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Karisimbi Challenge - Part I

Karisimbi Challenge - Part I

One week after climbing Mount Bisoke, I returned to Volcanoes National Park to hike the highest mountain in the Virunga mountain range. Standing at 4,507 meters above sea level, Mount Karisimbi soars higher than the rest.

We entered the park through Ubushakashatsi trail and ascended close to 3,000 meters above sea level before we took our first break. This is the junction that separates Karisimbi-bound hikers from their Bisoke counterparts. A short distance after the junction, we bypassed what used to be Dian Fossey’s residence and research center. I am planning to visit this place in a near future to get more acquainted with her initiative and gain a deeper insight into her legacy.

It took us about three hours to reach the campsite set up at an altitude of 3,500 meters. The plan was to rest and resume hiking in the morning of the second day but I thought it was too early to call it a day. My partners in exploration agreed with me and a consensus was reached. We decided to proceed to the summit after another break. Our guide and the security team didn’t have any objection.

From the camp, we could see Mount Bisoke’s summit which was slightly higher than our level. I could see the side of Bisoke which is not visible from the crater lake’s trail I had pursued a week earlier. From this point, the crater looks like a bowl about to pour its content on the thick vegetation covering one side of the slope. We also had a clear view of Mount Mikeno located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Mikeno has a sharp pinnacle-shaped summit with a relatively lower subsidiary peak.

Normally, it is advisable to spend the first night at the base camp acclimating to the altitude. Our respiratory systems need time to adjust to the limited supply of oxygen experienced thousands of meters above the level of the sea. Rapid exposure to low-density air can cause a high altitude sickness which drains energy like an illicit brew-induced hangover. We ignored advice from experts and made the final push to the summit on the first day.

We left most of our stuff and porters at the camp. Then we maneuvered through a very steep gradient area known as mubakomando. We ascended higher by holding branches of trees and pulling ourselves upper and upper. Tree climbing techniques I mastered decades ago were useful here.

I started feeling effects of high altitude after crossing mubakomando zone. The air got thinner and gravitational force became weaker. Beyond this area, the gradient is steeper than 70 degrees and the trail cuts through black rocks and volcanic soil. I expected a better view of the neighboring volcanoes and surrounding areas but we were completely swallowed by dense clouds.

Part II of Karisimbi Challenge will be published on Tuesday, next week. Stay tuned.

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