Expedition Rwenzori: Day Two (29th December, 2018): Nyabitaba Hut (2651m) to John Matte Hut (3505m) – A 7 km walk
I got up at 7:30 am to a shower of wipes and breakfast of American pancakes, omelet, maize porridge, banana, pineapple, watermelon and African tea (If you see this on any menu, it simply means milk with tea leaves added to it, an invention that works well for me 😆😆).
Spirits still high, we quickly packed our bags and handed them over to the porters and then we waited for our briefing from Herbert. I was as eager as a child on their first day of school for the day’s rendezvous.
From this point on, we were advised to wear gumboots (Wellies as the British call them) instead of our hiking boots (a piece of advise that we would much later thank Herbert for).
This is the longest walk on the entire circuit because of the various obstacles encountered that completely slow you down. It’s only 7km but the longest 7kms I have ever had to walk.
We started our walk on a narrow descending walkway through the forest and encountered a couple of steep metallic steps that ushered us into the valley, to the point where Mobuku and Bujuku Rivers meet at the Kurt Schafer Bridge.
Crossing the bridge was a 10 minute affair because the beauty around it wasn’t something we wanted to rush past without taking in. The other side of the bridge ushered us to a steep rocky ascent and thereafter, we were climbing most of the journey out of the forest into the moorland zone where the heather vegetation is pronounced and the Bujuku River leads the way (our ascent and its descent)
The vegetation started to change as well from forest cover to mostly heather and moorland.
After walking for nearly 4 hours and enduring rain, thick black mud, rocky terrain, climbing, falling, running out of breath etc we made a 20 minute lunch stop at Nyamileju hut and had lunch of a peanut butter sandwich, a sweet drink (Splash), apples and lots of water.
We then continued to walk through the heather vegetation and at some point ahead, we split out according to our walking speeds. I was happy to walk the rest of the journey with Aloysius as he now understood my walking culture that involved: asking too many questions, taking pictures, being pushed up at some points (literally), pit stops to catch my breathe rehydration catch my breathe or even just stare at a tree 😁. He could handle all this. Meanwhile as we walked, the porters kept whizzing or almost running past us and carrying loads. They moved easily without a care or notice of the struggles we were personally encountering – I am sure they have become one with this whole experience.
I run out of drinking water and almost went into a frenzy because without water, you’d hardly survive dehydration any further than a km – at least for me! Luckily, we were told the water from the river was portable and very edible. Unfortunately I hadnt carried water purifiers on me, so I put my adventurous streak yet to another test and went right ahead to fill my “hydration bladder” with river water. Mmmmmhhhh, it’s actually really refreshing and has that mineral-laced nice taste! Not bad at all!!! I agreed with myself that I’d deal with any consequence in the near future (as I write this, nothing yet!😋💪)
I must also mention that at this point, altitude sickness was slowly creeping into my system. I hardly wanted to look at any of the snacks that I carried in my day-pack BUT this wasn’t going to stop me.
Moving on, after the heather vegetation, we made our way into the bamboo zone – a short but beautiful walk (felt like the calm before the storm though).
In MSU, we have a joke about the bamboo zone being the commonest place on mountains for people to give up. It’s common now that we all fight to go past the bamboo zone. It’s like a passage of rights! They will kill me for spilling this out here 😂😂😂
Anyway at this point we were almost 7 hours into our walking and I began to feel immense exhaustion, not because I wasn’t fit as a fiddle but we had encountered so many obstacles that eventually made walking excruciatingly painful. Aloysius was very helpful and willingly supported us/me lift one foot and place it in front of the other (with a helping hand to lift me now and again). He must have gotten tired of my constant beckoning and asking: “Are we almost there?” that I must admit kept interruptting the walking rhythm. “Anita, if others can – why not you?” was his constant response the rest of the way. It was like he had rehearsed this from his previous encounters with other hikers and knew that it always worked.
After what seemed like years of walking, we finally arrived at the John Matte Hut, weary and almost confused from the thinning air. Arrival at the Hut was like the end of a bad migraine.
We found Morris had already laid out a nice hot cup of tea and coffee, mushroom soup and then dinner of Irish Potatoes, beef and vegetable stew followed an hour later. Eating was really starting to get harder as we had gained quite some altitude and the altitude sickness seemed inevitable.
After dinner, I received a leg massage from Herbert as I had hurt my knee climbing the rocks and then he went ahead to give us the briefing for the next day.
At 10 p.m, I took my shower (of wipes), layered up on warm clothes as it was pretty cold and slipped into my sleeping bag with a heavy feeling of exhaustion and sickness. I also had difficulty breathing as the air was thinner. I finally fell asleep fighting hard to push out any negative thoughts that attempted to cloud my mind.
Expedition Rwenzori: Day Three (30th December, 2018): John Matte Hut (3505m) to Bujuku Hut (3962m) – A 4km walk
“Good morning” at this point was the hardest thing to say to each other. What was even harder was pushing down our breakfast of tea, chapati, omelet, maize porridge and oats. Swallowing Diamox wasn’t an option moving forward and food had to be forced down because we needed to replenish our energies and build body warmth.
Meanwhile poor Liam at this point was really sick and was advised by Herbert to lay down for another hour to regain himself. This meant we had to push our planned departure time a hour or more ahead. To be honest, this worked in our favour as we all felt the need to recoup. We also had time to mingle and interact with the porters and guides (We actually had a small gathering with them in the kitchen, chaired by our very own Henry a.k.a Enule) . This interaction yielded great pointers that created a base for our feedback at the end of the expedition to RMS. We also had a few minutes to chat with David from Kenya that was on his way off the mountain. David told us this was his 11th summit of the Magherita!!!! Surely, some people are made of rock, mortar and steel 😦😦
At this point, the portal peaks were visible and a fine spectacle to behold!!!
