Monday, February 21, 2011

Turning Around

I complained enough during my first 7 months here about my
housemates'/friends' unwillingness to go on hikes with me that I
essentially forced myself to accept the offer to hike Mount Muhabura
(actually a volcano) with Max (the crazily in shape & crazy
Frenchman), Jared, Alex and Lyndsey (the newbies at CCHIPs). Even
though I was a little intimidated by its elevation (4127m, on par with
Mt. Rainier) and my physical fitness (marathon training isn't going
too well), I had to accept. For fear of being a hypocrite otherwise.
My fears heightened during the ride to the base, when our guide told
us that he's hiked Muhabura with 20 groups, and that only 10 of them
made it to the top. I hid my shock: this was perhaps the first time I
was hiking a mountain where it wasn't guaranteed you would summit; it
wasn't even guaranteed that you would summit half the time! I felt
very under/un-prepared in my Reebok sneakers and leggings.
And then it started pouring rain. A hard Rwandan torrential downpour.
We had to start then though; if we started any later than we wouldn't
reach the summit before the "turn around point" of 2pm. Starting a
hike in the rain is never fun, but I was comforted by the pattern of
Rwandan weather: the rain never lasts more than an hour. With visions
of a bright, sunny, and warm summit, I jumped out of the warm, dry car
into the freezing rain.
(At this point in the story, it's worth mentioning that Max and
Lyndsey did not accompany us on the journey. Not intimidated by the
trek ahead, they went to Kigali on Saturday night, with plans to moto
back by 7am on Sunday morning. Needless to say, they did not make it
back in time. (This is actually due to more unfortunate circumstances
including the second theft I've heard of in Rwanda, but all the
same…they can't have been expected to return in time, in any shape to
hike the equivalent of Mt. Rainier.))
The first 3.5 hours of the hike were simply obnoxious: The rain did
not let up. Neither did the thunder and lightning. ("I've never heard
thunder in Rwanda," I said. "Oh I hear it – it's always coming from
this mountain," Alex responded.)
Alex's "little cough" started progressing into full blown pneumonia.
("I can tasted blood," he told us at was break.) The trail was
practically vertical. At many point, I gave up and just started
scrambling up. It was also muddy – making the vertical part (and the
decent) all the more obnoxious. The rain got harder. The trail was
overgrown: at points I felt completely lost in the jungle, removed
from the trail, before one of the soldiers pointed at the "trail" that
I was actually still on. Jared started telling stories about how his
legs are 20 degrees out of alignment, causing long-term joint
injuries. I told the story of my frequently dislocating shoulders, and
how one dislocated that Monday on my gorilla trek. Then, miraculously,
the trail opened up and we were above the tree-line: no longer
"hiking" (read: slipping and sliding) on mud, but exposed to the wind
that just went straight through my leggings and Reeboks.
Alex told us he was turning around. Jared and I uncomfortably stared
at each other, and up the mountain. (In reality, we could only see 10
yards ahead, so we had no sense of how far we had gone and how much we
had left.) Jared said that he could not, with good conscience, let
Alex walk down alone. (Even though he wouldn't be alone, some soldiers
and a porter would accompany him.) The guide looked at me: was I
tough-guy enough to summit alone. I continued to clap together my
hands that were frozen in place, doing exercises that I usually
reserve for long chairlift rides, wondering if it was possible to get
frostbite 2 degrees from the equator. No, I realized, I'm not tough
guy enough.
Alex started down. Jared requested that we wait where we were for 15
minutes to see if it cleared up for a view. I waited two before saying
that I just had to go because I was most definitely not warm. …and I
had just seen my food and water disappear with the porter and Alex.
(The rain didn't let up until 2pm – we would have been waiting a real
long time to see a nice view.)
So maybe I did turn around. And most likely, given the $75 pass, I
won't be trying it again before I leave…but according to our guide, we
did break 10,000 feet of elevation – and perhaps even reached 10,500.
So, maybe this was the first time I didn't summit a mountain, but I'm
pretty sure that I did make some personal record in the meantime – in
my Reeboks and leggings.

No comments: