Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Zambia Part 3 - Mount Mumpu

I promised it and here it is, the sad tale that is ‘Nicola attempts to climb a mountain’. I had mentioned my concern about this particular aspect of the trip on posts before I left. The news that we had two options in descending the mountain – climbing through poo-infested bat cave or abseil sixty metres - did not fill me with glee but I comforted myself with the news that Zambia year 7 children do this climb so it couldn’t be that bad…..Right? WRONG! For one Zambian children are way more hardcore than adult human beings in the UK, of that I am VERY sure, and secondly this is me we are talking about- camping phobic, exercise repellent me. This was never going to go well.

But oh how badly it went! We started off the climb with a 6.5 kilometre walk through the bush to our campsite carrying our kit for three days, tents and climbing helmets. Think army boot camp. The kids, god bless them, slept under the stars but we were blessed with a tent and what a blessing it was. That particular side of the mountain experiences extremely irritating flies until sunset and then ‘mountain gales’ of really strong winds after dark.
The night before the climb, as we stared at each other apprehensively over the camp fire, our Zambian instructor took the opportunity to fill us in on why no locals lived in this particular bit of bush. They think the devil lives in the cave we were about to climb through. GREAT. The whistling winds and demonic stories left us less than giddy about the climb the next day which began at….5.30am!

Now not only am I categorically not an outdoors person I am also NOT a morning person. I hate early starts and have actually been known to rearrange holiday plans to have later flights and avoid the dreaded three am wake up call. So off we went, at 5.30am, in the dark to the foot of the mountain and began our climb. Strangely, as the sun came up was when things began to go from bad to worse. I was bringing up the rear of the group and they had reached a point to stop and admire the view which they assured me was amazing.
Now I blame what happened next partly on the altitude, partly on the fact that I had never been that high before and so really couldn’t have known how I was going to react and partly on the fact that my short little legs had already slipped countless times leaving me just a little tetchy. I reached the viewpoint, I turned around. I had a panic attack. Not just an ‘oh my, that’s high’ kind of panic attack. No. A full blown, ‘get me down from here, I genuinely think I’m going to die’ panic attack. From which I was roused with a shot of glucose. Shame face.

Once I had come round I was informed, very kindly, of my options. Keep climbing or stay where I was. As the height was already freaking me out and I didn’t want to leave poor Ben with solo charge of the group I opted for continuing to climb but just not looking back. Ever. The rest of the climb was not my most dignified moment, lots of being pushed up rocks that, honest to God, no one of under 5ft 5 could ever hope to climb until we finally reached the summit. 6000ft up. Now from what I’ve heard the point of mountain climbing is the enjoyment of the view from the summit. This doesn’t really work when you’ve discovered a big ol’ fear of heights. You’re more just wondering how on earth you are going to get back down.

We all made it! And celebrated by impersonating meercats at the summit. I'm the one still in my helmet fearing for my life...
You would think that things couldn’t get much worse from here. Oh how I chuckle at you naïve optimism! It got MUCH worse. As I was descending the mountain, which was much harder than ascending oddly, I found that the only way to stop spending the majority of the time clutching the side of the mountain in horror was to slide down on my bum. This was all going as well as it could until I realised my trousers had caught on a rock and pretty much the entire bum portion of my trousers now had an enormous hole across it.

The trousers....
I swiftly wrapped a jumper round my waist to cover my dignity and within minutes we were at the site of the abseil - the 60 metre, off the edge of a cliff, into the abyss with 30 meter drift through nothing but thin air abseil. AND you can’t abseil with a jumper wrapped round your waist. You have to be unfettered by dignity saving devices and descend, in my case, with underpants to the wind. Think Bridget Jones sliding down the fireman’s pole. More shame face.

After a lengthy rummage in the first aid kit I found some safety pins and at least managed to partly reassembly my trousers before being harnessed up. Of course this turn of events was particularly hilarious for the team. We were the first visiting group to ever do the abseil so as each member of the team descended over the edge into the abyss they called out their own personal first, think ‘I’m the first 16 year old to do this abseil!’, ‘I’m the first female student to do this abseil!’etc. And what did they give me? ‘I’m the first Vicar-to-be to do this abseil with her bum hanging out!’ Thanks guys.

Abseil I did, and hated every minute of it, but finally, twelve hours after setting off, we arrived back to camp thirsty, exhausted and in quite some degree of pain. The next day, and after another 6.5k walk, we arrived at base camp and were treated to the best tasting coke of my life and a trip to the waterfalls. Never has washing been such bliss. I was restored to some semblance of my former self and awarded myself a couple of hardcore points for actually finishing the climb.

The waterfalls, the best swim of my life!
And that is the story of my one and only (please God!) mountain climb. Told you it was a good ‘un!


  1. Oh Maud, this is bad! Poor you! But WELL DONE you for doing it!


  2. hahaha laughing out loud!!! in sympathy with you of course ;)
    well done you though! I almost had a panic attack climbing up a rock in cornwall that was just a few hundered feet! I was so paranoid my duaghter was going to fall off I made her stop and we went back! so well done you :0