There are three mountains in the outskirts of Kigali: Mount Kigali, Mount Jali and Mount Shyorongi. Hiking enthusiasts in this city don’t have to travel in search of mountains to climb. After all, there is no shortage of hills in every corner of the land of 1,000 hills.
Climbing mountains may not be your cup of tea but this activity’s growing popularity is undeniable. Over the past few years, I have climbed mountains with culturally diverse hikers pushed by different motives, some of which are hard to comprehend. I have met foreign tourists who climb mountains to battle their personal demons, tackle their insecurities or satisfy their empirical urges. Some of their notions sound crazy to me but I have been listening to their reasoning with an open mind.
The world’s highest mountains attract hikers who spend a fortune to toil their way to the summits. Tourists spend between 35,000 and 100,000 dollars on Mount Everest’s packages.
Climbing the highest mountain in the world costs a lot of time too. It takes up to five days to get to the base camp from the Nepalese side. At the camp, they pitch tents for weeks acclimating to low-density air and exercising. From there, they spend about two months hiking to and from the summit. Slower hikers need up to 85 days to complete the round trip. To put this into perspective, a slow hiker who starts climbing today will be back in 2021. Mount Everest’s round trip is insanely long, ridiculously expensive and extremely strenuous.
In Rwanda, the most physically taxing hikes are experienced in the Virunga Massif along the northern border. Climbing the volcanoes is a tall order but the experience is absolutely fulfilling. Tougher challenges yield more satisfaction and bragging rights.
Mount Karisimbi’s trail is the longest but Muhabura’s gradient rises sharply from the bottom to the top, posing a tougher challenge. It takes about three hours to get to Karisimbi’s base camp at an altitude of 3,500 meters above sea level. Once at the camp, hikers spend the rest of the day and a whole night acclimating to thin air and resting. Then they make the final push to the summit on the second day.
At some point, they hold branches of trees and pull themselves higher and higher. During the last fifty meters or so, they hold ropes and heave themselves upwards. The ropes are tied to wooden stands planted on the ground.
Kigali dwellers love vigorous physical exercises. That explains the popularity of the bi-monthly car-free days. They also turn up in big numbers whenever the annual Kigali International Peace Marathon is staged. Lately, many hiking groups have been formed. Members of these groups are taking advantage of free access to the neighboring mountains.
Around the world, people climb mountains to fulfill a wide range of physical, psychological, spiritual and superstitious needs. Some hikers go to the mountains to get lost while others go there to find themselves. The doctrine of losing and finding oneself is probably confusing you. It confuses me too. Unlike philosophical mountaineers who subscribe to strange schools of thought, Kigali-based hikers are driven by their desire to lead a healthy, adventurous lifestyle. Nothing more, nothing less.