“You can achieve great things if you put your mind to it, mind over matter, you’re stronger than you think,” were some of the words of hope that I told myself as the altitude sickness started to win the battle at Elena camp.
Thanks to my poor research, I knew nothing about altitude sickness which was now beating my body into submission.
It was a few minutes after 7 pm in freezing temperatures when my friends woke me up to have a meal. With every ounce of energy I had left in my body, I sat up and that’s when the beef aroma hit the back of my nostrils.
“I’m sorry guys, I can’t afford to eat. I feel nauseated and I would rather not test fate,” I said.
“At least have some soup to warm yourself up,” the guide said before going on to give us a debrief of the time we supposed to head out for the summit.
“We are setting off at 3 am, make sure you have your torches ready and the snow spikes are matched to your shoe sizes.”
Then he turned to me and said, “if you aren’t feeling better by that time, don’t force your body, there will always be a next time.”
“This guy must be crazy, of course, I’m going to make it. Margherita is calling and I will rise to the occasion.” I told myself.
There are some things we take for granted like being able to sleep comfortably or to turn and toss in a bed with ease but when you’re 4,541m above sea level it’s a whole different ball game. With every little turn, my heart would race like as though the ground beneath was trying to snatch it out of my chest cavity.
The oxygen levels are very low at such heights and every time I thought about the energy I need to turn I chose to remain still unless I really had to.
Time flew by so fast and before I could get a good night’s rest, it was 3 am. Waking up with a splitting a headache, I could only stare at my friends as they geared up for the summit.
Like a wounded wolf, I sat there and licked my wounds. I couldn’t believe I had failed to make the extra 568m to the summit. The pressure on my brain was unbecoming and I would have needed a day or 2 to acclimatize but time is one thing we didn’t have.
Elena is the highest camp in the Rwenzori mountains and from its viewpoint, I could see the snow-capped peaks, the lush green valleys, the bogs, and the low lying clouds.
As the saying often goes, “what goes up, must come down.” It takes about 4 days to summit Rwenzori Mountain and 3 days to make it back to the base.
It may seem easy but descending especially when you have bad knees is something one can’t prepare enough for.
At one point in my 10-hour journey from Elena to John Matte camp, I screamed out in pain after I twisted my ankle that ended up aggravating my knee.
I can mobilize my colleagues and we carry you down,” the guide said.
“No thank you, the walking stick will do the trick,” I reassured him.
Trying to distract my mind off the pain, he pointed to a chameleon that was slowly moving on a dried tree branch. And that’s when the words of Ralph Waldo hit me, “adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”
I trekked back at my pace and chose to appreciate the immense beauty which was around me. From the Alpine Zone (4000m to 4500m) which is filled by the giant groundsel and everlasting Helichrysum to the heather zone (3000m to 4000m) which has the coral pink ground orchid, Disa stairs, and a red and mauve balsam among others, everything is amazingly created to leave one captivated.
Upon making it to the base of the mountain 3 days later, I looked towards it, forgetting all the pain my body had to endure, I smiled and said, “I will be back.”