Day 6 at Rwenzori: Journey back to base camp

Johnstone’s 3 horned chameleon in all its splendor

Don’t let anyone lie to you that going down a mountain is fun. Ever. It is a torturous venture. Worse than the hike up. You do it begrudgingly because you have no choice but to go home anyways.

Imagine you are already tired from the days of climbing up. You are tired to your rope’s end and have to experience the walk down with the deep end glaring at you, daring you to set the next foot forward while sending all these negative vibes your way. And it does so whilst scaring the shits out of your boots! Your knees also start to remind you that they are tired.

The night and morning before we left Irene Lakes, it snowed. Ok. There were things like snow by our tent in the morning. The previous night things with this faint sound kept dropping on the tent too. It didn’t sound like raindrops. It sounded lighter.

I don’t quite remember what time we set off for the downward walk towards home but does it matter anyways? Just know it was after breakfast. I also don’t know what we had for breakfast because I don’t remember. Again, it doesn’t really matter. Just know we had breakfast and left the mountain top. That is what matters.

My very first move downwards (………..because I felt as delicate as a local egg rolling down the mountain) started with me getting on my bottom, legs stretched, palms firmly planted on the ground beside me, and pushing myself forward; carefully down the rock. It was slippery so I decided to go bumbum. I wasn’t going to make falling downwards steal my success in the previous 24 hours! No way. I also didn’t trust the grip of the trusted gumboots that had brought me to this point.

After the slippery area was done, we entered into the heather section, then the lobelia area of the sunbirds I talked about earlier and went towards the moor lands. This time round it was more of a silent walk. Each one to their own tired thoughts. No one was talking to the other person. No one was bubbly. It’s as if suddenly talking would drain all the energy out of us. Even the guides weren’t talking to each other. All focus was on getting down to basecamp.

We thought we had escaped the dripping hands of the nimbus clouds despite the very many times the “You cannot go to Rwenzori mountains and come without getting a beating from the rain” sentence had been mentioned by those who had been to Rwenzori before us. We didn’t. Sadly. The rains did come along to bid us farewell as we turned our backs to Margherita!

It was slow pouring rain. The daa-mon kind. The one the Acholi say goes on and on like the quarrel between two women; the kot (rain) that takes the whole day. The kijum. It did us out. But it cooled us down too.

As the rain gods continued to shower us with blessings, the situation below our feet changed from firm ground to different unfamiliar discomfort. It was soggy. It was slippery. It was boggy. It was muddy. And we were moody.

Soon we were at Lake Bujuko and arrived at the first camp; the camp we should have slept at the night before; Omuihembe. We had lunch and then proceeded to Bigo. The rain did come along too, all the way to Bigo. It wouldn’t let us be. Whether it was the hands of the mountain gods or Frodo, only they know!

We spent the night at Bigo. Since it was drizzling, we did not have the fire outside like the previous time. We gathered in the uniport. The chefs gave us a sigiri filled with nice burning charcoal and we planted ourselves around it. One of us had brought marshmallows along the trip and we used this opportunity to roast them on the sigiri fire as we recounted the events of the previous day and the return to Bigo.

The next morning we set off for base camp. The walk was all good and much as the boardwalks were wet from the rain, I still did enjoy it. I used the time to take a last peek at whatever I may have missed on our way up and took more pictures.

I maintained my position from the back as before. I was informally made team leader and I told myself from the start that I wasn’t going to leave anyone behind and I did just that. That was my goal and indeed we achieved it. No one was left behind. All 8 of us summited. None of us reached any of the camps in the dark of the night. I was the last in line the entire journey down.

We went past John Matte camp while it drizzled on and all through the heather and bamboo section. I still had that creepy feeling that some creature was following us.

After John Matte of course we came to Rough going! Lord! God wasn’t in a very fine mood when He put that place together! We closed this place eventually and reached our final resting point before crossing over to Nyabitaba.

As we took our break we got to see two more colorful Johnston’s chameleons! The male one had these 3 horns on its forehead. It was interesting to watch! Things are divine looking and surprisingly friendly reptiles. It reminded me of those pre-historic creatures you watch in movies. I got to hold one! Talk of arriving!

Lunch was served at Nyamitaba upon our arrival there. And then, we put our feet into the final lap down to Base camp.

As we left, we found these three individuals in the cabin; a lady and two men. Pretty jolly lot. They weren’t dressed up like the typical people going up the mountain. The guy in the blue short sleeved jeans shirt had a yellow boombox. Thing was pouring out some loud gibberish music. They seemed to have climbed to Nyabitaba just to hang out. We waved at them and continued with our struggles downwards.

