By Laker Winfred L
Day 4 of our stay in the mountains fell on the first day of March 2021. A slightly sunny day. We left camp Omuihembe at about 10:40am for Irene Lakes campsite. I was happy the guides had settled on taking us to Irene Lakes instead of Camp Elena.
The stories I had heard about Camp Elena before leaving Kampala were that this place was horrible in terms of discomfort and the cold. The running joke in our Hikers’ club was that the cabin there was as small as a dog kennel, and that the washrooms were located at a place that would discourage you from the business of going to ease yourself. Basically ceto i coron to poo would be a hustle.
The route to Camp Elena is also way longer and treacherous to the summit point than through Irene Lakes. However, Elena beats Irene Lakes by having a cabin for the hikers unlike Irene Lakes that did not have anything but a small cabin that the Chefs used to store our supplies.
At the aforementioned time, we set off for the boardwalks towards Lake Bujuko. This lake is a magnificent setting between the Stanley, Speke, and Baker ranges. On Stanley range is where the beautiful Margherita peak sits at 5,109m ASL. That is where we were headed!
We came upon our first set of bog serving for the day at the end of the boardwalks. This part had knee length clumps of not-so-green-not-so-grey grass growing almost half a meter or so apart from each other; all spread out up to the bottom of the ranges.
The ground was filled with dark sediment with sprinkled with and sometimes splashes of tiny glittery sand here and there; as if at that time the Creator was in a humorous mood.
This portion of ground didn’t look harmless until you tried to place your walking stick in it. Deep stuff it was! Stuff that would take in half of your gumboots.
As we moved closer to the lake there was a stretch that resembled the shores of marshy lands on our left. It was this nice patch of utterly bright green grass culms laid out like a soggy carpet upon which a giant beast had rested the previous night.
Jethro, our guide immediately told me to walk fast, and try not to put my feet firmly on the wet beautiful grass. Kumbe its beauty and carpetiness is a trap below which sits water! He said I would sink if I did walk like it was solid ground.
So I started to lay my foot ever so lightly on the grass as though I were some unique light weight bird. I walked like a lagweno kulu would walk atop the waters of Kulu Olee in Mucwini. Some of those warm blooded vertebrates can run in a frenzy after a dragon fly or whatever strange creature it is they chase on water like gravity non-existent! Things walk on water with their long skinny legs like the Lord Himself did! Except of course I can’t tell whether the Lord had long legs or not. The good book does not mention that.
Anyways, after the soggy grass, we proceeded in an arc past Lake Bujuko. The Acholi would say gooro ne agoora, and reached more bogs. Here, we did some stretching out walks. You had to step on one large clump of grass after the another, taking your foot as far as you could get it, to avoid the bogs in between.
Once in a while you would grab on a handful of grass culms for support as you extended or jumped to the next spot; all the while balancing yourself, emotions, backpack, and curiosity whilst using your walking stick to poke the ground for caution.
The bogs behind us, we entered into an area covered with an expanse of moors. As we walked in this space, you could hear water flowing from various underground creeks. They sounded like a cacophony of symphonies as they flowed through the hollow underground tunnels along their journey to the lake. It was strange, chill, and euphoric.
We were deep in the valley with the 3 cloud covered mountain ranges looking down on us from either side. The weather was much colder at this point as compared to the last camps we were at. The sun was barely there but it was a bright day still.
After the moorland, we started to ascend; and with it came the opportunity to see Camp Bujuko with its structures in the valley to our left. It was refreshing to see a sign of life on the other side.
After the break we set off and encountered some very breath taking water fall as we trekked on. It became eminent here that we were now climbing up, just like day one except this one didn’t have any vegetation to lull our fears. You could see the valley below and the rocks above to counter.
Farther up there was very little vegetation except for grass, a few everlasting plants scattered here and there, and rocks! When we reached the Irene junction, we headed out inwards for about 30 minutes, and then took a break.
