For Many Ugandans, climbing mountains has never crossed their minds. Even I, when the opportunity came by last year, it felt like a very bad idea.
I only got on board because we were going as a group; and trust me, I have never looked back since that time. It was a life changing experience.
Last week I had a chat with Emmanuel Katongole who prefers to be called Dibo Kataala Wa City one of the Mountain slayers who shared with me his experience and stories of memories they have made as a group.
Once you listen to him you will surely fall in love with hiking and climbing Mountains.
Who are the Mountain slayers Uganda?
Mountain slayers Uganda (there’s a Kenyan chapter) are a group of like-minded individuals of all nationalities who share the thrill of the outdoors, the highlight being mountains but also include long or torturous hikes in the wilderness with a little more than a bag of peanuts and water on their backs.
“Slayers” because we were putting mountains to the sword long before it became Kampala speak and look good doing it so as to encourage as many people to leave their desks for the wild…. lies it’s for social media pictures.
What would you say inspired you to form this group?
It started with one or two people going about it alone and the activity spread by word of mouth as one friend brought another.
It presented the best opportunity to bring interested Ugandans together as it was easier than doing it individually.
Eventually we had to get organized for better planning, coordination of destinations and leveraging on individual synergies to keep trip costs as low as possible.
How many mountains have you climbed so far?
I have not sat down to count but here goes; Rwenzori, Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Sabinyo, Muhavura, Mgahinga, Nyiragongo (DRC), Moroto, Elgon, Karisimbi (Rwanda) I suppose that’s 9 mountains and a couple of hills that don’t count.
How did your first mission as a group go?
It was light and manageable so as not to discourage first timers. We did a one-day activity at Griffin Falls Camp and forest hikes to last the day. It’s been 5 years since that little excursion.
Out of all the Mountains you have climbed which one would you say was the toughest one and why?
Ruwenzori Mountain, she beautiful, she’s got mood swings, she’s wet (her other name is Rwenjura) and deceptive. It was my first mountain too, it rained the whole day on the second day and one section, the Upper Bigo Bogs was one of the most treacherous places I have walked.
Day three, one of our hiking party started showing signs of mountain sickness, loss of appetite, nausea and blinding headache.
The guides advised that he could not summit and if we summited without him and he succumbed to mountain sickness we would find out 24 hours later.
We were forced to turn back. It was also the longest time I had spent without cellphone reception. Ms. Rwenzori is physically and mentally abusive but like a bad habit keeps you going back.
What has been your hardest and best moment while climbing the Mountains?
Hardest moment was summit day on the Kilimanjaro, you start climbing at 10:00 pm after arriving at camp about 6:00 Pm. You climb the whole night and at dawn on the rim of the mountain you still have hours to go to the Uhuru peak the highest point in Africa, balancing precariously while walking on snow, every step clawing at the lungs from the thin mountain air.
Earlier at about 2:00 am my climbing partner’s knees had given way so I soldiered on, alone, with the Ugandan flag on my back.
The best moment was Mt. Muhabura, one of our hiking party ended up on Rwandan side while leaving the mountain, we share the international border with Rwanda.
Visibility was less than a meter owing to the mist so he followed voices. Freaked out at the possibility of showing up in Rwanda, over the mountain without a passport, in the dark, everyone was frantic.
We found him 2 beers up back at the hotel, he had been driven to the Cyanica border and handed over to the Ugandan authorities with a slap on the wrist.
What are some of the health issues one may suffer because of climbing a mountain?
The most serious issue you could suffer is mountain sickness, it’s fatal if you go up the mountain too fast or have underlying health conditions.
This coupled with injury on any of the limbs as a result of falls and scraps. Injuries are rare as the trails are fairly safe to walk, however rescue is always on hand.
What are the tips you would give to a first time Mountain climber?
- Get the proper shoes and clothing right for the mountain.
- Have at least 3 liters of water on hand per day.
- Don’t get your socks wet.
- Cut your toe-nails
- Come with a pragmatic attitude, your body is capable of things you don’t know about. Mountains are an exercise in mental stamina.
- The Wanale Ridge in Mbale is a good place to experience what it means to walk uphill the whole day. Start with that.
How much does it usually cost you?
Historically it’s cost between 250,000 UGX and 400,000 UGX everything inclusive, save for hiking gear for domestic trips.
This cost is only made possible by group travel arrangements. Costs will go higher with smaller groups.
Which mountain are you looking forward to Conquer next?
Ol Doinyo Lengai, “Mountain of God” as the Masai call it in Northern Tanzania. It whispers to me in my dreams…come Dibo Come. One of them said.
What is your advice to travelers who would want to climb Mountains After the COVID-19 pandemic?
There is no better place to be than a mountain during and post covid-19. The trails will be largely empty so the social distancing is perfect. The mountain winds are such that when you “Kwetsyamura” the Covid-19 droplets won’t move further than one foot before they are swept into virus oblivion. Don’t share tents with anyone that you won’t remember should the need for contact tracing arise. Better still get your own tent and trekking poles.