It took us about three hours to reach the base camp, at an altitude of 3,500 meters (11,482 feet) above sea level. The plan was to rest and resume hiking in the morning of the second day. However, I thought it was too early to call it a day. My fellow hikers agreed with me.
It is advisable to spend some time at the camp acclimating to the limited supply of oxygen before ascending higher. 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, stubbornly, refused to follow their script. Our goal was to reach the summit as soon as we could. Waiting was the last thing we wanted to hear. After a short break, we made the final push to Rwanda’s highest point.
I lacked experience in climbing mountains. As a result, I made one rookie mistake after another throughout this physically challenging activity. Instead of using proper hiking boots, I thought my old sneakers would serve me just fine. Initially, the Nike Air Force 1s I was wearing felt comfortable, but proved to be inappropriate when the steep ground became slippery.
On the summit, 4,507 meters (14,787 feet) above sea level, the temperature flirted with zero and my ill-advised choice of clothes didn’t help. On our way back to the camp, in darkness, I was the only one who didn’t have a flashlight. When we made it to the camp, the bonfire was lit and dinner was served. Things looked perfect until I found out that I had forgotten to pack a sleeping bag. I was the least equipped tourist in the group. May be, the least equipped Karisimbi hiker ever.
We sat by the fire until late. Since it is illegal to cut trees in the national park, we used firewood brought to the camp by porters from Kinigi. Finally, I slept in a tent placed in a wooden structure covered by corrugated iron sheets. Before I slept, I wore everything I had packed and all the clothing donations I had received from fellow campers.
When we woke up in the morning, it was sunny and warm. Visibility couldn’t be better. I had a clear view of the neighboring Bisoke and Mikeno volcanoes. The latter is located in DR Congo. Sabyinyo wasn’t as visible. Its location obstructed possible views of Gahinga and Muhabura from the camp.
Bisoke’s crater looked like a slightly tilted bowl about to pour its content on one side of the mountain. Mikeno has a sharp pinnacle-shaped summit with a relatively lower subsidiary peak. Getting to Mikeno’s summit would require rock climbing equipment.
The night I spent on the highest mountain in Rwanda was memorable. While camping, I shared stories and tea with like-minded adventurers. That was as close as we could get to our ancestors’ oral tradition. We didn’t have Wi-Fi, but we found a better connection.