Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mt. Cameroon Trek

Each year ASOY sends a highly skilled team on a special mission to Buea. This year is like no other, a special team was sent. This elite squad’s sole mission is to conquer West Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Cameroon (ok, so they got to relax on the beach as well so what?). Mount Cameroon, known locally as Fako is one of West Africa’s two known active volcanoes, the other being Cape Verde, stands at 4095m. Mount Cameroon with its unique climatic conditions and endemic plant and bird life makes it a hiker’s Mecca.

Although there are several routes up Mount Cameroon, the most direct, quickest, and the steepest, is the Guinness Route (named after an early Irish explorer to the region, I am sure…) This year like previous years we followed the Guinness Route to the summit but unlike previous years it was decided to descend via the Mann Spring Route as opposed to coming down on the same path as ascending. Although the trek was a longer distance, the route had an easier vertical decline and was more scenic.

The ASOY Mount Cameroon Assault Team (AMCAT) left the school on Friday, February 9th at 0930hrs for Buea and arrived at 1600hrs. Upon arrival they checked into the luxury Parliamentary Flats Hotel for the night. After consuming their carbo-loaded dinners, they retired to their rooms and settled in for the evening (ha). By 0600hrs the next morning, the climbers were raring to go (haha). After a hearty breakfast at the Hotel (hahaha), the team was transferred to the trailhead where their porters and guides awaited them (hahahaha).

By 0745 the squad was briefed on their assignment and after a short photo opportunity, the team set off on their day’s mission, to make it to Hut Two (2860m) before nightfall. The medical personnel and transportation specialists accompanied the trekkers for the first hours into their trek and then the hikers were sent on their merry way. It was a long slow slog up the hill, first through the tropical rainforest and then into the mountain shrubbery. The climbers kept pretty much together and chatted amongst themselves while enjoying the great outdoors. After three hours the team made it to Hut 1 (1875m) but because of hiker congestion, and the infestation of bees, they decided to continue on to Hut 1. Now that’s an original name for a Hut. After a short lunch break of energy boosting food, the team was on its way to attack the most difficult part of the whole trip (Okay, that doesn’t include going to the bathroom in the dark). From Hut 1 to Hut 2 climbers must ascend over 1000m in a distance of less than three inches, well according to my map anyway. All I can say is, that it was tough and one had the tendency to crawl. Nothing too tough for the ASOY team, though. They all made it to Hut 2 with energy to spare…not a lot but enough to put up the tents, cook a meal, have a few good laughs and then hit the hay or more like burnt grass in their case.

By 0500hrs the next morning the bugle was blown and the assault team was up and at it. They broke camp with military precision (hhhaahee) and were ready to move out at six something-or-other. Okay, it was more like sevenish, but never the less they were ready to go. It was the day they all had trained for. All those after-school training sessions, the Sunday morning hikes up Mount Febe, the running of the stairs of Palais de Congress, the hours of jungle marches were finally going to pay off. Today was the day. Today was the day to assault the summit. The climbers were ready.

Three hours after leaving Hut 2 the hikers made it to Hut 3 (3740m) where they stopped for a hearty lunch in order to replenish their much-needed energy. After a restful break, they set off as a team to the summit. Together they walked, encouraging each other, onward and upward. Together they laughed and joked… (Ok together, except Goldilocks and myself, who were on a reconnaissance mission to see if the summit was safe for the team to attempt). Safe it was found and at precisely 12:48:34, the summit was stormed by the ASOY troop. Everyone climbed the peak beaming with pride and pleasure. Excitement and joy were felt and displayed by all. ASOY had once again conquered the highest mountain in West Africa, Fako, Mount Cameroon at 4095m.

After some short congratulatory speeches and a quick team photo session, the troop was once again on the move. They had to get to Mann Springs before nightfall and it was a good 6 hours or four inches on the map away. Six hours of walking that is. For some reason some of the team had the impression that six hours was six hours if you walked or not. If you walked six hours Mann Springs would appear and if you sat and rested Mann Springs would still appear after six hours…Six hours was six hours….

The trip down the mountain started out rather easy by following a soft, gentle scree. It was quite pleasant and very easy on the hiker’s legs. Although the boots got full of stones and rocks, the knees and ankles were given a break from the pounding they took ascending the hill. After two hours of descending the mountain, the trail led the team into a gully where they followed a dry riverbed that led them to a lava field. Even though it wasn’t a steep descent through the lava field, it was still treacherous to walk over the uneven volcanic surfaces. It was a slow process. After crossing the lava field the team had to transverse an alpine savannah. From there the trail snaked its way across a valley and then ascended to the rim of several volcanic cones. Following the edge of the volcano’s mouthpiece the team entered a volcanic desert which in its own right was spectacular. From there the team walked through another alpine savannah and eventually down into Mann Spring Camp. It was about 1800hrs by the time the last trekker arrived into camp and the sun was just about to set. Luckily for the latecomers, some of the team had arrived earlier and with the help of the porters and guides had set up most of the tents. A second group had started cooking grub and together the team settled into the camp for the night. By 2000hrs, under a 6/16th of a moon, with full stomachs, sore knees and achy, blistery feet the camper fell silent.

By 0500hrs the bugle once again blew and the team assembled and broke camp, once again with military precision. The troop worked very well together taking down tents, packing bags and taping toes and heels. By 0600hrs they were ready to move out.

The walk from Mann Spring to the village of Bowango took over six hours and was mostly through the rainforest. The hikers had to cross over the lava flow from the 1999 eruption at one point on their descent. At another part along the trail they had a great lookout point and had the opportunity to view the ocean off in the distance. Although it was a long and slow trek through the forest, it was very enlightening with the ability to see and smell a variety of plant life. The Mann Spring Route off the mountain took a lot longer and was slower than going up and down the Guinness Route but it provided the trekkers with an opportunity to view a greater array of topographical features and flora species. It provided a great learning experience and it was well worth the trek…. Well I thought so anyway!!!!

