Generally, over a drink at the campfire the best ideas are born. And so we decided to make a plan to climb the majestic Mt Nkungwe. Towering over Greystoke Mahale camp, the highest peak in the Mahale mountain range, commands respect already by looking at it from the beach… Within a very short distance of the lake the mountain range quickly shoots up well into the 2200’s meters (6600’s ft), with Nkungwe topping with 2462 mts (7500 ft).
A great idea – and very well possible. However we wanted to try the round climb in one long day. That could possibly make a great activity to add to our repertoire right? Most trips cover the mountain in 2 or sometimes 3 days. But staying at a stunning camp like Greystoke, we reasoned that you would like to be back by dinner time if possible.
So we planned our trip the 22nd of July. Together with our guide Hamza, two park representatives; Ernest and Raymond and hiking buddy Ian we decided to set off... Not realizing that you actually have to climb 3 peaks before you ascent to the highest 4th peak. And the third being almost as high as Nkungwe!
Knowing it would be long, we departed at 04.00 in the night, taking the boat to Bilenge where we started. Straight from the beach at Bilenge up the steep Mt. Pasagulu, I do remember Ian’s famous first words… “this is a brutal start isn’t it”…? Those words resonate until today.
As we climbed and climbed we crossed territories of wild chimpanzees. Loud screams were heard around us, still dark. As we kept going and going we passed Mt Mhensabantu after breakfast. Already completely challenged by the very, very steep slopes, we knew we had to take on the two biggest still.
Deep into the range, brilliant Mt. Humo showed us many different leopard and buffalo tracks. It’s so exciting to be so deep in the forested mountains. Close before summiting the 3rd peak, Hamza encountered 5 wild chimpanzees just before the summit. But man! Were we being taken by surprise of the effort you have to make to reach the top of these mountains.
Fantastic, but oh so steep. Blisters, cramp, tiredness; every bit of discomfort the range had in store for us. But no mountain comes easy. And no scenery or trip has been just so untouched – absolutely stunning.
Yet where we to climb the Nkungwe. The highest of them all. Nkungwe has the views – all the beaches, the lake and the horizon, mystically covered in a thick haze of smoke, heat and humidity. Before its forested slopes gives way to its barren peak filled with protea bush, red colobus monkeys jump from tree top to tree top as you make your way through the steep tracks. But once out the forest a new landscape is at your feet and a pleasantly cool wind refreshes the tired body.
At the top, satisfied and stunned by the dramatic range, we realized we’re only halfway. Hiking back to Bilenge where the boat was waiting for us, was the next task. Though quicker then up, only close to 21.00 that evening was when we sat ourselves on the cushion of the boat. Oh man. 16 hours of uninterrupted climbing. Were we fantasizing about camp dinner now!! Really one of the best days in Mahale but I think we better skip planning at campfires for a while...