Dawn had not yet broken, but I certainly felt that I was; broken that is. A glance at the bottle I had been imbibing from the night before pulled a groan from my lips and made my head pulse. I was still feeling the effects from the whiskey, but feared terribly the imminent hangover that threatened. Going to bed relatively early could not prevent that, when my sorry 26er accused me of my indulgences. Five AM seemed extraordinarily punishing for my transgressions though.
No matter, it was rise and shine. Time to face the day and ready myself for the hike ahead of us. The plan; to hike into Chimanimani National Park and camp for two nights in the wilds. I showered with the false hope that this would somehow make me feel more human. While it didn’t hurt, it only served to make me more presentable to my fellow group of hikers. Of course we all were a little ragged from our evening on the piss the night before, but we were still game for adventure, so piled into the vehicle to head out.
We arrived at base camp shortly thereafter and signed in. It was policy that you signed in when entering the park and advise the office of how long you would be staying. If you were late to return, search parties would be sent out to look for you. Despite feeling a little disconcerted by this news, we advised them we would be gone two nights and paid park fees accordingly. From here we would continue by foot, as there were no vehicles allowed in the park. Our trek began.
Our rag-taggle group included Oliver, Rob, Miki and myself, plus a group of three other travelers from the lodge. Later, we would also meet up with three other Canadians, but for now; Allen fashioned himself as our leader and directed our route with arrogant aplomb. I was happy to fall into the pack, slugging at my water bottle for all I was worth.
While the climb up started reasonably enough, it gradually took a steeper and steeper incline the higher we went. I found myself lagging further behind and noticed my breathe had become labored. I remembered stories that my Mother told of her asthma as a young woman and wondered if I too had miraculously developed this affliction while trying to scale these mountains. Mt Binga, the highest peak in the range that spanned over 50 kilometres, measured in at 2,437 m or 7,993 ft, which might as well have been to the moon and back for me at that point. My friends that had occasionally stalled to wait for me, soon disappeared and I struggled on by myself. I stumbled and cursed this vile idea of a nice easy hike that would leave me with my heart sprung open on the side of a mountain. I wanted to stop, lay down and die. There was no going back though. By now we were miles from base camp and I was all alone in the universe, but for the buzzards that swung lazily over my head.
Finally, I found myself clinging to a rock wall. My fingers clutched at hidden niches in the craggy face of boulders. My backpack threatened to pull me off into oblivion, but I gasped and heaved and swung myself up onto a ledge. I stood panting, cursing my body, the mountains, the world, then my gaze flicked down to the world beneath me. Within the panorama, I spied my fellow hikers way down the hill, sitting below a boulder patiently waiting for me. I went limp, then burst into hysterical laughter. The mountain had beaten me and forced more out of me than I thought I had. I had survived though.
After catching my breathe, I made my way down to my friends. The worst of the climb was behind us, as was the worst of my hangover. Chugging back more spring-fed water nourished my body and soul and with that we re-grouped and headed out again. Before long we were pushing through chest-high grasses on a level plateau. The rock cairns that had directed our path became harder to see, but we finally made our way through the field and spied our home for the night. A short scramble up a little rocky path led to the yawning mouth of a cave.
We would spend the next two nights bedding down in this serene cave lit by the stars and moon, and nourished by a stream that gurgled at the back of our dark chasm. Arriving on the little ledge, I gladly threw off my pack in order to investigate. The caves were frequently utilized by hikers and there was grass strewn about for bedding purposes. A make-shift fire pit was in evidence as well. With the stream handy for fresh water to drink and cook with, we had all the comforts of home. After a hard day of climbing, I fell into an exhausted sleep with a smile that played across my lips with my triumph.
The next two days filled me with indescribable bliss while exploring this magical place. We woke to cold and mist, but luxuriated in the quiet of this world. From my sleeping bag, I could see the surrounding grasses and rocky hills that encircled us. Tranquil repose filled our morning on the stony ledge, but with the mid-day sun burning off the mist, we headed a little further afield for some more hiking. The most delicious meal of our combined canned potatoes, tomatoes, brown beans, veggies, udon noodles, a handful of rice and curry seasoning hit a high note in my culinary books on our return. Our communal meal and breaking of bread was like a prayer in this little piece of God’s country. Even the trek back down the mountain could not break the spell that I was under. Stopping to drink from a crystal clear stream, reminded me of the pristine beauty of this African park that I was privileged to call home for two nights. I might have broken, but Chimanimani put me back together again