Mountain hiking takes root with Seven Summits Africa Hiking Challenge

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The team of mountaineers at Volcanoes National Park in Kinigi before embarking on the expedition. / Courtesy

“Today we start our second mountain hike out of our seven summits challenge, and Mt. Karisimbi is one of the mountains we’re taking on,” declared a beaming Sally Grierson from 7 Summits Africa.

This was on the morning of Thursday, November 9, at the Rwanda Development Board Base Camp located at the Volcanoes National Park in Kinigi, Musanze District.

Usually, this is the set off point for bands of gorilla tracking tourists in the Volcanoes National Park, but the day’s mission was to hike Mt. Karisimbi, located within the park.

It is part of a wider project dubbed the Seven Summits Challenge, under which a team of nine mountaineers from 7 Summits Africa will be climbing a record seven mountain summits located with the East African region as a single expedition.

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Carel Verhoef, the team leader talks to journalists before embarking on the hike. / Courtesy

Carel Verhoef, another of the mountaineers on the expedition explained that the main idea behind the 7 Summits Africa Project is to harness the region’s mountain hiking options and market it to the world as a single tourism product.

He further revealed that the expedition will not be limited to only climbing mountains but also showcasing alternative wildlife experiences besides the mountains.

The entire project (climbing the mountains and visiting national parks in between) will run for forty-nine days.

Earlier at the launch of the project at the Kigali Serena Hotel on November 3, Belize Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board had said; “We are happy to welcome this specific group of tourists to Remarkable Rwanda as their ultimate hiking package fits strategically with our long-term goal to continue expanding our tourism industry, especially the adventure segment and establish the East African region as the world’s destination of choice for unforgettable experiences and highest standards of service whilst protecting our biodiversity.”

Standing at a majestic 4,507 meters, Mt. Karisimbi was the group’s second hiking stop after Nyiragongo.

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One of the mountaineers poses for a photo with a park warden. / Courtesy

After hiking Karisimbi, the group will head to Kenya for their third and fourth hiking adventure (Mt. Kenya and Mt. Meru), before connecting to Uganda, where hiking itineraries have been arranged on Mt. Stanley and Mt. Speke. The last leg of the expedition will be on Lake Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“The climb in Nyiragongo was very amazing. We’ve seen pretty much everything that this region has got to offer. It’s just exciting and makes you want to keep on going. That’s why we’re excited to be going up Mt. Karisimbi today,” explained Sibusiso Vilane, a South African mountaineer that is part of the expedition.

“It’s my first time hiking a mountain in Rwanda and it’s very exciting already. I woke up this morning to very pretty and stunning views so I can’t really wait to go and climb. My expectations are quite simple. I’m just here to see what Rwanda has got to offer, that’s why I walk with my eyes open.

My expectations are quite diverse. It’s not just about the mountains – it’s about the people as well, and everything that Rwanda has got and that it can offer people like us coming from other parts of the world,” Vilane added, before vowing to be back in Rwanda for a similar hiking expedition next year.

“I think people are very surprised to learn that there are even mountains in Africa, let alone high ones like Karisimbi. So we accepted to give it a try and try to reach the summit,” Sally Grierson explained.

“Mountain energy is a very powerful thing and I love it. Sometimes you cry because it’s very emotional, but it’s always a challenge. I think that mountains are a very good analogy for life. You can’t do it alone. You need a team and I believe that team work helps you do it, and the more we all work together, not just one mountain we’ll all be stronger.”

Prosper Uwingeli; the Chief Park Warden at Volcanoes National Park encouraged especially Rwandans to partake of the country’s mountain hiking options.

“We have many Rwandans who are taking up hiking here at Volcanoes National Park especially Mt. Bisoke which has got a crater lake. But I would really encourage more people to come and even compete to climb the highest mountain of Rwanda because it’s a big achievement and it’s historic. As you go you enjoy the trail, trees, there’s a lot of nature interpretation around the park.”

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Prosper Uwingeli, the chief park warden at Volcanoes National Park talks to one of the hikers moments before the start of the expedition. / Courtesy

The hiking expedition consists of nine team members, and a support staff of about the same size, all of who made it to the top of Mt. Karisimbi.

“Our expectation is that it’s going to be tough. This is the beginning of November, which is the onset of rains so we have a bit of snow right at the top of Mt. Karisimbi. So obviously it’s going to be tough and pretty wet.”

“Mountaineering is pretty new to Africa but globally it is 300 years old. The main aim is for us to bring international mountaineers into Africa and to showcase Africa’s mountains because there’s this perception out there that mountains in Africa are easy and not really high enough.

“But there are some technical peaks that we will showcase and there are some real challenging mountains in East Africa,” Verhoef added.

He compared mountain hiking to any other activity that humans take on a day to day basis.

“Every day we walk and it’s part of our daily lives, whether it’s moving from the bed to the shower and climbing a mountain is just an extension of that.

You just have to put one foot in front of the other and take it one step at a time. Like anything else in life if you’re dedicated and concentrate on your goal you get to the top.”

Vilane concurs, “Hiking a mountain is like anything else you do in your day. Even if you go to work you’ve got that gear that suits the work you’re doing.”

“So as a hiker my job is to walk on rugged terrain and the gear that I’m wearing is suitable weather-wise – I’ve got waterproof boots, my trousers are water proof as well. All the gear we wear is such that we will be able to contend with the very quick changing weather conditions here.”

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The 7 Summits Africa team of mountaineers pose with park wardens before hiking the Karisimbi mountain. / Courtesy

The mountaineers further shared tidbits of information about the activity of mountain hiking:

“Mountains are very unpredictable when it comes to weather so the biggest thing about mountaineering is to be well prepared in terms of what you take with you – shelter, food, equipment to keep you dry and warm, boots, and a strong mind.

“Any mountain hike is probably 30 percent physical ability and 70 percent mental preparation,” Verhoef contends, adding that, “Mountains are incredible things. To some people a mountain is like a magnet – it attracts you.”

“And as humans we’ve always been curious and inquisitive and always have a drive to find out what is it like to be on top of any mountain. A mountain really challenges you and to get to the summit of a mountain is quite an emotional experience.”