also the mountain. While we had generally enjoyed our time on the mountain, we wanted to get back to our comfort zone of Kampala City because despite it’s smog, traffic jam, dust and all, it’s still home sweet home. We were also eager to get back to our families and loved ones, and we had also had enough of rough nights, sleeping out in the cold.
We still had an 11 kilometer walk to get through before getting to Kapkwai Gate, our final destination of the trail. We set off with the determination of people on a mission, but our vigor was quickly snuffed by the fact that we had a few more hills to climb before our final descent. This time though, the hills were not as steep as the ones we had encountered on our 37 kilometer walk the previous day. Instead, what was hard was the descent. The place was very steep doing down! One of the climbers even asked whether we were descending into hell. It practically felt like we were going down into a deep and bottomless pit. At some point, in order to descend safely, we had to engage the ‘rear gear’ (or the bum gear to be more exact!). This would entail one literally going down part of the mountain using their behind!
When we got to flatter ground, we increased our pace and we made it to Kapkwai Gate by 10:00 a.m. Kapkwai is on the Kapchorwa side of Mount Elgon. We started the climb in one district – Budadiri, and ended it in another district – Kapchorwa! We were tired but at the same time exceedingly exhilarated at having conquered our first mountain. We took the obligatory selfies and groupies and we high-fived and congratulated each other on our great achievement.
Prior to leaving Tutum Cave Camp, we had asked our chef to prepare some hot water for us for a bath at Kapkwai (our support team always got to the next camp way ahead of us, but that is a story for another day). There was no way we were going to emerge from the forest looking and smelling like ‘bush people’. Because of sitting by a fire each night on the mountain, we all smelled of smoke – or ‘forest perfume’, as one of our guides called it. Once we got to Kapkwai, we each had a long, hot bath, smeared ourselves with tones of lotion to get rid of the paleness we had accumulated over the last four days of being exposed to such terrible winds and cold, and then we changed from our mountain clothes into our ‘ordinary’ clothes.
Just before we bade our support team farewell, we shared some birthday cake with them. Bernard, one of the climbers, had his birthday a few days before we climbed Elgon. At Kapkwai, we surprised him with cake. He happily cut it and we shared a last meal with each other and with the team that had been a great help to us throughout our journey on the mountain.
It was a bitter-sweet farewell. We were glad to be going home, but sad to be leaving our new found friends and colleagues. As we left Kapkwai, we toyed with the idea of maybe, just maybe, coming back to Mount Elgon after 2 years – to celebrate our second anniversary of the climb. Until that day, if it ever comes, we have many more mountains to climb…….