Written August 26, 2013
On our third day in Volcanoes National Park we tackle the climb up Mt Bisoke, elevation 3711 meters (just over 12,000ft). While not the highest in the volcanic chain – that honor goes to Mt Karisimbi at 4507 meters requiring a 2 day trek to reach the summit – it is challenging nonetheless.
The morning started much like the previous 2 for the golden monkey and gorilla treks. We were picked up by our driver at 6:30AM and taken to the park office to meet our guide Edward and the rest of our group (6 others from Germany) and then driven to the trailhead, located in a small village at the base of the mountain about a 30-45 minute drive from the park office. Once there we arranged for a porter, a very good idea, and finally started up the trail at 9AM.
The hike first crosses the village and the neighboring farmland to reach the stone wall that surrounds the national park. This is also the starting point for several of the gorilla treks.
Past the stone wall it’s a steep ascent, starting at 2500 meters and climbing 1200 meters in about 5 K according to our guide Edward. These days the trail is well maintained and paved with sandbags along previously muddy areas, actually forming steep stairs in some sections. One of the Germans, a biologist who had summited Mt. Bisoke several times, commented that the trail was in much better condition than it had been in the past.
The open jungle is pretty with occasional views of the valley below, although on this sunny day a hazy sky obscured some views of the surrounding volcanic peaks.
At 2967 meters the trail splits, with the left branch leading to the grave site of Dian Fossey, of Gorillas in the Mist fame, and the right climbing to the summit.
After a longer break to eat a little something we continue on with the guide, porters and armed escort.
All is going well until suddenly the altitude hits me. At one point I black out after standing up too quickly from a crouched position. I realize that I might be suffering from altitude sickness and climb about another 200 meters. When I begin to feel nauseous I decide that it just isn’t worth it. The guide kindly sends me back down the mountain with an armed guard. My head immediately clears as we descend.
Looking back, despite drinking what I thought was tons of water, I was most likely dehydrated. Ironically Edward had told me earlier in the hike that I was drinking too much water. He further explained that because he is asthmatic he never drinks any water before reaching the summit. His advice, albeit interesting, is in direct conflict with everything I had read previously, i.e. drink lots of water and stay hydrated.
Hali, my travel companion, continues on with the others and summits in about another hour. All in all about 4 hours up and 2 hours down.
Back at the parking lot a group of pygmies play a reggae style of music while two young boys dance for the tourists returning from the gorilla treks. Although I enjoyed the music and dancing and gave the old woman some money, I discovered from talking to a couple of locals at the trailhead that some Rwandans feel this is a form a begging that encourages laziness.
Alex, our driver, explains to me that the Rwandan government had given this group of formerly nomadic people who hunted in the national park land to farm and animals to raise. Instead of using these resources to earn a living they ate the animals and left the land to find easier sources of income. Hence they travel around and dance for the tourists.