Our week spent in the mountains of the moon was exactly that, out of this world. Hardly a hour went by without a ‘wow’ view and not a day without a complete change of scenery. Starting down in the lush jungle we climbed through bamboo forest, walked over plateaus with more variations of green, yellow and rusty red that I knew existed. We skirted past high altitude lakes until eventually the fairytale afro alpine zone with its giant mutant plant life was stripped to the bone by ice and snow, and only the wind and rocks remained.
In my life their has been some amazing walks of which the highlight must include a thousand or so kilometers down the east coast of Africa and 3 months in virgin Congo forest , but walking has always been equated with physical exertion. It took me a few days to settle into the slow pace of the mountains but when I finally did I realized I have been missing a key component of the activity. The physical stuff is all well and good but perhaps for the first time in my life, I walked without anything to prove to myself and I was already where I wanted to be.
Seven years ago I was part of the first team to snowboard the glaciers of the equator, or more accurately the first man to roll down the mountain with a board strapped to his feet. Surprisingly 5000m was not the ideal place for my first lesson. This time I would be part of the first team to kayak Africa’s highest mountain range.
We had all kinds of weather and usually in a 2 hour period, but the heavy rains stayed away until our decent started. Within a hour of the last hut the path had been turned into a stream at times waist deep, giving us a final little challenge and preparing optimal water levels for us on the Bujuku river.
The only question was whether we would put in before or after the ridiculously steep section or after. My vote was for lower down, with thick jungle and a steep gorge I suspected long hard portages that would eat up days we could spend on the more promising propositions on our great African kayak extravaganza.
Ben bit his lip and tried not to look devastated when Chris also voted for lower down. As I am learning rapidly he is not one for half measures, an attitude that is as challenge for me as expedition leader tasked with everyone’s safety as it is inspiring on a personal and professional level. Where we put in it still looked plenty steep enough. It had been 3 years since I had kayaked on a creek and I was aware that I would be the weak link. A turnaround from the’ Murch’ section where the guys must have had similar doubts.
After a quick reminder that this is the life I have chosen, I adjusted my elbow guards, said a quick prayer and got ready to take my medicine. Watching Chris glide ahead like he was walking though the mall, made me feel even more agricultural. It was hard to tell if there were many medium sized rapids or just one really, really long one. What was soon clear was that we had discovered a classic. This was no gimick run, this was the real deal and made for kayaking.
Before I knew it I was high fiveing like I was born in the states and I might even have slipped in a rail grab out of playfulness and given an air punch but no matter what Ben and Chris might suggest, I did not say ‘awesome’ even if it was that kind of day.