A Memorable Place

To the summit of Mount Cameroon

By Christa Hasenkopf


After my first year of teaching, I hopped a plane to Cameroon last June to visit a college roommate who was working in the Peace Corps.

Climbing Mount Cameroon, the highest mountain in West Africa, was high on my to-do list. At 13,435 feet above sea level, Mount Cameroon would be the highest elevation either my friend or I had climbed, and to top it off, it's an active volcano with craters, hardened lava flows and even rain forests at its foot.

When I arrived in Cameroon, my friend and I took the first bush taxi to Buea, the town at the base of the mountain. The next morning, we met our guides. The guides would carry most of our water, food and sleeping articles, while we lugged much lighter packs.

As we began our climb, I became more impressed with our guides than with the breathtaking landscape. Our three leaders were dressed in long-sleeved, ill-fitting shirts, jelly shoes held together with duct tape, while I had fretted hours over which clothes to bring and which shoes to wear.

As my friend and I huffed up the mountain, our porters jogged with their hefty packs in front of us, stopped for 20 minutes to let us catch up, and continued on.

By the end of the first few hours, I was getting the oh-wait-until-you-wake-up-tomorrow warning from my legs and back, and had soaked my spiffy all-purpose REI travel shirt.

Meanwhile, our head guide, Ferdinand, informed me of the annual race up the mountain in which Cameroonians run up to the summit and back down in five hours -- a distance that would take us a good two days to traverse.

On our first night of the hike, our guides invited us to share their campfire inside their hut, and we had a long discussion about politics, laws, school systems, employment rates and general attitudes of Cameroonian and American cultures. Ferdinand shared his dream of coming to the United States to learn more about eco-tourism so he could bring his knowledge back to Cameroon.

The next day, we reached the summit and hiked 10 miles to the next campsite. Ferdinand and one of the other guides decided to go beehive hunting. They spent an hour fashioning a ladder out of branches and got stung at least a half dozen times each. In the end, they retrieved more natural honeycomb than the five of us could consume in a week.

On our third day of hiking, we came to the end of our trail in a small village called Bokwango. There, we asked our guides to have a drink with us at a ramshackle chophouse. The conversation, which had earlier flowed so well, considering the cultural and language barriers, had become somewhat stifled and forced.

Our trip up the mountain was finished, and with it three powerful, yet brief friendships that have taught this teacher to appreciate how much we have in Baltimore, and how remarkable and strong the human spirit is halfway around the world.

Christa Hasenkopf lives in Baltimore.

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