Coach Harry

This first shot is of a mountain they call small Mt. Cameroon. It's hard to tell from the photo, but off the right we had an excellent view of Limbe and the Atlantic ocean. We admired the waves crashing on the beach. It gave us inspiration to quickly come down from the mountain and get into the water.

The last two shots unfortunately appeared crooked. I tried to fix it, but I'm not sure how to fix a thumbnail photo. Either way, if you turn your monitor sideways you will be able to see more igneous (lava) rocks. It was quite difficult to climb over the rocks. But, it was awesome to be able to see the rock stretch for miles and imagine what it might have looked like while it was lava.

After a 10 hour hike, we were ecstatic to be close to our next camping spot. At this point, we began to see colorful trees that reminded me of autumn in the Midwest.

This first shot is of the grassy area that we passed. This portion of the journey seemed to go on forever. The second picture is of the two craters that formed after the 2000 eruption. We had to walk around the edge of the upper portion. One of the students had to help me hike this portion because I was so scared! I kept slipping on the rocks so much that at one point I decided to get on my butt to make it around and down. If one were to fall down the edge of this crater, I'm not sure if there would be any means of helping you get back up. It was quite scary to look down the edge of the crater. Despite it's scariness, it was a beautiful sight.

The last two pictures is of the terrain I enjoyed the most. It looked as if we were in a black desert because the fine igneous rocks formed dunes and valleys.

Not only did we reach the summit on the 2nd day, but we also had to make our way back to the next hut. We hiked for 10 hours on the second day. On the back side of Mt.Cameroon, the terrain changed almost every hour. The first shot we have here looks like a dry river bed. The next two shots are of the igneous rocks caused by the eruption of Mt. Cameroon. The most recent eruption occured in 2000.

We made it to the top of Mt. Cameroon-the tallest mountain in West Africa and the second tallest in Africa. We are standing at 4,095m (13,435 ft.). We left this license plate to mark our accomplishment. Finally, after training since November, we made it to the summit! This is what it was all for.

Heading for the summit!!!!

On day two, we woke up early in the morning to set out for the summit. This was a tough day because our legs were extremely sore from the day before. I think I took about 6 ibuprofens this day so that I wouldn't feel the soreness of my legs.

The next shot is of myself and Antonio, one of the other chaperones. We made it to Hut 3 and decided to take a quick nap while we waited for the rest of the group to meet up with us. You know I was tired in this picture by the fact that I am even sleeping in this dirty hut!!!!

Another shot of the clouds and the terrain.

This first shot is trying to show everyone the steepness of the first part of the hike. Hiking up this side was one of the most difficult parts of the hike. The ASOY group usually climbs up this side and goes down the same side, however, this year we went down the backside. There is another shot of Hut 2. Then you have a shot of Meredith and I pretrending that we weren't sore, but happy we made it so far.

1. Hut 2. We felt we accomplished a lot when we arrived at Hut 2 six hours after beginning our trip. We still weren't at the summit, but we did climb one of the toughest parts of the journey. The climb up was extremely steep and rocky. Once we arrived we realized that all of the usual camping spots were taken by other hikers. There were many other groups on the mountain because it happened to be a holiday weekend in Cameroon-Youth Day. The majority of the porters slept in the huts. Our group set out to find and clear a space for our tents since the regular spots were taken.

In order to use the bathroom, we had to go to an outhouse made from aluminum. When I went to try to use the bathroom, my legs shook because I was so tired. Needless to say, using the bathroom in the outhouse after 6 hours of hiking wasn't the most comfortable.

For dinner, we cooked up a nice meal of peanut butter sandwiches, peanuts, and a neste crunch bar for dessert.

2. Our Tent! Meredith and I found a spot for our tent. The ambassador and his wife slept in the green tent in the back. Before setting up the tent, we had to clear away debris, rocks, and weeds. This happened to be my first camping experience and therefore, my first time setting up a tent. But, I think we did a great job!

3. I think there are about 1,001 uses for duct tape! And, duct tape was my best friend on this journey. The group used it to wrap our toes and heals to prevent blisters from forming. Here, I have it on my big toe because I felt it getting a bit sore.

1. We took a break at hut 1 1/2. The reason why I took this picture is because it says "Devil's Advocate" on the side. I thought that was hilarious because the day before leaving for Mt. Cameroon, I watched the film Devil's Advocate.

2. It was an amazing feeling being above the clouds. We were able to see them gently move across the mountain side. At one point we took a break to sit down and admire the beauty.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

1. Hut 1. After hiking for about 3 hours we e made it to hut 1. Here, we took a short break. Here in this picture, I had a walking stick. A few times throughout the journey I used a stick to help take weight off my knee. However, at times it was more of a hassle because it was aggravating my hand.
2. We took a breadk to dance at a rock.
3. By the looks on our faces, you could tell it was a tough journey.
4. We made it to Hut 1 1/2.

1. Starting out our journey. The first portion of our journey took us through the forest.
2. The porters were amazing. They carried our heavy backpacks the entire time with no complaints or injuries. Some even carried the load on top of their heads.
3. Rest break.
4. Another shot of Hans, my porter.

1. We loaded the school bus with our day packs and our camping bags.
2. This is the Parlimentary Flats, the hotel we stayed in the night before leaving.
3. The morning of day one. A porter was assigned to each bag.
4. This is a picture of my wonderful porter, Hans.