I have always enjoyed hiking, and Musanze is a hiker’s paradise! Volcanoes National Park is huge, and people come from all over the world to hike its mountains and volcanoes. I had been interested in hiking Mount Bisoke for months before I came to Rwanda, and on my last week there I finally got to do it. I had to go on my own, however, because I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to hike the 8 hours with me.
I took a motorbike to Volcanoes National Park Headquarters to be there for 6:40am. It was very important that I be there early so that I could find other hikers to ride with. Luckily I made it there in time to meet a nice group of Belgians who were going to hike Mount Bisoke, and they said I was welcome to join them. Mount Bisoke is very close, so it was only about a 20 minute jeep ride away from the park headquarters.
Our group, the Belgians and I, started hiking after being briefed by our guide. Much like the gorilla trek, we were joined by many guards with guns and machetes ready to fight off buffalos and elephants. I went to the front of the group, and I intended to lead the 8 hour hike. I used to run 60 miles a week as a division 1 athlete, and I continue to exercise heavily now. I didn’t think that Mount Bisoke would be easy, but I thought it was definitely within my capabilities.
An hour into the hike, I started to doubt these assumptions I had made about myself. It had rained for over three hours the previous night in Musanze, so the mud was incredibly thick. It came up several inches past my ankles with every step. The hike was so steep that my legs were simply not long enough to make it up some of the steps, and I had to be pulled or dragged up by another hiker. After a while I found that crawling on my hands and knees was the more efficient method of hiking, but even this was exhausting.
I stood to the side and let some people pass me. I kept going, but 15 minutes later I had to stop and let others pass as well. This went on until I found myself almost at the back of the large group. The guards tried to encourage me by saying, “Believe what Obama said- ‘yes we can!’” But later they told me “we want to see me alive at the bottom,” and it would be best to turn back. Being the stubborn person I am, I refused and kept going. But when I was literally stuck in the mud 3 hours in I made the decision not to continue.
This was really devastating to me. I never quit anything, especially nothing athletic. I really wanted to see the crater lake at the top of the mountain, but it was clear I would not make it. The hike down was just as challenging as the way up. I had to have a guard holding each of my arms just to keep me upright.
This was of course a very humbling experience. Hiking Mount Bisoke was the hardest thing I have ever done. I gained a huge respect for the incredible guides and guards who do the hike everyday. I am in total awe of them. They even do it weighted down in heavy gear with backpacks. They don’t take breaks. They just trudge along and never complain. These guides and guards completely embody the meaning of “resiliency” and admire them so much.