The first night on the mountain was chilly. From that night on until we descended, I slept in two sleeping bags. I had bought one in the US when I visited in March, and then I bought a second one at Game Store in Kampala– a sleeping bag that could withstand conditions of minus 3 degrees. My sleep gear also consisted of warm pajamas, a thick pair of socks and a warm sweater. During the night, I became a bit too warm and took off the sweater. Mountain nights are very long and very dark. The first night we slept at about 10:00 p.m. but it seemed like it took forever for the first light of dawn to appear.
We didn’t dare shower in the morning. The quick run in and out of the freezing shower the day before was just enough to keep us clean for the 2nd day of the mountain. From that day, we learned to use wet wipes for the purposes of the morning ‘bath’. And the wet wipes were always cold! Imagine waking up from the sleeping bag you had spent all night warming, and then having to place a very cold wet wipe on your body. Not fun at all! The mountains teach you speed. We became quite adept at doing rapid morning clean ups before having breakfast.
Day 2 was the day we started our ‘compulsory’ oats for breakfast. Our chef, Jacob, advised that oats porridge was good for maintaining strength as we climbed, so we had oats as a staple for breakfast all the days that we climbed the mountain.
We started our hike at 8:20 a.m. We climbed up Nyabitaba ridge and descended into the Mubuku River valley and crossed the Kurt Schaffer Bridge where underneath River Mubuku and River Bujuku meet as they flow all the way into the Nile River. We stopped on the bridge to take pictures. We were suspended high up overlooking mighty rushing waters, foaming and frothing at the top, crashing over boulders, winding their way down, and way past where the eye could see! It was truly an amazing sight, a beauty to withhold, tucked away in the mountain.
Day 2 was also the day we became rock stars! That is, we became stars at climbing rocks. Rwenzori is full of rocks of all sizes from the tiniest you can imagine, to the biggest of boulders, and this day we did a steep walk through, over, around and on rocks upon rocks for what seemed like an eternity! As we climbed through the rocks that day, every so often we would hear the sound of the river in the background. Always there. Always re-assuring. It reminded me of God’s promise to be with me even to the end of time. Always there. Always re-assuring.
The vegetation changed that day from tropical rain forest, to Bamboo forest. These bamboos are quite large! I asked our guide whether like the Bagisu, the Bakonjo ate bamboo, to which he replied in the negative. Other vegetation types we encountered that day included lobelia, everlasting flower and a snake flower (it’s head is shaped like a snake). We saw old man’s beard (some light green yarn-like vegetation that is all over the mountain) and there were lots of moss covered rocks. We also walked through some bog – our first introduction to it. Bog is a thick, deep mud that you can sink into, and get stuck in, if not careful. At some point I stepped into the bog and when I lifted my foot, my boot was stuck deep into the bog. One of the guides helped me pull my boot out of the bog.
Our first resting place was at Nyamileju hut that has since been abandoned. It’s an open hut with benches. We stopped for a brief snack and then walked on. Our next resting place was Nyamileju River and I sat on a stone in the river and had my lunch. I wished I could replicate that scenery as part of my daily dining experience! Imagine being able to eat in a river, while water is flowing all around you. It’s totally serene, totally mind blowing, totally energizing! I was sad we had to leave that place.
As I walked that day, I reflected upon what mountains bring out in a person. We often run away from mountains, yet maybe we should be running towards them. Mountains are about strength, about focus, about stamina, about staying power and all these are important for leadership. I wondered about subjecting our aspiring presidential candidates to a mountain climb. How many would summit? What would they learn and change about their leadership? I wondered if I could update my CV to reflect the fact that I have climbed mountains. How was I putting the lessons I learned on the mountain to use?
We finally arrived at John Matte Camp at 2:45 p.m. When we arrived, we found the our chef had graciously warmed some water for us to bathe and we each took rapid baths – 2 minutes tops, because on a mountain, water is hot one minute and the next it is cold! You cannot waste warmth on a mountain. Warmth is not to be taken for granted at all!
During our climb that day, one of climbing party noticed that one of the guides had a torn boot. We made a decision to give away our boots at the end of the climb. We also gave away other items in the ensuring days as and when we noticed needs among the support team.
For supper that night, we had fish fillet, chapatti and cabbage. We also drank lots of tea. We slept just after 9 p.m.