Climbing Mount Cameroon
West Africa’s highest peak
Climbing Mount Cameroon was the quickest multi-day mountain trek I’ve ever organized, putting to bed the idea that some countries in Africa are bureaucratically slow. Having pitched up unannounced at the Mount Cameroon Inter-Communal Ecotourism (Mount CEO) Board building in Buea, and deposited some excess weight in their storeroom (legally requisite porters are only allowed to carry 15 kilos, my bag was more like 20), I’ve met my local guide and was on my way.
At 4,090 meters (or 13,000 feet), it may not reach the heady heights of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, but still sees those on its slopes ascend 3,000m from sea-level over the course of three days and two nights. Locals call Mount Cameroon “Mongo ma Ndemi”, the mountain of greatness.
Mount Cameroon’s no longer a dormant volcano either. More than 100 cinder cones line the flanks of the typical cone-shaped main crater. The last outflow of lava occurred in 2012. The trek begins through an area of village small-holdings containing yam and maize, the staples of almost all meals, but we’ve entered under the shade of the trees just 200 vertical meters from Buea. The rough path doesn’t faze the runner coming down the mountain, training for the annual Race of Hope mountain marathon.
The atmosphere remains close until we break through the tree line after three hours of walking on an increasingly steep path where it is sometimes hard to find obvious footholds. I don’t want to move on from the thin gnarled trunk of the so-called magic tree, a 500 year old sole survivor at this altitude, but know I have to make it to the blue-grey hand-sawn clapboard planks of hut two where I’ll spend the night. They are covered with the charcoal scrawling of those who have come before me.
With Samuel’s help I reach the narrow flat-topped summit after just a couple of hours of walking the next morning. We made it! The sense of accomplishment is overwhelming. Tired and mildly torn, we don’t stay long to celebrate this feat, as the wind is viciously cold. However, the feeling you get from achieving something like this is always reward enough!
Heading back down, the route begins on a slope of almost pure black scree leftover from the last volcanic eruptions, where I slip and slide, past blowholes stinking of sulphur, gravity doing most of the work for once. Then we come to a wide strip of loose lava stone, the land around still barren save for a few pioneer plants of vibrant green. The ground doesn’t become colonized by starchy tufts of tussock grass for hours to come.
By lunchtime the following day Samuel and I are leaving the trees again, reaching the tarmac road, and are soon back in the centre of Buea, tired, happy, relieved I’ve made it. ‘The others didn’t think you would make it’ says Samuel. ‘I say no, you are strong. I have seen it.’
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
The nearest international airport is in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city. Buea is roughly three hours driving time from Douala. The roads are in good tarred condition, but driving standards leave a lot to be desired. Hire cars available at the airport and public transport in the form of minibuses, shared taxis and private taxis.
Do – Activities & Attractions
The main highlight is going to be trekking here, though for those perhaps a little less inclined to make the trek, there are a few tourist shops in the area which can help organize day trips and sightseeing in the surrounding area. The main focus for visitors coming here, however, is climbing Mount Cameroon.
Stay – Accommodation
Accommodation on the mountain is in a combination of (very) basic unheated huts and tents. The two most respected lodgings in Buea are the Presbyterian Church Synod Office, close to the Mount CEO office, and the Paramount Hotel. Both are basic, but used to trekkers, with single/double bedrooms that are with/without private bathrooms.
Eat – Restaurants
The Paramount has a good value bar and restaurant, and there are plenty of places on Buea’s main street. Look out for ndolé, the local specialty, a spicy stew of spinach-like greens, meat, fish and peanut paste. You are responsible for your own food on the mountain. Instant noodles are easy to find in local shops.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
It’s possible to trek all year round, but northern hemisphere winter is considered the time of year with less clouds. Many seek to avoid climbing Mount Cameroon during the heavy rains of summer, as Douala is one of the most humid places on Earth any time of year.
Safety – Possible risks
Though Mount Cameroon is a rope-less climb where no special skills are required other than a good level of fitness and strong dose of determination, trekking on any mountain is intrinsically a risky experience.
There is no major risk of theft, however, as in any developing nation muggings/thefts do occur. Be particularly careful after dark (away from the mountain), and consider using taxis in big cities at night. You need to carry photographic identification at all times in Cameroon.
Corruption is considered a problem, but this affects locals far more than visitors. I was never asked for money. Slandering the long-term president can see you imprisoned.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Costs change regularly, so this is a rough outline. This trekking package to climb Mount Cameroon costs roughly $150. Additionally, expect to spend around $60 a day for the basics (food, accommodation, public transport) while in Cameroon.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Climb Mount Cameroon with a responsible company such as Mount CEO. The organization is a not-for-profit providing portering and guide jobs to the men of 12 villages situated in the vicinity of Mount Cameroon while protecting the mountain from over-development. It’s these guys who issue the all-important trekking permit, a piece of paper regularly checked on the hike. Leave no waste on the mountain.
A generally conservative country, dress appropriately (no short shorts for example), and always address elders and strangers with respect.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Climbing Mount Cameroon is no stroll in the countryside. It requires a good level of physical fitness, enough to walk for 6-8 hours per day for 3 or more days over rough ground, though a porter will be responsible for carrying your bag. The lure of the mountain of greatness might just be the motivation you need to get to that level.
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For general information on Cameroon try the Bradt travel guide to the country. For a historical perspective, Mary Kingsley’s 1897 Travels in West Africa is enthralling with a section in which Kingsley describes her ascent of the mountain, making her the first European woman to do so.
Have you climbed Mount Cameroon or any other multi-day treks to summit a mountain-top? Where were you and how did you do?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!