I slept quite soundly that night at Mihunga Lodge. I was dog tired from the trek of the previous day. I was glad to sleep on a bed. I was glad to sleep in pajamas once again.
The day after our return to Mihunga was as surreal to me as the day after summiting Margherita. I had to pinch myself just to be sure that I was not dreaming, just to be sure that I had gotten down the mountain. Looking outside my window, I saw the mountain standing before me, as it had the first day we arrived at Mihunga. Then I looked at the mountain with the terror of an innocent. Now, I looked back at the mountain more boldly. I did not cower at its domineering size and posture. I knew the mountain, and the mountain knew me. Maybe we were not the closets of friends, but at the very least, we were acquaintances. We had gotten to know each other over the past few days. I had seen the beauty and the beast in the mountain, and the mountain had drawn out all I had in me. It had sucked out all my fear, my resistance to hardship and my tendency to stick to the comfortable. I felt like I had been born anew. I had discovered a new me, a new depth that I didn’t know I had, a new tenacity that I didn’t know I possessed, a new level of endurance that I didn’t think possible.
I felt new and profound respect for Rwenzori. It reminded me of the line that is read during the wedding service where the priest says marriage is not to be undertaken lightly, wantonly or without much thought. Climbing the Rwenzori demands the same kind of single minded dedication to the very end. Rwenzori is not a picnic. Rwenzori is not for the faint-hearted or the half-hearted. Rwenzori demands your all, on every level – physically, emotionally and mentally.
William, one of the board members of Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS), had, at our request, prepared some dancers to entertain us the day after descending the mountain. Through the dance, we wanted both to celebrate our climb as well as to learn from and celebrate the rich culture of the Bakonzo. We had a semi-official ceremony during which there were speeches welcoming us back from the mountain and imploring us to encourage others to climb the mountain. We also used the occasion to celebrate the birthday of Joy, one of the climbers, whose birthday was a week away. During the ceremony, we handed over some climbing gear and a tip to the guides, chefs and porters who had been with us throughout the 7 days, and we each received a certificate stating that we had successfully climbed Rwenzori.
We then said our good byes and it was a bitter-sweet moment. We were sad to leave the friends we had made on the mountain but we were happy to be heading home. We exchanged hugs, phone and email contacts and then we were on our way. On the journey back to Kampala, we talked about some of our most trying and triumphant moments on the mountain. We compared the Rwenzori to other mountains we had climbed. When we got within network range, we reached out to friends and family. Many had been concerned because they had not heard from us for over a week. Because of the intermittent Allied Democratic Front (ADF) rebel activity in the Rwenzoris over the last several years, some had feared for the worst, so we had to reassure people that we were fine.
We contemplated whether or not we were done with mountains, or if we still had it in us to do climb one more. There was no unison answer. Some were for climbing many more mountains while others had clearly had their fill of mountains.
But like I have come to learn, one can never say never. There is something about mountains that draws you to them. There is something about mountains that makes you love and loath them in equal measure. There is something about mountains that calls to you in the deepest recesses of your heart and mind.
So you never know, Rwenzori may or may not be the last mountain I climb. Only time will tell…..