At exactly 11am, when Liam assured us he could proceed and walk strong, we started our ascent. We walked for nearly 2 hours through both rocky and muddy terrain (exactly what my knee didn’t need) and I grudgingly treaded on reminding myself of the following: that I was never forced to come to this expedition, I had paid money and that you don’t fly but walk to the Magherita (hard on myself, right?).
We were then ushered into open moorland laden with beautiful giant lobelias, tussocks and groundsels. My jaw dropped at the beauty in front of me. It’s so hard to explain and believe that such beauty exists in the skies of Uganda.
“Let’s go!!” Aloysius’ soft but mightly authoritative voice yanked me out of my moment. “Ah, yes… ” I retorted and leapt forward to continue walking, anticipating what more was ahead.
We used boardwalks that looked like a staircase to a castle in the mountains. “Walk carefully!!” Aloysius yet again snapped me out of my momentary drift-offs! With a good rhythm I managed to walk over the long boardwalks but kept silently sneaking some moments to capture some shots and as usual ask as many questions about the unique fauna and flora.
Honestly, a big part of this day’s trail was the board walks that required stability to avoid sliding off as they were slippery after a small downpour.
We had a short lunch break after hours of board walking and then climbing over rocks. I was only able to take some tea that I had carried in my coffee mug and one butter biscuit and drink plenty of water. Everything in me at this point just wanted to continue and make way to Bujuku Hut. Little did I know that the hurdles ahead were bigger than I’d imagine.
The Bogs!!! 😰😰😰
The biggest hurdle as we continued on with the journey were the BIGO Bogs!!! Holy Molly, I could write poetry about the immense fear and disgust these bogs created in me. The thing is you never see them coming. What seemed to be a beautiful open moorland turned out to be miles of bogged up terrain underneath. It rains quite a lot on the mountains and so bogs are an inevitable existence. Walking through these bogs requires tactful skills all the while ensuring you keep up and keep close to the guide. Knowing where to put your leg and where not to put it was an enygma! This involved walking through visibly wet patches, to finding somewhat dry patches, to moments of climbing and hopping from one tussock to another but ensuring not to get dizzy from using so much energy to perform these frantic movements and mostly from running out of breathe. At one point, I thought I had put my foot on a dry patch only to sink butt-deep into the bog. I cried so hard as I grasped at the tussocks, hysterically fighting to pull my leg out of the sticky mess and yelling out to Aloysius to come to my rescue. Oh what a dreadful feeling this left me with.
“We have one more boardwalk, some climbing, some bogs and then we shall arrive at the Hut” Aloysius seemed to try to cormfort me as he pulled me out of the bog. Honestly, this statement felt like he had just pushed a knife deeper into my heart. I wanted to turn back but measured how far we had come and decided to hang onto his every word and believe that we close to the final destination. My mind kept going back and forth to the comfortable bed I’d left at home or to how I could’ve been cuddled up to a book drinking hot chocolate. “I am so tired” I kept mumbling under my breathe but had to keep moving.
We finally got to the last boardwalk and alas, (it was like nature was soothing my aches) a surprise ensemble hit me and for a moment I forgot what I was going through. The small but beautiful Lake Bujuku!!!! Rightfully so I knew it was up ahead but I didn’t see it’s beauty coming.
Lake Bujuku, dark watered, calm and rightly placed between the Stanley, Speke and Baker mountains made me smile so hard that I quickly dropped my bag, dropped down and lay on the boardwalk. It felt like a moment of reuniting with a loved one not seen in years. Aloysius pitifully looked at me and allowed me to prosper in my moment. He even offered to take some pictures… 😂😂😂
“Let’s go Anita” Aloysius yet again yanking me out of another day dream! We continued to walk and this time I kept my gaze on the lake asking myself what it would be like to dive in and swim. I shook the thought off immediately and then fixed my gaze ahead. “Oh noooo… ” I loudly gasped out! I was so taken up by the lake that I didn’t notice that at the end of the boardwalk were the dreadful BOGS AGAIN!!! Well, I’d been warned already but didn’t want to imagine wading through that murkiness again. I did my very best to stay positive.
Oh well, there was no other way around this. I quickly jumped in and continued to trudge on. After 30 minutes, we caught eye of Bujuku Hut and my heart wanted to run out of my chest and dash to it. 30 minutes turned to an hour and I couldve sworn we were close to the Hut but just kept walking on and on and on….. I don’t think those bogs will ever leave my memory if others things do. I could easily trade hugging the chameleon with walking through the bogs.. 😂😂😂😂.
One hour and 15 minutes after seeing the Hut but feeling like we were walking in the opposite direction, we finally arrived at Bujuku Hut but it had gotten pretty dark.
I happily threw off my boots and set my feet free of the horror that was the last close to 9 hours. When everyone else had arrived at the Hut, we sat down to the usual tea and soup and dinner an hour later tradition. We had steak for dinner – yes STEAK!!!!! Morris had this way of lovingly tantalising our tongues even when the altitude sickness had massively supressed appetite.
I love that our spirits were still high and the best we could do to cheer us up was to make jokes of the painful yet memorable experiences that day. After dinner and our usual brief from Herbert, I clutched my hot water bottle, slipped into my sleeping bag, thanked GOD I was OK and still able to even consider continuing with the expedition, contained my breathing (that was even a harder job now), thought about my family and my comfortable bed and then drifted off into slumber world.
Next up is the ascent to Elena Hut (4541m), our welcome of 2019 and summit of the Magherita peak through a snow storm and our descent down back to base……..