Climbing Mt. Mulanje (part 3)

Day 3 – The place not to be gone

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Bill and I are official members of the Malawian mountain club. In each cabin we stayed in, there was a locked closet full to the brim with cooking equipment. Being mountain club members, we have a key to access this closet. First thing Sunday morning, I got a pot out to boil our iodine tablet treated water, and we set to work on our breakfast of oatmeal, brown sugar, and cocoa. We ate quickly, with spoons, out of metallic mugs.

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A prayer was offered, a picture was taken, and we set out to conquer our peak. It’s the one seen above, immersed in a cloud. It would take 3 hours to get to the top, and we were instructed to leave our gear and walking sticks behind for this particular ascent.

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Chip set off, and we followed. The peak is named Sapitwa which means “the place not to be gone.” A name earned by taking the lives of a number of hikers over the years. I would consider renaming it to, “going here will feel like climbing a ladder.” But the added steepness was balanced out by not having to carry our heavy packs. Much of the two hours were spent using all 4 appendages to gain enough traction to make progress.

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About 30 minutes in, one member of our party tripped and hurt his knees. One knee was christened with a red badge of courage, and the other was christened with excruciating soreness. “I don’t know how I’m going to make it up this mountain” was his constant concern. We gladly slowed our pace to compensate, and the more difficult the climb got, the less we heard his mutterings. He plugged his iPod in, listened to a sermon, and man-handled his pain. I was proud of him.

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The last hour to the top was a mix of ducking under giant rocks, balancing on giant shaky rocks, and jumping from rock to rock. Every moment was an opportunity to take in a gorgeous view. Except for a 30 minute cloud that engulfed us and prohibited the sun from adding to our sunburnt bodies. But alas, we approached. I studied my feet as they took their final steps onto the highest point of Mt. Mulanje. The view was great, and so was the sense of accomplishment. But the best feeling was that all 5 of us made it.

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Only 15 minutes were spent at the top because we still had 6 more hours of hiking. It only took 2 to hike down from the peak. My dexterity quickly improved under the baptism by fire circumstances. Todd and I bolted ahead of our group to get back early and prepare lunch for everyone. We again devoured our food, and then took a dip in a nearby stream. The water was frigid, so we jumped in and out in rapid succession. The last guy to go in was not yet clothed when we heard a middle-aged asian couple approaching. He sat on the stone ground and covered the most crucial area with a hand towel. Unfortunately for him, our laughter did nothing but draw attention.

Once clothed, we spent another 4 pleasant hours on the trail. The hike from Chesepo cabin to Lechenya was comparably flat, and just as beautiful as ever. We arrived around 5PM, prepared a dinner using a strange combination of ingredients, and took “showers” using a cup and a bucket of water.

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That night Jake gave his testimony, he prayed, and we again fell asleep under the moon. I had the good fortune of having a terrible night sleep. By this I mean, I was awake at 2AM when the moon ducked behind the horizon, allowing the stars liberty to blaze forth in symphonic declaration.

Day 4 – Waterfall down

Our one goal today was to get home ASAP. Woody awoke at 4:30AM to prepare oatmeal delight, and tea for everyone. We were packed up, and on the trail by 6. There were two spectacular moments I witnessed that morning. The first was watching the suns rays peak over a mountain ridge to our right and take over the landscape tree by tree. The second moment was a break we took on the ledge of a mountain. James 4 was read, and we all gave our thoughts on the passage. Even Chip, and a porter had something to share. The simplicity of their faith was both evident and beautiful.

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Later that day, I asked Chip, “whose the most interesting person you’ve ever guided for?” I’m not sure he perfectly understood the question, but his response was roughly, “Well, for example, you are. I like guiding for you because you ask me questions, and we are able to share experiences with one another. Sometimes when I guide people, they don’t talk to me and it makes me feel like I’m not a human being.”

40 minutes before reaching our car, we stopped at a waterfall. Chip told us of a ledge that Kellen has been known to jump off. We all took the plunge, with the one characteristic omission of Woody “Danger” Granger. He photographed instead.

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We then re-clothed, hopped back onto the trail, and booked it to our car. Seeing the truck created a mixture of emotion. Happiness that we had dominated the mountain, and apprehension that we had another 6 hours to drive home. As we pulled away, we were again stopped on the side of the road by the same guys as before. Kellen had arranged to have them use their woodcarving expertise to make us some boxes and, in the process, pay back some loans. Have I mentioned that Kellen is the man?

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Much of the ride back we discussed the unfathomable provision we had for the weekend. God was so good to us.

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