The normal itinerary requires hikers to rest at the camp 3,500 meters above the sea level and make the final push to the summit on a brand new day. We had been instructed to take a long break at the camp in order to get acclimated to high altitude but we didn’t follow that script. Our goal was to get to the summit as soon as we could and waiting was the last thing we wanted to hear.
I lack experience in climbing mountains. As a result, I made a few rookie mistakes. Instead of using hiking shoes, I thought my aging sneakers would serve me just fine. Initially, the Nike Air Force 1s I was wearing felt comfortable but proved to be inappropriate when the surface got slippery. Later on, the level of temperature flirted with freezing point and my ill-advised choice of clothes didn’t help.
After ascending above mubakomando area, the circumference of the mountain became smaller, an indication that we were approaching the summit. The cloud that had enveloped us earlier had disappeared and the sky was clear. We sat on gigantic black rocks and enjoyed the view. Ten minutes later, we were covered by another cloud. Clouds would appear and disappear from time to time.
This stage has seen a number of climbers throwing in the towel. At this point, some start developing doubts over their abilities to get over the hump. I heard stories about previously determined hikers who concluded that climbing mountains is not for them when they reached this area. Porters narrated their experiences carrying defeated tourists back to the camp on stretchers.
As we approached the summit, we used ropes to maintain balance and heave ourselves upwards. These ropes are tied to pieces of wooden stands. Without the said ropes, every step forward would be followed by two steps backwards.
A giant tower is erected on the summit and a high voltage electrical transformer is placed a few meters away. Heavy metallic construction materials are abandoned near the container I ran into when temperature dropped close to 0 degrees Celsius. Before my first ever winter experience, I had the privilege of witnessing the most spectacular sunset ever. As the sun dropped, clouds looked like waves in the ocean and the glowing sky took my breath away.
Climbing a mountain of Karisimbi’s magnitude is a tall order but I enjoyed beauty every step of the way. The experience taught me how to approach a difficult task by breaking it into smaller milestones, trusting the process and having fun along the way.
As we descended back to the camp in darkness, we found a way to grab branches of trees while holding hiking sticks and flashlights at the same time. When we finally arrived at the camp, the bonfire was lit and dinner was prepared. Things looked perfect until I found out that my tent didn’t have a sleeping bag. Another rookie mistake.