BREATHING the LIGHTEST AIR of WESTERN AFRICA at 4090m — HIKING MT. CAMEROON
DAY 1 → 12th May 2016
Day 51 of ± 189
11–12th May 2016:
90,000 CFA later we arrive by taxi in Buea, the town in the foothills of Mt. Cameroon where the hike usually begins. As we waited in the heat of the start point, for Anthony — our guide for Day 1, we turned oursleves into ghosts and and did some last minute bag packing and sorting. Even though it was only around 9:30am, the sun’s rays were strong and warmed my face as I waited in nervous physical anticipation.
Before we know it, starting at 900m (ish) elevation, 10:30am, brains unwilling, we’re moving upwards, zigzagging through hot, wet and sticky rainforest. The sweat uncontrollable drips down our faces, saturating our hair and clothing all the way into late mid-morning. This continues despite the fact that we’re gradually walking into a low, wet cloud, consuming the already soaked trees and human skin in further light, cool moisture.
Arriving at the official entrance to the Mount Cameroon National Park (see above), we replenish our rapidly evaporating fluids before arriving at Hut 1 to hand in papers. We then move on, striving to gain altitude and escape the wet, suffocating humidity.
There was an eventual thinning of the dense jungle trees as the steadily increasing altitude took over, stopping the majority of trees in their stunted upward struggle for the last sufficient strains of carbon dioxide. The thinning tree-line now gives way instead, to beautiful, lush grasslands. Up and out into the open, the grasses wave in the wind, breathing a lighter, fresher air over our sweaty bodies. It has created a warm breeze that cools our skin under the open, bright blue sky. The grasses are wavering in the wind, soft and soundless as they sun’s light imprints shimmers of pale golden-green light in our retinas. As we continue onwards and upwards, heads glued to the ground, it feels as we’ve entered another land, another country, a foreign world that we’ve not seen in a while. Something that came to be an iconic speciality of the mountain over the nexty couple of days. Up here this strip of Mt. Cameroon’s slopes is known as the savannah — a savannah in the middle of the tropics. But not the dry one, more the look of a savannah landscape after the rains, the ground thickly covered in thick vibrant green grasses, evenly covering the space all around us from the last tree-line to the next hilltop. It also felt as if we were in a completely different country with a different climate — the surrounding scene reminding me of the summery hills and rough grasslands of wild Britain.
Pause. We stop again, to breathe. To drink. To SEE. Ahead, the shimmering, wind-waving grasses continue, steeply up, surrounding and obscuring the small winding path all the way into the blue sky and the now visible Intermediate Hut, the halfway-point to Hut 2. Behind, we turn and drink in the gradually widening beauty of the hazy valley down below, where the humid heat and high levels of transpiration meditate in the bowls of the foothills. Almost 180 degrees curved-view is now visible as we rise further and further above the fringes of the forest clinging to the slopes below us — we have finally conquered the claustrophobic heat of the lower canopy.
It is a steadily hot, but breezy climb to lunch and beyond, to our first night of rest. Lunch is so simply good, as we sit at an elevation of 2300m at the Intermediate Hut, now only a 500m ascent away from Hut 2. It is indescribably delicious, needed and nourishing. It’s salted avocado of the creamiest kind, mashed on slices of bread. Perfect bananas. And, water. Savoured in front of some stunning views, under a gratefully warm sun in a cooler atmosphere. We can see the the world of Cameroon below — the dense padding of the dark green belt of rainforest gives way to the hazy sprawling towns, snaking rivers glinting in the sun, farmland, and the glittering Atlantic Ocean to our right, Limbe and its neighbouring oil rigs clinging to its edge.
Let me introduce you to the guys helping us on this hike, sitting next to us as we break at the Intermediate Hut. First, Anthony made this whole thing a reality, from the paperwork and organisation, to buying us food and guiding us up to Hut 2 on Day 1 — an experienced guide that has climbed Mt. Cameroon many, many times. Then, Innocence carried some of our heavy stuff, sleeping bags and tent etc. — a lovely nice guy with a huge smile who has also done this for a long time and enjoys switching between being a porter or a guide, and he loves his job. Lastly, Waters accompanied and guided us the rest of the way, taking over as practicing guide from Day 2 — he is experienced in all the ups and downs of the mountain after having completed, multiple times, and coming 2nd last year in the Mount Cameroon Race of Hope (La Course de l’Espoir). The race is sponsered by Guinness, held annually and open to anyone. Waters has completed this gruelling 38km course up and down the mountain enough times to know a lot about it. His inspirational fitness and local knowledge made the hike even more fulfilling for us.
Before our muscles cool down too quickly, we slowly get up and begin to move again, struggling to find the previous rythm under the weight of food-filled stomachs. The sun starts setting ahead of us over each new hill that appears as we come closer to the end of Day 1’s ascent up the Guinness Route. It makes me want to move faster and catch up with the receding light and warmth as the ensuing shade feels instantly colder. Also, I must see the sunset from the top of the next hill where we hope Hut 2 sits, I can’t miss that potential spectacular display of last light.
At last, after the usual visual trickery of steep climbing when ‘it must be just over the next hill’, Hut 2 appears in shadow — a dry and rapidly cooling camp spot as the sun sinks to the other side, leaving us in an adapted early dusk at little after 5pm. Sweat cools quickly on hot skin. Soon goosebumps of lingering adrenaline, happiness of a successful first day, a beautiful view and a rapidly cooling temperature cover me. There is a view over what feels like the entirety of Cameroon — Limbe and the pale blue, cloud-obscured sea to our right, darkening pastel blue-grey skies above and softly clouded land spread out far, far below us. We feel removed and on high, in a special place far away from the constraints of dull, grounded realities. Twilight slowly begins to seep across the atmosphere, the Earth almost appearing rounded beneath as it begins to be covered in a blanket of thousands of twinkling urban-yellow lights, mirroring the pale silver dots spreading across the darkness above us.
The tent set up and settled on this cold, luckily dry night, we huddle under the shelter of Hut 2 at 2800m, dressed in the foreign feeling of thick, warm clothes and seated around a cosy hot fire. I’ve missed this feeling — being simultaneously cold, and cosy. Murmuring, short clanging of little pots and pans, debate and tea-drinking personify the workers sitting with us, as they rest after a day’s cold work building the future eco-huts to house hikers here at Hut 2. Supper sizzles and boils on the fire, as Innonence and Waters sweetly cook for the five of us. They serve up steaming plates of deliciously satisfying creamy-yellow boiled plaintains and black beans in a red, smoky, chilli-fied sauce that tastes so good. The glow of the flickering fire mesmerises our tired selves and play lights in glazed eyes, as we cuddle cups of hot tea before drooping eyelids drag us to bed.
Tomorrow brings the final ascent of 1290m to the summit to achieve 4090m. Sleep obscures my mind and becomes the sole reality.
Tomorrow → Day 51: 12th.May.2016 — BREATHING the LIGHTEST AIR of WESTERN AFRICA at 4090m — HIKING MT. CAMEROON (DAY 2)
*Check out Jørn and Lukas’ 3 videos created from the first couple of months of footage from the trip down below, before further footage was either lost or stolen:
If you enjoyed this, drop it a ♡.
— Thank you for reading! —