Posted by: useitforgood | December 27, 2011

Climbing Mt. Cameroon

So those of you who know me know that I had training (IST–in-service training) in Limbe in mid-December.  Some friends and I had been talking about climbing Mt. Cameroon on Christmas since training in June and so that was still my plan. It originally seemed like a lot of people were interested in climbing, but the coalition of the willing dwindled down to 6 people (me, Darcie, Andy, Kaylika, Liz, and Patricia) during IST, which was actually perfect. I’ve never been a big fan of big groups, I much much prefer one-on-one time with my friends and so I was actually really happy to spend some time with people I really care about.

Our group decided to go with HADY services, which is the group normally used by Cameroon PCVs. I cannot highly recommend them enough. They took care of everything—porters, guides, food, water, small medical supplies, camping supplies…everything for a very reasonable fee. We literally just brought along some small snacks for in between meals, clothing, and small sundries like sunscreen and bug spray, etc. It was really great not to have to worry about so many things for the whole trip. We didn’t know it when we left, but we found out later that HADY stands for Humanitarian Assistance for Dynamic Youth. They are known for paying their guides and porters fair wages and some of the money we pay goes to helping to train local youth on different career paths. Our guides and porters could not have been more professional or helpful. They ensured we kept a pace that everyone could maintain (including my friend Darcie, who unfortunately got sick before we started our climb—but she still made it all the way up!) throughout the 3 days. They had good information on the landscape we saw and answered our questions readily. We met two European ladies on the way up who had been abandoned by their porter and whose guide refused to take them to the summit because he did not have warm enough clothing. Our guides told us a story of them carrying down 3 sick ladies from 2/3 of the way up the mountain when the women could not make it down themselves. So if you go, GO WITH HADY!

Anyways, as for the climb itself, it was great. It was by far the highest climb I had ever undertaken and I had no idea what to expect. The summit is about 13000 feet up and you start in Buea around 3000 feet up, so the plan was to go up and down 10000 feet in 3 days. I knew I was in much, much better shape than in any other time in my life, but part of me still wondered if I would make it. Would I be able to keep up with my friends? Would I slow the group down? Would I get altitude sickness? Would I fall down? Am I kidding myself by thinking I might be able to make it? I had no idea what to expect.

Well, the climb could not have gone better. We started out in lush, tropical rain forest, walking past banana farms. The climb started off easy enough, but soon after our first break at hut 1 (there are many huts along the way), the climb got very steep up burned fields. We were up around the clouds at that point, which made it look kind of smoky and very much reminded us of Mordor. The climb stayed steep for the next few hours—it was hard, but not grueling. We started climbing just before 7am and had finished for the day by 1pm. Totally manageable. The first night was so much fun! Most of the group sat around a talked for a while our dinner was prepared. (Dinner was DELICIOUS!!) We climbed down into a nearby cave (my first ever spelunking!) and got lots of great pictures of the gorgeous sunset over the mountains. We caught a glimpse of Buea when the clouds parted for a bit and my friend Andy took some really sweet pictures of me watching the sunset. (“You seem to like wistful-looking pictures of yourself.”) After everyone went to bed, I stayed up for a bit and watched the stars. We were above the clouds at this point and I could see more stars than I had in a very, very long time (or maybe ever!). There were lots of shooting stars and it was all so perfect. Definitely a lovely treat after lots of steep hiking.

The next day, we got another early start—before 7am—after a great breakfast. Luckily, none of us got too sick from the altitude–my hands puffed up really big and Patricia got a little dizzy, but otherwise, we were all great.  I had been told by several people that the second day is way easier than the first so you can imagine my surprise when the first few hours on the second day were just as steep (in my opinion!) as the last hours on the first day. After some hard climbing, we made it to the summit around 11am. It’s hard to describe what I felt as we climbed the last few feet. After 2 years of working on losing weight and about 18 months of really working on getting fit, I had climbed 10000 feet! I had made it! I cannot ever remember feeling as accomplished in my whole life as I did in that moment. Seriously. Ever. I was so proud and I really just wanted to take in the moment…but it was really freaking cold and very very windy! There really was no time for me to sit with my wistful look on my face—we took some quick pictures and started back down. I thought about the Irish proverb about the wind always being at your back as we started down, because the wind definitely was at our back, but I’m not sure that was a good thing! It was blowing so hard that I was very afraid of being blown down as I struggled down the steep incline. (Going down turned out to be much harder for me than going up.) Mt. Cameroon is an active volcano that last erupted in 2000 and so a lot of what we went trekked up and down near the summit was volcanic loose gravel, which not only causes falls, but also gets in your shoes and makes for very dirty legs. Day 2 turned out to be a long day! Not sure why so many people said it would be easier since we hiked from 7am until nearly 5pm. Apparently, our group was not moving as quickly as other groups had moved (some finished closer to 2pm or 3pm I guess). The scenery was still very cool. We left the volcanic debris behind us after a few hours and ended up in shrubs and wild flowers that kind of reminded me of northern Texas, where it gets a bit cooler. We also hiked through tall grass that obscured the path a bit. We finally reached the camp and were totally exhausted. We toasted our successful hike with some gin two of my friends had brought and hungrily ate the meal our guide made us. Then 3 of us laid in the tall grass and just looked up at the stars in wonder, remarking again at how many shooting stars we could see. It was lovely! We then spent some time talking with one of the guides, who told us a lot more about HADY and some experiences he had had on the mountain.

