At last, the time had come. We were climbing Mt. Sabinyo. I had anticipated and dreaded this moment for months. We’d been training for months and I still didn’t feel ready. Maybe that was just fear. Allow me to start by saying that I had never actually climbed a mountain before. I know what you’re thinking: “Sarah, you grew up in IOWA. I can’t believe you didn’t grow up mountain climbing!” This may shock you but…Iowa has no mountains. Should I have had you sit down? I know that’s probably overwhelming for you. There are many beeeeautiful rolling hills in parts of Iowa but those are hills, not mountains. Given, I could have climbed more when I lived in Virginia but after a busy week of work and school, when one weighs out a “Pride and Prejudice” marathon with climbing a mountain, Mr. Darcy always wins.
We arrived in Kabale on Saturday night. Sunday was spent getting things together for the hike. We all had lunch together and then left for Kisoro, the town at the base of the volcano mountains. It was a three hour drive to Kisoro and my eyes couldn’t leave the scenery outside the car windows. It reminded me of Ireland only (I never thought I'd say this about anywhere)…more beautiful. The road to Kisoro was narrow, taking us high up into the mountains offering breathtaking views of the area. Kampala is so huge, dusty and cramped. Southern Uganda is filled with green lush mountains dotted with little villages balancing on the steep terrain. Once we got to Kisoro, we checked in to our hotel, the Golden Monkey. If you can picture a hotel in a rural Ugandan town, then you probably got what we stayed in. The girls and I were lucky to have a bathroom (with an actual toilet!...that only worked for the first 10 hours of our stay there) in our concrete walled room. We were one of the few that did. After checking in, we walked around Kisoro to check in with the Ugandan Wildlife Association (UWA) about our hike and to see the area. We ate dinner at another local hotel where I attempted again to have my fish and chips. I’ve now officially given up until we go to a more reputable restaurant.
We went to bed early that night in order to be well rested for our mountain climb. I barely slept that night. I think that when you KNOW you have to get up earlier than normal, your body goes into freak out mode in order not to oversleep and then you just don’t sleep. Annoying. I was awake to hear the downpour of rain that came down that entire night. It was still raining when we got up in the morning. There was discussion as to if we should still go knowing that the climb would be made much more complicated and dangerous with the rain. Mt. Sabinyo has many wooden ladders to climb and they would have become slick with rain. Jenny and her dad decided not to climb which left the climbing crew as myself, Kacie, Kate, Al, Laura and her two sons Austin and Grant.
We left the hotel at 7:30am for the 30 min drive to the base. The road was volcanic rock with large volcanic rocks in the mix. If one weren’t already awake, that ride would have jolted you to alertness. It was still raining when we got to the office to pay and check in. They provided us with a guide and two armed guards. The guards were in case we came across any dangerous animals, not people. They told us about the mountain, gave us walking sticks and introduced us to our porters. Al and I had decided the day before to share a porter. At that point, I didn’t realize that I was about to spend the best 15000 USH (a little over $7) of my life.
Mt. Sabinyo has three peaks and is about 14,000 in elevation. It was my goal to reach all three peaks but I had no clue about my ability to do so. I was starting out the climb with a cold, which was annoying. Combine altitude with congestion and it’s not fun. I was determined to do as much as I possibly could. It was about an hour hike to the mountain from the base. The trail had become a mud filled stream that we walked up. It was literally like walking through a stream, little waterfalls included. Any attempt to keep my feet dry was done in vain. Soon enough, the water and mud had poured over into my shoes making it feel as though my toes were swimming with each step. We slipped and slided our way up to the mountain. Because of how difficult the trail had become, it was taking much longer than we expected. It was during that walk that Charles, our dear porter, began to see that he had a helpless clumsy slipping and sliding girl on his hands. At the beginning of our hike, I didn’t need my walking stick anymore and it was getting in the way. I tried to ask if I could put it down and just pick it up when we came back. Instead, Charles held onto the stick for me. It was like he knew that I would have been dead without it…and he did. He began to help me cross the muddiest areas without falling and without him, I would have faceplanted it about a thousand times. He spoke very little English which made communication interesting. The rain stopped about an hour or so into our climb. It was such a relief! That, however, did not dry the trail. The climb is truly a blur of ladders, Clif bars, blowing my nose, coughing, pain and mud. I can’t remember much of it. Apparently, from what my experienced mountain climbing buddies told me, most mountain climbs zig zag their way up the mountain. Not so here. It was a straight up climb with very little zig zag. The trail remained muddy and slippery throughout making it all the more difficult. Every step was a decision on where it would be best to put ones foot without sliding and falling. There were sets of slippery wooden ladders and mud "stairs". Between my walking stick and Charles, I made it up those rough ones. I am literally typing this today because of Charles. For some reason, my balance got WAY off adding to slipping everywhere, I seriously almost slid off the mountain a few times. Really, there were some close ones. My lower back had started to kill, my left hip went crazy at some point and weakness came. I could NOT give up. I was living for that first peak.
At LAST, finally, it came! I had one huge bit of steps (were there steps? Gosh, I can barely remember) and I was THERE! Those last steps were ROUGH...but the relief of being on TOP was overwhelming. On the first peak, you are in Uganda and Rwanda at the same time. I collapsed on top in Rwanda’s side just laid there for a few minutes, feeling too dizzy to move. I had to decide if I was to continue to the next two peaks and I knew that there was no way. Physically, I could probably do it. It would have taken me a longer time and with our limited daylight, there wasn’t much extra time. I also knew that I needed energy to go back down. With how slippery it was coming up, it would be even worse going down. I had reached the peak and was thrilled that I even got there alive. With that, Al and I decided to head back down. We took our time at the first peak eating lunch, resting and taking pictures. We headed down with an armed guide and Charles. Before we stepped off the peak, the guard informed us that the climb up was easy compared to going down. So encouraging. He was right, though. With the mud, the climb down was ROUGH. We very slowly made our way down the mountain. I literally held onto Charles almost the entire time. Between him and my walking stick (cannot believe I was about to put that thing down), I got down the mountain. Without either of those two, I would still be on the mountain…or have fallen off. Even with those two components, I slid around and had many near falls. On the way down, I met safari ants which will be a whole other blog that you are SURE to enjoy as it was one of the most torturous and awkward experiences of my life….because, seriously, this kind of stuff always happens to ME.
All of this to say, I’m glad I did it. It was HARD. There were many times where I would have been happy to give up but I didn’t. I kept singing my life song “Lead of Love” by Caedmon’s Call throughout the climb: “I had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view”. Oh, so true.
Looking back You know You had to bring me through
All that I was so afraid of
Though I questioned the sky
Now I see why
I had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view
Looking back, I see your lead of love