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Life Reflections

Rwandan mountain summits daring mountaineers to conquer them!

By December 15, 2017June 6th, 2023No Comments

There are humans living amongst us and looking every inch like us but who, interestingly, do not belong to our world; they are otherworldly. With your wits about you, can you voluntarily tempt death by plunging right into the belly of the beast that’s boiling magma?

Memories of Nyiragongo Volcano in 2002 and the devastation its eruption visited on the border town of Goma, D.R. Congo, are fresh in our minds. The resultant relatively small-scale molten lava flowed over and melted buildings and all else in its path and its vicinity.

It killed 157 people despite early warnings and evacuations.

Yet for curiosity, sport or a living, there are people prepared to undertake the suicidal venture into that simmering lava without thinking twice!

The other morning I listened in stupefaction as a voice on radio explained how a German lady goes about this death-courting business for Planet Earth, the series of documentaries that put you bang in the midst of Mother Nature. The clarity of the photos of, and proximity to, the splendours and mysteries of nature bring them to life in a way your physical sighting cannot.

However, behind those spellbinding wonders that you observe in the comfort of your sitting room will have been sometimes bloodcurdlingly risky acts by a unique species of humans.

That lady is living example. To get the best close-up photo of an active volcano, she goes so deep into the volcano’s cone that the boiling lava’s sparks will be licking at her feet. At temperatures in excess of 1000°F, even with a custom-built industrial proximity suit as protection few daredevils would be ready to try it once, leave alone make it an occupation.

This world can count few braves capable of such spine-chilling stunts.

However, ordinary adventurers are legion, which brings back memories of days when colonialists used to climb Mt. Muhabura, one of our chain of mountains. The mountaineering enthusiasts were leaders, priests, teachers and their students; these latter sometimes being local.

Rwanda should try and revive that attraction to mountaineering enthusiasm for the tourist world.

True, mountaineering cannot compete with gorilla trekking as the latter combines the excitement of the treacherous climbs through brush and nettle with an exhilarating socialisation with our gentle giants and the jeopardous descent back.
All the same, an addition to a variety of tourist attractions never did any country any harm.

Only, if it were to be reintroduced, caution must be exercised as, indeed, it is in gorilla trekking.

I remember stories of how one time the descent down Mt. Muhabura cost the lives of two Rwandan students.

It must have been 1953 and the case involved students from a college not far from the mountain, Ecole Commerciale, Kinoni. After insisting on climbing the mountain despite the locals pointing out it wasn’t the season for it, the colonial head-teacher and his students followed the local guides up, headed for the summit.

Stamping your claim on a piece of ‘summit-territory’ by planting your flag there was the ultimate triumph of all!

Midway, however, all of them except four found the conditions too harsh and backtracked. The stubborn four were given leave to continue, with a guide, but also soon gave up. Without alerting their guide, they sneaked back, thus opening themselves to the hazards of straying into unknown danger.

Two of them somehow found their way to a base across the border into Uganda, almost frozen to their bones, but the others were not so lucky. They were found in the forest the following day, frozen to death.

But that sad episode aside, imagine this wonder of wonders.

The guides were loin-clothed inhabitants of the forest at the foot of the mountain – a kind of cold-defying hunter-gatherer group of tiny Tarzans that knew the mountain footpaths like the inside of their, er….loin-cloth folds. Even the heavily furred gorillas never ceased to marvel!

Anyway, all that now past, the freezing temperatures; the slippery footpaths covered in bushes that slap back together (or slap distracted you, behind!) after a climber has parted them and passed; the itchy nettles that sting every part of a climber’s thinly-clothed body; the ever-dripping canopied trees that afford no location of anybody’s bearings.

They are heavenly gifts for world adventurers and any amateur climbing-enthusiast, plus the odd student given to studying the mysteries of Mother Nature, since now there is gear to guard against any danger.

And, like the landscapes in Tour du Rwanda, the mountains need no advertisement.
Just get close-up photos of climbers tackling those terrains and vegetations, even if it means hanging on helicopter winches precariously, and transcribe the mountains’ challenge in their own words: “I am Mt. Muhabura summit, reach all of my 4,127-metre-tall stature if you can! Negotiate the capriciously slippery path to me: prickly brush, stinging nettles, dripping forest canopies and freezing temperatures and you can plant your flag on me.”

“I am Mt. Karisimbi summit. At 4,510 metres, I am taller, steeper; a meaner proposition. Plant your flag on me if you can!” I am Mt. Bisoke summit, Mt. Sabyinyo, Mt. Gahinga……

Even yours truly, with that protective gear of today, would readily drag creaking bones up there to answer such a challenge from any mountain!

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