September 27 (Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda) —
After crossing the border into Rwanda, we had a down day before more gorilla trekking so we decided to hike one of the nearby volcanoes, thinking it wouldn’t be that hard. We failed to account for the young Germans in our hiking group.
The Virunga Mountains are a series of volcanoes on the border of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo. Our objective was to hike to the crater lake at the top of Mt. Bisoke at 3,711 meters high. Our day would entail approximately 1200 meters in elevation gain.
Throughout our trip so far, we have been the youngest and fittest in our trekking groups (or alone with just the armed guides on the Buhoma-Nkuringo hike). Typical gorilla trekkers are at least a decade older than us, which has meant that the hiking, while sometimes difficult due to mud and rocks, has not been that taxing because of the slow-ish pace of the groups.
For our hike of Mount Bisoke, the tables were turned. We were the oldest by far in our group of eight hikers. The pace was set early by the two youngest members of the group, both 25-year-old German men. One was named Stefan. The other was not.
In addition to the two Germans, there were four lovely Polish hikers (also in their early/mid 20’s) who joined us along with a guide and a platoon of Rwandan Army soldiers toting big guns. The guide, Feliciane, informed us that the fastest he had made it to the top was 1.5 hours. He anticipated that our group would make it in less than 2 hours. This apparently set the challenge for the Germans who seemed determined to set a world record.
We didn’t even try to keep up with Stefan and Not-Stefan on the uphill. Their pace was brutal. The views were gorgeous and we, along with our new Polish friends, enjoyed them.
We were chuffed that we got to the top in just under 2 hours.
Stefan and Not-Stefan had already been at the lake for a bit, but we only saw Not-Stefan when we arrived. We soon realized that Stefan had taken off in an attempt to circumnavigate the crater before we all got there. We soon learned that it was impossible to make it around the crater without crossing the border – and dropping down a fair bit – into the Congo and, thus, some of the soldiers had taken off after Stefan. We ate our lunch while watching the drama unfold. After a while, Stefan was marched back down to our picnic spot, flanked by three soldiers who kept him under a watchful eye.
We then started the descent. Here, being older and wiser benefitted us. Foot placement was key to avoid slipping and this turned out not to be Stefan or Not-Stefan’s strong suit. Watching Not-Stefan slip and slide and watching Stefan suffer on the descent bonded the soldiers, the Poles, Feliciane, and us. By the time we reached the bottom, the Germans were well behind the rest of us. A storm was rolling in, and I learned the Polish words for storm and lightning. At the trailhead, Stefan and not-Stefan stumbled in, last. David and I taught the Rwandans the German word, schadenfreude.
It was a super fun day on which we again felt fortunate that no forest elephants were seen and an international incident was avoided.