Starting Altitude: 4,062 [13,327 ft.]
Ending Altitude: 4,062 (Summited Weismann’s Peak at 4,620 meters [15,157])
Total Climb: 558 meters [1,830 ft.]
Total Distance: 3.8 kms [2.4 miles]
Hours Taken: 4.5 hours
Camp: Bugata Camp
Accent Rate (Climb/Distance): 147 m/km.
The rain starts around mid-night and beats on the thick green plastic of the shelter. The sound resonates through the cabin, and keeps me tossing around in bed. Each drop of rain further fills of pit of concern that has formed in my belly. Half asleep and snuggled deep into my sleeping bag, I try and dream a reality where the sound outside could just be a biting alpine wind, but the pit in my stomach flashes images of being stuck waist deep in mud in the pre-dawn darkness.
I drift into consciousness multiple times in the night, waking in a panic that it is time to go and it is still pouring rain, and then the last time the nightmare is true. At 5:30 am, as if on autopilot, we start pulling over, strapping on, cinching, buttoning, and tying on layers and layers of gear, until I am wearing everything I have brought up the mountain.
The last element I strap on is a headlamp. Mine stopped working without explanation the night before, so I am wearing an extra one Bruno has prudently brought, and I am not familiar with it. I run my fingertip along the grooves in the hard plastic casing carefully, wondering how water resistant it is, and how difficult the reality of the next hour will be before the sunrises.
We open the door and the mountain strikes first, launching a violent gust of wind out of the darkness, and I am already cold. I see the silhouettes of Bernard and Zebede in the adjoining kitchen, huddled around smoldering charcoal in the stove, and Greene, the chef hustles some hot water for tea into the dining room and steaming aluminum bowls of oatmeal.
We sit in silence, slurping our tea, and scraping the bottom of our bowls loudly. It is apparent both of our minds are already somewhere up the mountain, and not focusing on the present. Bernard announces we will wait a while, and we stretch in the dim light of our headlamps trying to stay warm and loose in the biting darkness.
After an hour, I am freezing, and it is still raining and gusting wind, so I go back to curl up in my sleeping bag and fall asleep. However, the storm picks up, ripping open the door to the shelter, and shaking it like an earthquake. I jump up to secure the shelter, and for the first time I realize that there is a real chance we will not be able to summit. I had not let this possibility enter my thoughts until now, and the prospect is heavy, and depressing. What made us think these mountains of the moon would allow us to stand at their peaks anyways?
At 9:30 am the rains stop and the winds die down, and Bernard immediately wants us ready to go in five minutes. We bound out of the shelter, and down into the valley of lakes, wishing we could see the weather beyond the surrounding peaks, as we have no idea if we are trudging out into a quiet eye of the storm or if it has really passed.
The whole landscape has transformed into the crisp majestic roar after a spring melt. Every little ledge has become a waterfall, we leap over new gushing rivers, and the beds of moss on the ground now abscond knee deep puddles of freezing cold water. We hopscotch through the tussock meadows, and scramble up a river valley and are treated to a view of all three lakes in the valley.
The exertion warms me, and we hardly stop as our body temperatures drop immediately when we do. After a couple hours of scratching upwards, we pull ourselves up and over a final ridge, and see we are now just under Weismann’s peak. The mists are still heavy, and their moisture has created a stark barren environment of rock covered with black lichen like the seaweed around tide pools. It is eerie and quiet, except of the wind. We leave our walking sticks and start climbing over boulders and as we near the top, the black lichen becomes contrasted with patches of bright white equatorial snow.
It is beautiful, and we smile through our fatigue, and watch the mists intently whirlwind around us, momentarily exposing views of the jutting ridge of the Congolese border, and Mount Baker beyond it. We stay only long enough for a picture and a sandwich. As it starts snowing we melt it in our mouths and throw snowballs at each other, so excited to be in this equatorial arctic.
It snowed on us three times during our decent, and the third time, the snow turned into to rain as we passed through a thermocline. There was no way to stay warm or dry. I spent the afternoon focusing on each step down the slippery river valley, into the muddy meadows near our camp. I knew my feet were in bad shape and often I had to stop, wincing in pain when I exerted pressure directly on the wounds. When going through hell, you just have to keep going.