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!!!!