As we climbed ahead, we entered into a forest of giant groundsels. We were going over fallen ones, under some, and astride others as we walked on.
As we entered farther, below I could see the wavy silver glimmer of Lake Bujuko in a distance wishing us luck on this insane adventure!
And as soon as we got underneath the towers of groundsels, there were birds! Imagine sunbirds in the most ironic of places! I mean, there is no sun here but they were all over the groundsels; gently chirping away as they happily flew from one groundsel to the other; with their deep almost blue-green color blending so naturally with the brown and green of the environment.
Jetro promptly educated me that they were called Rwenzori double collared sunbirds. Why they were there at that particular time; beats me. But if I were a rare bird, that’s where I would go to brood or mate without the interference of humans and their curious ways.
As the music of the sunbirds faded, we trekked on and soon we could see clouds and the forest of giant groundsels way below us. The view up here was amazing, breathtaking, and the air ever so fresh.
The vegetation started to thin out as we went on. Soon I started to see ground plants with bright yellow flowers, and rocks covered in strange orange moss. On another stretch there were rocks covered in thick layers of deep brown, dirty lime green, and dark brown moss. It started to feel really dark too yet it was just 2pm!
The cold got real and I had to wear another jacket on top of what I was wearing. The modus operandi of going up also changed. I had to engage all my 4 limbs in climbing. A little farther on fours and I saw a smooth trail of smoke coming from the side of the mountain.
Kumbe we approached camp from a higher end of the mountain range. To get to it we had to slide back a little lower. At this point I didn’t have anything to lose. If getting to camp meant doing a belly roll like a toddler afraid to crawl or like a worm, I would have done just that. So slide down I did and reached camp.
So there we were! A few hours from the highest point in Uganda in the thick of the mountains! And, it had no life in place just rocks, rocks, rocks, moss, and a few misplaced stunted groundsels here, and there.
Time of arrival was 2:33pm under 4 hours of walking.
Of course upon arrival Chef Karim and his team brought tea, some mushroom soup which was cold before I could even start with it.
As was the custom, a fire was made for us. It attempted to rain which was more like a drizzle of snow really. The guides put some 3 tiny pieces of meat on stick, stuck it by the fire, and sprinkled some raw salt on one of the burning logs. This was done to ward off the rain. Whether this is legit or not, I don’t know, but it did work, and soon the rain was gone.
We were the only living creatures plus a lone eagle that kept hovering by until the darkness sent it to its nest. We sat by the fire which was bringing out more smoke than heat but we stayed all the same.
The tension in all 8 of us was evident. Once in a while each of us would break off into a phase of silence as the rest chatted along. Some people sat, while others just lay on the rocks pensive. One of us, however managed to still dance on the rocks.
Irene lakes campsite is like a desert on a mountain. Hardly any vegetation, two mysteriously looking lakes, oddly quiet, mountain ranges all around, and clouds below. You have to be there to know the feeling wek iniang kit pinye maber.
Here is also where altitude sickness kicked in for me. I couldn’t locate my taste buds; they had decided to remain at camp Omuihembe, and my temper was at boiling point. I kept quiet for the most part, and only spoke when I had to; so I would not take out on anyone.
I felt weak, anxious, confused, and cold, yet I was equally thrilled about the next few hours. We were under 24 hours from summitting! We were about to go down in the books of history!
After our meal, we listened to some good music until the boombox went out of power, and there was no way of charging. So we started on organic kaboozi without any music but our voices, and laughter.
A while after, it became dark. We got our daily briefing. And decided to turn in early. We had to, because our set off time for Margherita was 3am. So going bed early was inevitable.
As I went to bed, the feeling was surreal, and untamed. I was terrified but equally thrilled at the crazy feat I was about to achieve. A lot of people will not get it, but the friends I had been with these past few days and myself knew that we were about to make history for ourselves, family trees, our clans, and whoever cared!