The third day was definitely the hardest for me. The high I had experienced the previous day was waning and I had some serious blisters that were forming on my feet (one on each big toe, one on my left heal, and one on the inside of my right foot). Each step hurt (feet more than legs). To complicate the situation, I had my first blood sugar attack in years—caused, I think, by exerting myself without fueling myself correcting. (I should have eaten way more carbs that break down slowly and not had the alcohol/soda combination the night before. I’ll know better next time!) At one break, I told Andy that my vision was blurring and my body was shaking. My legs were very wobbly and it was very hard to walk downhill. I fell down many times and got very frustrated. At one point, I was very afraid I was going to pass out. Finally, despite really wanting to press on, I had to stop and take a break. It came after yet another fall and I was just overcome by a desire to sit and cry. I ate a bunch of peanuts and drank some water and tried to get my body to stabilize again. I got up and did not have to walk too far before we took another break. I laid down for a bit and then meditated for a few minutes, visualizing myself feeling better and making it down off the mountain. Some combination of food, water, rest, and prayer seem to do the trick and soon I was feeling much, much better (though still a bit wobbly for the rest of the hike). Most importantly, I no longer felt cranky, which helped basically every other aspect of the climb down. Andy hung back with me, which was really classy and made me feel less like I was slowing the group down. We eventually caught up with everyone and went through more beautiful scenery. We could see at one point little Mt Cameroon, which we had seen from its other side from the beach at our training just a few days earlier. We trekked through more high grass and eventually into forests with beautiful wildflowers and then really lush, largely untouched African jungle. It was beautiful! By around 1:30pm, we were done, back down off the mountain and EXHAUSTED. It was still awesome, though, to turn around and look at what we had just climbed and I still felt proud and so accomplished! We treated ourselves to a cold beer, took a few more pictures, and then went to go find a place to stay for the night where we could shower and change into cleaner clothing.

All in all, I think we all agreed that it was difficult, definitely challenging, but not ever really to the point of being so difficult that it was not fun any more. It’s worth doing just to see the scenery, which changes constantly and it is just breathtaking! I’m attaching a few pictures of the different scenery you see on the way up and down. It’s a really great climb and I’m so grateful to HADY to making it as easy as possible for us!  Enjoy the pictures!

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Responses

  1. Renee,
    BREATHTAKING absolutely BREATHTAKING. So tell me how close did you feel to Pete (so high above the clouds and shooting stars) I’ll bet they were Pete saying YOU GO GIRL AND I’M PROUD OF YOU…..

    It was all for you to take in ……

    Love ya gal,
    LuAnn

    • Thanks, LuAnn!! You are so sweet! And I did feel so close to him. Also so thankful for the new friends I had around me. His wedding vows said, “through seasides and mountains tops and all the terrain in between, I will be by you as your pursue your dreams” and I am quite certain he honored his vows this past week! I love you, too!!

  2. […] with me, wrote a good blog post about the climb so I’ll just direct you there for the story (https://useitforgood.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/climbing-mt-cameroon/). We spent three days on the mountain and saw about four different kinds of terrain – from […]

  3. Beautiful story, Renee! I’m so proud of how shared your personal journey and overcame the pain and exhaustion. You got me teary-eyed with the line about how Andy hung back with you. That’s my boy! I’m his mom. I love all you PC’ers. And you ARE serving your country in such an important way. Carry on and know we’re thinking about you back home.

    Judy J


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