30 minutes into our walk I heard this loud familiar Lingala music coming from behind as we walked through the rain forest. The music seemed to be running fast towards us. Too tired, I stopped, looked behind boredly, and saw the 3 musketeers we had left behind hopping towards us. These individuals were literally running down the mountain faster than a mountain goat! I just stepped aside and made way for them. Ate what can you do but make way?

I forgot to ask William who they were and why they were not representing the country in the Olympics. Of course William would not know why they are not representing Uganda at the Olympics.

Either it was the lunch, the fatigue or something but my knees were exceedingly wobbly after Nyabitaba. I don’t recall how many times I did fall. It was a whole lot. The first few times when Diva and William caught me landing I would laugh out loud as I got up and ran after them.

But eventually the laughing stopped. I would fall, get up and just walk on. I realized that I had not prepared enough for the downward walk. I had focused so much on the climb up and did not prepare my knees and mind for the walk down.

I was literally paying for that from Nyabitaba to base camp. During the trainings the exercises to do to strengthen the knees for the downward trek were clearly outlined but I didn’t listen. I paid for not being a listener.

The last climb after River Mubuku and the very first hill from this river did me in. I lost it completely as I clawed my way up. As I struggled upwards I resolved to complete the rest of the hike solo dolo. I was going to do my pace. I was not going to hurry after another human being. I was done for! I was sweating like nothing too.

I was tired of this thing of climbing and slopping and climbing and slopping and climbing and sloping as you go down the mountain. Not even up. Down! Just imagine constantly going down hill, you climb a little bit and then keep going down again! Arrrgg! What is that even?!

I let everyone else go ahead and took my time. I was done! I even waved at William the guide to go ahead; someone else needed him much more than I did anyways. I tucked away the fear of a creature coming after me and used a snail’s pace. The UWA gate was not that far after all. I could do this all by myself.

It’s at that point that I realized God made me Acholi for a reason. He knew north would be good for me because with this kind of attitude meals would never be prepared at all if I were to get them from the mountain sides. That kind of slopping then climbing; hapana!

Lucky for me we had one of the most caring human beings I have ever met; Esuieleadu X.IV on our team. Even in my rebellious state, he made sure I didn’t stay too far behind. The cajoling coming my way from him ahead of me sure helped. He kept calling me out and waiting for me as I engaged in this little riot to walk slow.

I kept going slow until I came to the last rickety bridge. I knew I was in trouble. I was all alone. No one behind. No one in front. I called out for Esuieleadu X.IV to come back and wait for me.

As I walked towards him, I saw mischief building up in his beady eyes. He is a sweet chap but mischievous too. He was likely to shake the rickety thing.

So as I started to cross I was equally busy begging him not to shake the bridge or tease me. He kept saying “You come! I wont do anything” But trust I was freaking out! He did not do any of the two. Thank God!

After the little bridge I went back to my pace. There were no more hills just a series of winding paths down and down and down the mountain side. Esuieleadu X.IV took the short cuts while I refused and used the paths.

We reached the main UWA gate at about 5pm amidst ululations from the other 6 that had arrived before us. Yes, I was the last to clock in at the UWA gate.

For some strange reason the UWA guys were surprised all 8 of us summited! They had underestimated us! Remember the bored look they had when we started off 4 days before? It was replaced with surprise! They were surprised we made it to the top!

We received our certificates from the UWA officials and headed out to base camp.

As we drove off, much as I was sore to the core and badly needed a shower, I felt this great numbness. The kind you get when you have achieved a thing not many would dare to do. I knew things would never be the same again for I had journeyed along hills, valleys, bogs, moors, and rock to see the beautiful mountains of the moon.

I had met and communed with Rwenzori. A part of me had remained there and I came home with a part of this mountain. I was different. I was a mountain hiker now. It was surreal. A priceless feeling. A mind altering journey in my lifetime.

Will I go back to Rwenzori? Yes. Will I climb more mountains? Yes, but not Everest. I know my limits! Let’s see which mountains I head out to in the future!

I hope you get to visit Rwenzori someday if you can and get charmed like I did! I hope you get to experience this mystical beauty like I did!

In closing, I hope these lines I wrote left a piece of Rwenzori in your heart! A bit of the mystical beauty in your dreams. A slice of the challenge it was. And the urge to go there someday. Uganda is indeed blessed. And I am sure proud I visited a part of this blessing; the Mountains of the moon!

Till the next mountain!

Published by Latin Mucwini

I like food. I read. I exercise. And I am Luo. I am on this adventure called writing. Cannot wait to see where this goes

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