Above the Clouds of Cameroon
Updated: Oct 5, 2019
Climbing Mount Cameroon without a local guide is not allowed. I pay 110000 francs (170 euros) for a three-day tour to the summit and a longer route back to Buea, the town near Mount Cameroon. The price includes a tent, a sleeping bag and a mat, a porter and a guide. Mount Cameroon is with a little over 4000 meters an impressive volcano and should not be underestimated. The greatest danger is to get lost in the vastness of the massif. Day 1 Birds at a wonderful beginning I am early at the meeting point and reluctantly await a pack of hikers. Instead, at half past six I'm all alone with the song of birds who greet the day in a dense foliage without being seen. We trudge at half past eight as the morning magic of the birds has passed. And there are only three of us: Sam, the guide, and Robinson, the porter, who take care of the hiker from Germany who plans to reach the summit on his birthday. But the gods have put muscle pain, sweat and sunburn before this mountain success. The path goes through the forest: over roots, through rivulets, under canopies. A jungle giant, overgrown with moss, whose branches tickle the clouds, attracts my attention. A "Canopee-tree" explains Sam. "You can put yourself under his roof when it rains and stay dry." Water is life Great to stay dry in the rain. Nevertheless, it makes sense to hike the mountain in the dry season. Because it's better to breathe in the dust than to swim down in torrents. Sam and Robinson fill up their water bottles at a source. My first plastic bottle is half empty. But I will not fill it here. I am too much afraid of bacteria. A diarrhea would make the summit success very hard or impossible. Robinson is carrying other bottles for me up the hill. I am very dependent on my team. Water is life. Especially in the dry season this becomes very obvious. Hundreds of butterflies, bumblebees and bees have settled in the damp or flutter above, dancing with enthusiasm near the small stream, which disappears barely ten centimeters after it begins to flow. Where the forest comes to an end, the grassy savanna begins to move gracefully in the wind, looking like rolling waves in the sea. 100 years ago, lions lay in the grass to ambush unsuspecting antelopes. Now the antelopes are so shy that they are barely seen by humans anymore. And with the lions it´s even worse.
The audible silence We set up our camp at 2800 meters altitude, in one of the rare places where you can hear the silence. I sit on a stone, gaze down to foggy nebulae and listen to the silence. Then it is suddenly switched off because an electrical device is turned on. I realize that I am near the foundations of a settlement going to be built for rich tourists and locals on the lava-covered slopes of Cameroon's largest volcano. The electric grinder is used to smooth rough boards, which are to be bedsteads for the rich hikers. I silently condemn the "blessings" of mountain comfort and miss the silence which I heard for just a few minutes. For moments it comes back. I start to breathe deeper from my stomach and breathe in union with Mother Earth. Then one of the workers turns on his multifunction device and makes music. I take refuge in the tent when the sun goes down. When the workers have fallen asleep, the silence could emerge again. But in the small tent it finds no room to express its beauty. Only when peeing at midnight, when the stars shine, as if they wanted to shine deep into my soul, the silence is back. What a wonderful concert. Unfortunately I have to go back to the tent, because the cold creeps up on me. I am not equipped for a few degrees above zero. Day 2 Silent Birthday Party on the Summit The next morning I am one year older. Sam and Robinson make coffee and offer hot plastic cups for drinking and warming cold fingers. A father and his son from France arrived in the evening in the camp before the summit run. Two hours later, the summit is in sight. Sam is nervous because in his opinion I stop too often to take pictures. But I really can not do without it. Because I will not come back to the Mount Cameroon again. I turned 58 a few hours ago. When I was 20, someone over 50 years seemed to be old like a stone. Now I'm eight years older than a stone. I laugh at the thought. The French father and his son, two guides and I crawl the last few meters up to the summit. Robinson, the porter, has descended to the nearest camp. It's nice up here. My eyes view the wide land that gently lies below us. But the wind has no insight or interest into my need for tranquility, cools me down and shortens our stay on the summit significantly. Gliding down over Soft Volcanic Rock I wish myself happy birthday again before skiing along. We glide effortlessly. What a lovely way to return to the sea! And what a pretty birthday present! Sam is happy. Finally, my pace is as fast as he wants it. For a while he allows me to lead on the dusty ski slope. I look back which one should not do in life too much. But on mountain hikes it is impressive to see the giants getting smaller and smaller. And see how the summit looks like a molehill from below, barely different from other hills. I almost forgot on which of the hills we were at the top. To make sure, I ask Sam. "The right one," he says. We walk for a kilometer over a plain in which pointed volcanic rocks push uncomfortably through the thin soles of my jogging shoes. Sam has taken the lead again. He shows me craters of various eruptions. From one still rises smoke, which smells of sulfur. A bit later, we cross a strip of lava that looks like Earth's rivers were flowing through here just a few months ago. "The Lava here stopped only in Limbe," explains Sam. The sparse primary vegetation is fascinating. I bend down deeply to find the right photo perspective. Thoughts on Shiva I think of Shiva, the God of destruction and rebirth. The Indian Gods embody the ambivalence of life. A picture of Kali, which I remember from a temple in Singapore, goes through my mind: Eating human beings, holding them in her hands, ripping of their heads with impressive teeth. She can not do otherwise as the goddess of death. At some moment we reach the savannah, the sea where the waves are made of grass. Mist wafts over the green sea. We walk a narrow path in the sea of grass where we do not see our feet. Painfully, my toes bump against hidden stones, which reminds me again of the meaning of solid hiking boots. The light shoes on my feet are just pleasant for the way up. In the Magic Forest We reach the forest where ferns grow into the sky like trees, as if I were in a land of giants. I like ferns as low shrubs, but even more as slender trees that form a dense roof up against the sky. From time to time, trees are connected by moss-grown lianas. The forest looks old almost eternal and is decaying nevertheless. The impression of decay comes from the fact that there are no foresters clearing the dead trees. Mother Nature is left alone. Apart from wandering tourists with guides and porters whose footprints would hardly attract attention unless they were not ruthlessly emphasized by plastic garbage. But the garbage that is visible every few feet destroys the dignity of the old forest! It's like someone sticking a tag labeled "used" on the jacket of an old man. When my feet hurt almost unbearably, we reach camp two. We are still in the forest and thus protected from the wind. Robinson sets up my tent. Sam cooks spaghetti in a blackened brick shack. The night at about 2400 meters is warmer than the last one. But the silence has become inaudible.
Day 3 Return to civilization The next morning I manage to take a lovely photo of a little bird. My photographer's heart sends me showers of happiness. The first few kilometers are through the forest again. In the early afternoon we reach the first houses of Buea, which should not be here after the days on the mountain. I feel that I don´t like civilization anymore. Robinson and Sam congratulate me for my summit success. I invite them for a beer. As we exchange phone numbers, I think of the minutes of silence in Camp 1 and look up gratefully to where the mountain has covered itself with clouds. When I say goodbye, I avoid groaning because of my aching thighs. My hands are burned by the sun. In order not to appear too wimpy, I shoulder my backpack and walk to a hotel, although my mountain guides suggest a taxi. The shower becomes a wonderful experience.