I’m not a very good packer. Never have been. I generally left that role to my mother who did it diligently for me right up till I was 30 years old when I left my parents house to do my Masters degree (I hope one day someone can invent a personal packer, I’ll buy the whole stock!).
Packing for Rwenzori was both exciting and harrowing! Exciting because finally, the day I had been working towards since the beginning of the year had finally come. Exciting because I was about to climb a third mountain in the space of 7 weeks. Exciting because of all the people who were excited for me, for us as Rwenzorilings.
But it was also harrowing. The week to the climb, I had felt a growing anxiety in the pit of my belly. It was the anxiety about the unknown of climbing the Rwenzori, but also of the known from the few stories I had read from friends that had done the climb before. It was the anxiety borne from the fact that a friend or two had told me they would only give me money for our mattress campaign if I scaled the mountain. I thus knew that part of our success at fundraising hinged on whether or not I reached the top of the mountain. To top it off, while praying for Michelle and I at church, the leader prayed for us as we prepared to climb the ‘real’ mountain. We had heard it before – Kilimanjaro is a walk in the park, Rwenzori is only scaled by the most qualified of mountain climbers. I had to keep fighting off the anxiety. It was not funny!
I packed for literally the whole of Sunday 12th July. I went over my things again and again,making sure that I had not forgotten anything. I had written a check list and I went over it three times. Usually, I enlist my house help to pack with me. This time, I packed alone. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, to contemplate again the journey before me, to make sure that I was ready for it in my spirit, to make sure that I would not chicken out.
Packing continued the next morning on Monday 13th, the day we set off for Kasese. Two of my climbing mates were picking me up from my house so that we could proceed to my office where we would pick up the rest of the climbers. I was expecting them to pick me up at 7:45 a.m. They arrived earlier. I said my brief good byes to my family, I told the boys that once on the mountain, I would not be able to speak to them until after 7 days. It was sad breaking that news. Whenever I am away from home, I make it a habit to call my children at least thrice every day – once before they go to school, once after school and when I can, once before they go to bed. So not being able to call them was going to be tough on me.
I packed my bags onto the car and off we went to my office. When every body was packed, we took pictures by the car, prayed together and then set off for Endiro Coffee shop at Kisementi to buy our last good cup of coffee before hitting the road. At Endiro, we bumped into two friends – one the proprietor of Endiro and the other Bev, who was resplendent in a very colorful African outfit. Bev is preparing to launch a poetry session at the mountain – maybe Muhabura. I wished her luck.
We jumped back into the car and headed out to Kasese via Fort Portal. Fort Portal is the town of my marriage. My husband comes from Fort Portal and I had invited the climbing team to lunch at our home in the village, en route to Kasese. My mother-in-law, who loves to host visitors, was excitedly looking forward to receiving my climbing mates and I. I had visited her with a friend of mine, in early June and while traveling that road, I had told myself that the next time I was on that road, it would be to head for the climb. And here we were. I really felt like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I tried to push the dark thoughts away and think only happy thoughts – this was the day the Lord had made, and I would rejoice in it (as much as I could). I would rejoice in it partly because July 13th is my little sister’s birthday. I was sad not to be around to celebrate her birthday with her, so instead, I called her, put her on speaker phone and my climbing mates and I sang a loud and hearty “Happy Birthday” to her. She wished us all the best with the climb.
We got to Fort Portal at about 2:30 p.m. We had a sumptuous lunch prepared for us by my mother-in-law and my husband’s two nephews and one niece. The lunch was great and we ate to our fill. It was the typical Ugandan buffet – hot steaming matooke, chapati to rival any done by a Musoga, Irish potatoes, pilau, fried pork, beef stew, ntula with carrots, groundnut stew and avocado. It was a meal for kings! After the meal, we took pictures with my mother-in-law and then we set off for the one and half hour drive to Kasese. I was told later, by one of the nephews of the home, that my mother-in-law had wondered what kind of punishment we were under by our office, to make us climb the Rwenzori. I totally felt her!
At Mubuku trading center, I called Ronald, our contact from Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS), and he came over to meet us and led us to the RMS lodge at Mihunga where we would be spending the night. The road was quite bumpy and rocky. The ride was not comfortable at all. The closer we got to the lodge, the more imposing the mountain became. It was quite threatening, to say the least. It’s like the mountain spoke to me saying “I dare you!” I wanted to flee! I wanted my mommy! But I had to man-up, so to speak.
Upon arriving at the lodge we were welcomed with a glass of mango juice and then we were shown our rooms. I shared a room with Joy. We had a cup of tea together, as the whole team and while we waited for supper, we decided to dance. We danced to keep our spirits high. We danced to keep warm. That place was cold! One of the songs we danced to was “I Will Get There”, (by Boys II Men), a song that we had elected our theme song way back in February, once we started preparing to climb the mountain. Our supper consisted of matooke, steamed rice, fried chicken, boiled pieces of goat meat and groundnut stew. For dessert, we had pancakes.
The manager of the RMS lodge came to greet us and applauded us for making the best decision of our lives – i.e. the decision to climb Mount Rwenzori and he asked us to encourage many more Ugandans to climb the mountain. We all glanced at each other trying not to look apprehensive. We were glad we had made the decision. We were glad the day had finally come. We were glad for the journey mercies to Kasese.
We bade each other good night and we retired to our bedrooms. My room mate and I tried unsuccessfully to have a hot shower that night. We did what we could to clean up, got into bed, prayed and went silent.
The next day – July 14th 2015, was D-Day – the day we would finally climb the mighty Rwenzori!