After taking a canoe off Itambira island, and catching a special hire from the “taxi park” (such as it was) in Kabale, Kristen and I headed off along the very twisty, but extremely beautiful road to Kisoro. We arrived late in the afternoon, and were dropped off right at Hotel Virunga, where we were staying. I headed over to the Mgahinga National Park office to double check our reservation for hiking the following day, and to arrange another special hire to pick us up before and after the hike. We could have taken bodas for a little cheaper, but given the state of the road there and the fact that we were likely to be completely exhausted at the end of the day and not really in any state to be having to hold on the entire trip back, it seemed like money well spent to just get a car.
Our taxi was supposed to arrive at 6:15 the next morning, but was running on Ugandan time so we were a little delayed leaving for the park. Regardless, we arrived at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park shortly after 7am and were greeted by one of our guides for the day, Ali. She gave us a quick briefing about the area and its history and introduced us to her co-guide, Mansur, who would accompany us on the trek. Ali assured us that the gun he was carrying was strictly for protection, in the event that we came across any animals who decided to charge at us or something. Once introductions were made, the four of us headed off along the trail to the volcano hikes. We’d chosen to hike Mt Sabyinyo, whose claims to fame were its three peaks, and the fact that the borders of three countries converge on the third summit, so you find yourself simultaneously in Rwanda, DRC, and Uganda. Vanessa, one of the previous volunteers, had done this hike on her travels, so we had some idea of how challenging it was, but we hadn’t heard about the swamp-like areas you traverse before even getting to the base of the mountain. Within an hour of starting out, all of our shoes were completely soaked and covered in mud – though the guides very smartly wore rubber boots to do their hiking in. Perhaps not the greatest choice from a support standpoint, but wildly practical given the conditions.
Kristen’s knees were giving her quite a bit of trouble, so she hiked with Ali up to the first peak, which was the one that took the longest to get to, and then they made their way back down the mountain while Mansur and I continued on to peaks two and three. It was a cloudy day, so I only managed to snap a few photos of the view from the mountain, and most of those were early on before the fog rolled in. Although they didn’t translate well in pictures, over the course of the hike I did get some breathtaking views of the mountain while looking down at it from the ladders and narrow ridges that we often found ourselves on. I was immensely grateful for all of my rowing experience, as I ended up employing the same types of motivational strategies I used to use to get through long workouts on the water or rowing machine for the hike up the steeper sections of Mt Sabyinyo. Mansur indulged me and took photos of me standing on each of the three peaks, which, although there was nothing especially visually noteworthy about them, are nice to have as a record of having made it to each.
The craziest part of the hike was the ladders built into the side of the mountain, particularly those en route to peak three. They were literally just tree branches nailed together, and continued in a vertical line for hundreds of feet upwards. It wasn’t so bad on the ascent, since I wasn’t so focused on what was above or below me while climbing them, but on the way down you had to look below you to be able to find the next branch to step on. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but anyone who isn’t a little bit apprehensive about climbing down makeshift ladders where one broken rung or missplaced foot could send you careening downwards for who knows how long, clearly has no sense of self-preservation. After making it safely down from peak three with all my limbs intact, and meeting up with Kristen and Ali after our descents from peaks two and one, we all made our way back through hailstorms and thundershowers to the visitors centre. All told, it took me just under 8 hours to complete the hike, and though it was immensely exhausting, it was also completely exhilarating and well worth the time and effort.
I’ve posted an album with pictures from the hike on Flickr, which you can see here.
I’ve made it across the border and am writing this from a hotel on Lake Kivu in Gisenyi, Rwanda, but I’ll save the details of how I (I being the keyword) ended up here for another post.