Last weekend, we had the the opportunity to climb Mt. Cameroon, elevation 13,255 ft (4,040 m). According to Wikipedia, “It is the highest point in sub-Saharan western and central Africa, the fourth most prominent peak in Africa and the 31st most prominent in the world.”
One of the other fathers (Captain John) and I began planning this adventure several weeks ago. I initially thought Brandon and I would represent the Barki family on this trip, but Maya asked me if she could join. How could I say no? After all, Brandon and I had climbed most of Pikes Peak (14,115 ft, 4,302 m) a couple summer’s ago, and only had to turn back because of inclement weather. I thought Mt. Cameroon would be relatively easy.
I was wrong, but more on that later.
We managed to amass a large group of 17 people, all from the ship, and what an incredible group it was!
The trip would take 3 days, and we were asked to each pack a small backpack with snacks and sunscreen. All of our bulkier items that we needed overnight needed to be packed in 4 large backpacks that our guides would carry. The guides would also carry all the water we needed as well as other food and supplies. Did I mention we had a group of 17??
Brandon and Maya trying out 2 of our larger packs. They were glad our guides would be carrying these!
We left the ship at 6AM on Friday, and after a car ride and some paperwork, we were hiking by about 10AM.
Group photo before starting our hike. We still have our sweet smiles and sweet smells!
We started off in an area that was mainly farmland. The heat and humidity were stifling, and most of us were drenched in a matter of minutes. This was despite the fact that we were each only carrying our day packs. Interesting how our guides weren’t struggling at all.
We then entered a beautiful rain forest, which was also very hot and humid. Thankfully our guides gave us frequent breaks, or else I would have been done in a matter of hours.
BJ and Tim
Much needed break!
Even some steep parts in the rain forest!
The rain forest then opened up into a savannah that then transitioned into a volcanic landscape. Did I mention that Mt. Cameroon is an active volcano?
Starting to get volcanic
Now I mentioned earlier that this was a difficult hike. It was much more difficult than Pikes Peak. The heat and humidity that we initially encountered weren’t exactly pleasant, but it was something else that would really challenge us the whole weekend. You see, evidently the trail blazers/makers or whatever you call them, didn’t believe in switchbacks on Mt. Cameroon. Most of the trail felt like it was literally straight up the mountain. And to make matters worse, after the savannah, the terrain was made up of loose, sharp, volcanic rock.
Going up was quite the cardio workout. There wasn’t much talking among the 17 in our group.
More determination…See the guide in front of Maya? His pack is full of 1.5 L water bottles.
Perhaps some doubts?
The clouds would roll in and really cool things down and decrease visibility.
A much-needed break!
Of course the guides were fine. They would sing and talk and ask us if we needed any help. Need them to carry a backpack? No problem. How about a person? Evidently that’s no problem either, although thankfully it never came to that. These guides work incredibly hard, going up and down the mountain 2-3 times per week carrying people’s gear. Watching them bound up and down the mountain with such ease was both awe-inspiring and frustrating.
One of our guides looking after Maya.
The first day ended with us climbing the most difficult part of the mountain, called “The Monster.” This area was especially steep. Our reward for climbing it was arriving at our resting spot for the night, the Phako Mountain Lodge. It was a welcome sight after hiking for 7 hours, but it was cold!
At this stop, there was a small snack bar and even some cottages. How did those structures get built? One of our guides told us that people would hire them to carry up construction materials. One example, a 110 lb (50kg) bag of cement!
Our group slept in tents, some more sturdy and warmer than others. We were fed a nice hot meal of spaghetti, and we were all in bed by about 9pm.
Our home for 2 nights
Our bathroom. Too much information?
We were up the next morning at 6am. Our guides prepared breakfast for us, and then we were off again. This time for the summit!
Eating breakfast at the outdoor kitchen.
The terrain on day 2 was not quite as difficult (although still plenty challenging), but the altitude did start to have an effect on some of us.
Maya, Deddy, and Ruben taking a break.
Maya and her teacher, Ms. Emilie
In such a big group, we naturally divided up into smaller groups. I stayed with Maya, Deddy, and Emilie. We referred to ourselves as “The Caboose.” Once we started getting close to the summit, we had to take frequent breaks. Emilie would go ahead of us about 20 steps and scope out a place for us to take a “breathing break.” After several breathing breaks, we would reward our selves with a “sit-down break.” I will say that the faster people in the group did a great job of waiting for us to catch up and cheering us on each time we arrived. There wasn’t even a hint of anyone becoming impatient. As a father, I was so appreciative of that.
An attempted selfie. I have some practicing to do.
As we approached the summit, it was extremely windy. Clouds raced by us, and it was difficult to hear anything besides the wind. In the video below, that “hill” in front of us is actually the summit!
Our guides told us that the youngest person that had made it to the summit was about 13 years-old. Brandon made it up before us, since he was part of a faster group. He later told me that as an 11-year-old, he had to savor the few moments of being the youngest person to summit Mr. Cameroon before his 9-year-old sister arrived!
When we finally made it to the top, the rest of our group had already been waiting there for quite a while. They still welcomed us with cheers and smiles, even though I know they had to have been freezing. What a feeling to reach the top! I was so proud of Brandon and Maya.
We did it!
After savoring a few moments at the summit, it was time to start our descent. This was a different kind of difficult. On one hand, it was a relief to finally be using different muscles, but on the other hand, I think my toes were cursing me for organizing this trip. Those toe nails can only be smashed into the front of your shoes a few hundred times before they start to complain!
On our way down, we did pass the site of the volcanic eruption that occurred in the year 2000. We also got to pose with a big boulder that was thrown by the eruption.
Hiking up to the eruption site.
If you look carefully, you can see steam coming up from the rocks.
Giant volcanic rock that was “thrown” by the volcano.
I kept hearing that going down would be harder than going up. I can’t say I totally agree. I found that we were able to talk more on the descent, so perhaps it was less strenuous on the cardiopulmonary systems, but the toes were definitely feeling it. It was also a lot easier to fall on the way down with the loose footing. Our guides told us that every time our rear ends hit the ground, we had to buy a chicken. This became a running joke. If we heard someone even stumble, we would yell, “Chicken!” By the end of our 3 day journey, we had accumulated 26 “chickens” as a group.
It’s steeper than it look folks!
We are above the clouds!
Daddy keeping Maya company on the way back down to our tents.
Day 2 ended where it began, back at the Phako Mountain Lodge. Maya, Deddy, and I were the last to arrive around 5:30pm. Another long day. This time, our guides fed us some chicken with peanut sauce over rice. It was delicious! I think everyone was in bed that night by about 8pm.
The final day began at 6am again. We packed up, ate, and headed off. We hiked back down the Monster, which was the source of many more “chickens.” We continued down the mountain until we were back in the rain forest.
Maya getting helped by “Uncle” Frank.
Maya liked this tree in the fog.
Picture of the rain forest canopy.
We finally arrived back to our starting point around 2pm, each of us feeling absolutely drained, but also incredibly blessed. Here we were, a group of 17 people from all around the world, with varying ages and physical ability. All of us made it to the top and back down again without any major injuries–only a few chickens. Thanks be to God!
We had people in the group that have hiked all over the world, including Nepal and Kilimanjaro. They said this hike was just as difficult, if not more so, than anything they’d done in the past. I was so proud of our group, and really proud of my kids. It was a much-needed escape into nature since we are usually surrounded by the concrete and shipping containers of the port.
I hope they will remember this the rest of their lives.
Yes, we’re still smiling, but the sweet smells are long gone!
Of note, there is a race every year up and down Mt. Cameroon, called “The Race of Hope.” It is the distance of a marathon, but with a mountain thrown in there for good measure. The race took place the week before we hiked. The winning time? 4 1/2 hours. That’s crazy! It took us 3 days! And yes, it’s an extreme physical challenge running up the mountain, but how do you run down a steep slope littered with jagged, loose, volcanic rock? I mean, I could do it, but not without rolling an ankle, or breaking an arm, or face, or neck. Much respect for those racers!