Deciding on Muhabura
When my friends and I decided to climb Rwenzori Mountain this year, we had only planned on climbing just that one mountain. Along the way, as we prepared for Rwenzori, we decided to climb Mount Elgon first, as a way to get some experience since we were all novices. We climbed Elgon at the end of May and once we got down, we decided to climb one more mountain, as a practice round, before climbing Rwenzori. We decided to climb Muhabura – which is a mountain found in Kisoro in South Western Uganda. We had been told that Muhabura was a one day climb, so we figured we would ace it after the grueling experience of Elgon.
We set the first weekend of July as the date to do the climb, and we eagerly set off on the 7 hour journey from Kampala to Kisoro. We were up bright and early on Saturday July 4th and we set off for the Uganda Wildlife Authority Office (UWA) at the foothills of the mountain. Driving towards the UWA office, Mount Muhabura was in full view and from a distance, the hike up the mountain looked doable in about 3, maximum 4 hours – or so we thought.
Starting the Climb
We were a bit put off by the fact that there was no way to access the UWA office by car. We had to park the car and walk (or rather climb), for about 15 minutes before getting to the office. We paid the hiking fees – quite a pocket friendly price of 30,000/- only (about 10 dollars). As we paid the fees, we told the UWA official that we had just recently climbed Mount Elgon, and I am sure we were feeling like quite the seasoned mountaineers. We literally almost laughed him out of town when he told us that Muhabura was a tougher climb than Mount Elgon. I am sure I must have done an eye roll at him in my head.
After we paid, we waited for a briefing from the chief guide of the day. His name was Gerald Katungi and I liked him immediately, because I have a paternal uncle called Katungi. Gerald introduced our other guide, Anthony, who would be walking with us from the rear. He told us the hike would take about 5 hours to the peak and 3 hours coming down. As he was still briefing us, we were joined by another climbing party. They too paid, got a briefing, we took our before pictures and then started the hike.
We set off upwards and onward, ready to conquer another mountain. And my, were we humbled soon enough! The hike was torturous to say the least! The mountain was so steep that the climb seemed endless; I seemed to stop every two minutes to catch my breath and rest my legs. Mount Elgon had been different in that it had quite a few flat places to walk on, which enabled one to rest a bit from the pressure of climbing. Not so Muhabura. It is a steep climb from start to finish. What made the climb even harder were the very many wooden ladders along the way. Most people were able to climb them with their feet but I had to go on all fours.
At some point, the climbing party separated – with the faster one’s going ahead while I trailed at the back. Felix, a friend of mine, insisted on walking along with me. I told him several times to go on without me because I could tell my pace was slowing him down, but he refused to budge. He said he was not leaving me behind, and that we would make it to the top together. I huffed and puffed, I really struggled on. At many points I just wanted to give up. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I couldn’t face my children and tell them that I had failed to make it to the top, so I kept pressing on. At one point, I literally cried and called out my father’s name. I asked myself over and over what had gotten into my head to attempt such craziness like climbing a mountain. I felt discouraged that I was making slow progress, but I trudged along.
Before I could get to the top, my colleagues who had gone on ahead of me were already starting their descent. I asked one of them how much longer I had to get to top and her brief silence and hesitation spoke volumes. She finally said she didn’t want to lie to me and I still had some ways to go. I fought hard not to give up. The higher I climbed, the steeper the mountain became!
I finally made it to the top at 3:23 p.m. I took some pictures at the peak, had a sandwich, which was offered by one of climbers, and then set off down the mountain. I was too exhausted to take in my surroundings at the peak. I totally missed the beauty of the horizon. It was on my way down that I realized that I hadn’t even taken in the view at the top.
The descent was just as hard, if not harder than the ascent. Going down the ladders was scary and many times, I preferred to sit and propel myself forward using my hands and feet. The descent was slow because of nightfall. My knees were aching, my feet were hurting, I was hungry and I was cold. I was happy that I had gotten to the top, but frustrated that the bottom of the mountain seemed like a century away. I told those climbing with me to leave me alone. I was ready to sleep on the mountain, in the dark. It was that bad. I was beyond caring what would happen to me. I didn’t care if wild animals found me on the mountain. I just wanted to stop walking. With much trepidation I pressed on, through pain and tears. Elgon made me cry and now Muhabura was making me cry too! How could mountains reduce a grown woman like me into a cry baby?!
I finally made it down the mountain at 12:16 a.m.
I was touched that my colleagues Bernard and Joy had waited for Felix and I to get down the mountain. They did not drive away. They had arrived at the base of the mountain at 7 p.m. and had to wait another five hours before Felix and I showed up. That was really kind of them. We drove back to the hotel – each recounting their tale of terror on the mountain.
And now to think that in a week’s time, we will be at it again, this time climbing Rwenzori Mountain.
That can only be described as sheer madness!