One of our guides told us that Rwenzori means rain maker, yet for six days we had experienced nothing but sunny days and I hoped and prayed that we would get off the mountain before experiencing any rain. But it was not to be so.
While we spelt off our fatigue at Kitandara, I woke up during the night to the sound of rain. It was heavy rain but I hoped and prayed that it would subside by the time we set off for base camp. When we woke up in the morning, there was a light drizzle and I still hoped and prayed that the rain would stop by the time we were through with breakfast.
Our guides had told us the walk from Kitandara to base camp, via Guy Yoeman, was 16 kilometers in all. Manageable I thought. After all, while climbing Elgon, we had walked 37 kilometers in 11 hours flat, so the 16 kilometers was bound to be a walk in the park. How wrong I was!
While climbing up the mountain, we had walked in a sort of formation, with me in the lead, followed by Joy, then Michelle, then Penny and the boys at the back. On the 7th day of the walk, the young ones (Michelle, Penny and Peter), literally ran ahead of us! Try as we might, we could not catch up with them!
Day 7 was a trial in and of itself. We set off wearing our ponchos and headed up a very steep ridge. It took us about an hour to get from Kitandara to the Fresh Field Pass, and by that time, I was ready to pass out. The rain was relentless, the weather was cold and the rocks were slippery. My poncho kept billowing out in front of me every time I looked down to watch where to place my step. I had to keep bunching it up like women do when they are walking in a busuuti. I would hitch up the poncho on one side, while taking the guide’s hand with another, so that he could help hoist me up the steep rocks. Going up was hard. I was tired of going up, I wanted to go down the mountain!
When we finally arrived at the Fresh Field Pass, we could not see its beauty because of the poor visibility brought about by the dense cloud cover. Just as well, I thought to myself. All I wanted was to get off the mountain as fast as I could. After the Fresh Field Pass, we started the steepest descent I have ever encountered! I thought Elgon and Muhabura had been bad. The Rwenzori descent beat those two mountains by far! They did not even come close!
I was frustrated because all the accounts I had read about the climb had mostly been about going up. No one had quite accurately described the treacherous nature of the descent! Maybe they hadn’t wanted to scare us with too much information, or maybe my focus had been on the tales of the ascent, and not so much on the descent, but this was bad. The moss covered rocks were very slippery. On several occasions, there was no firm place to put the foot in order to descend and so I found myself going down the rocks using my rear end. At some point my water proof pants got some tears on the rear. Some points in the descent were sheer danger. One misstep and you could easily fall to your death – or so it seemed! It was hard going that day!
The part I did enjoy though, was walking through the various streams flowing downhill. I liked to think of it as walking on water, not though water. We would either walk in the water or jump from rock to rock to get across to the land. I felt like Jesus walking on water, though I’m sure when he walked on water, it wasn’t as shallow as the one I was walking through.
We walked through lots of bog that day too. I felt like I was compensating for all the times when, as a young girl, I so desired to just stomp in the mud, but my parents wouldn’t let me. Well, now was my chance. I was no longer a little girl and my parents were not there stop me from walking in the mud, so in that sense, I enjoyed the bog. Plus, of course, there was the added excitement of finally being able to get off the mountain.
Don’t get me wrong – I had looked forward to climbing Rwenzori and I had worked hard for it. Despite the challenges going up, I had generally enjoyed the climb – but the mountain does get to you. For starters, it’s cold all the time. While I had reveled in the wonder of living above the clouds, of watching clouds crash into and rush out of valleys, I was tired of the cold. I was also tired of sleeping in a sleeping bag, of being unable to sleep at large, to throw off the covers as and when I wanted, to turn in bed with ease, without having to squirm like a worm. Additionally, I had missed my family. It’s hard not being able to communicate with family all those days. Being the news junkie that I am, it was hard not knowing what was going on in the world below. I wanted to listen to radio. I wanted to flip open a newspaper. I wanted to get back to my normal life.
It was hard that day, listening to the guides debating the time we would get to base camp, because of our pace. We really tried to quicken it as much as possible, but the going was just slow. We finally got to Guy Yoeman Camp just after 3 pm. I had no desire to eat, and our climbing mates that had gone before us had since left Guy Yoeman and were already well on their way to Nyabitaba. We quickly decided to proceed with no break. The guides had just enough time to grab a piece of beef, before we headed out again. Mercifully for us, Jacob our chef packed some lunch for us, walked on ahead of us and waited for us at the bottom of the steepest descent that day. That descent was on some rickety looking wooden steps along the side of a very large and high rock!
It was great to finally have some food after that nail-biting experience! We had rice and beef, drank some water from a nearby stream, shared some of our lunch with our guides and then left as quickly as we could. We got to Nyabitaba just after 7 pm, and found our colleagues waiting for us there, along with all the porters who had ran on ahead of us. We had to negotiate with the Park Rangers to allow us to proceed to base camp. Under normal circumstances, they are not allowed to let anyone walk through the park in the dark. They had thus insisted that if we were to walk at that time of the night, we had to do it as a team, because on the mountain, no one leaves a teammate behind. I thought that was a powerful lesson in and of itself and I made a mental note to remember and apply that lesson. On a mountain, no one leaves a teammate behind.
It was with lightness of heart, despite the heaviness and weariness of the feet, that we made our final descent to base camp. We got there just after 10 p.m. – tired, cold, soggy, and very dirty from sliding down wet rocks, wading through water and walking through bog. But we made it nonetheless! I could not believe it! I was totally euphoric! I had ran the race, I had completed the task which I had started out, I had achieved one of my goals that I set for myself in 2015. This was sweet victory!
I relished the hot shower that night at Mihunga Lodge. Never have I praised God so much for the gift of a long, hot shower like I did that night. Never have I praised God for the gift of sleeping in a bed like I did that night. Now more than ever, our quest to use our climb to raise mattresses for 3 children’s homes in Kampala made absolute sense. We take so much for granted; we forget to give thanks for the ‘little’ things like mattresses. What is ordinary to some of us, is a luxury to many, and that’s why we always, always, need be thankful.
I was thankful for the privilege and honor of having climbed what is considered one of the hardest mountains, not just in Uganda, but in Africa. I was thankful for the privilege of climbing not just one, but three mountains in 2015. I was thankful for the band of ‘brothers’ that I had done the climb with. I was thankful for all the coaches that had worked with us to get us prepared for the mountain climb. I was thankful for Titus, Ian and Jacob who had shared their Rwenzori Story from a year before, and who had encouraged us along this journey. I was thankful for our families that had supported us through this journey. I was thankful for the friends and fans cheering us on this journey.
Rwenzori is certainly a climb I will never forget.