Exhausted and beat on a Ugandan mountain – Ruthie calls for the African helicopter

Like the cavalry, they came, 12 men running down the slippery, slick, muddy mountain

Being in the midst of the gorillas proved to be a magical hour for our writer. Ruth Atherley

Uganda – It never occurred to me that my dream of hiking with silverback gorillas would end with me being carried off the mountain in what is basically a wicker basket.

The mountain beat me.

I had been dreaming of a hike to see the silverback gorillas for years. I read hundreds of articles and blog posts. I watched dozens of YouTube videos. I worked out. I broke in new hiking boots. I prepared and then prepared some more. And I dreamt of the day when I would meet a silverback on his turf – in the Ugandan mountains of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

The mountains of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Ruth Atherley

As I researched, I saw rescues – what locals affectionately call the “African Helicopter” – where people who can’t make it are carried out in a contraption that is part wicker basket, part hammock, and part Cleopatra’s throne. (I know, wrong African country – but the description is accurate.)

I thought: “No freakin’ way is that happening to me. I am Ruthie, Queen of the Gorillas. I am more prepared than anyone has ever been in the history of the world.”.
Well, the universe has a wicked sense of humour… And I think she likes to smack down that kind of overconfident bull crap. So, there I was – waiting for my own wicker basket.

What the universe may have momentarily overlooked is that I too have a sense of humour and this moment turned out to be the perfect ending to an absolutely incredible day. It’s right up there in the top three adventure experiences of my life – right behind cage diving with great whites and sitting 15 feet away from a silverback gorilla.

However, just to be clear, dear Universe – I learned my lesson about the overconfidence part. There is no need to come back and teach it to me again. I’m good. Really.

Let me explain how this all went down.

On gorilla hikes, you typically go out for three to five hours – and that includes an hour with the gorillas. Our group of hikers – nine of us – spent 11 hours ascending and descending two mountains in search of the gorillas. It felt more like a Navy SEAL training exercise than a tourism attraction.

The other groups that had gone out that morning had found their gorillas straightaway, by 1:30 pm they were back at their hotels, sipping cold beer, and reliving their adventure.

It turns out that our gorillas had gotten into a scuffle with another gorilla family that morning and had retreated way up the other side of the mountain. So off we went – all happy and ready for what we all figured would be a moderately-difficult hike.

We were wrong – so very, very wrong! Looking back, I swear I could hear the universe laughing at us. At the time, I just thought it was the wind.

The trek began at 9 am and finished at 8 pm. Along with one hour with the gorillas, we stopped for two 20-minute breaks, when the trackers were trying to locate the gorillas, and had quick one-minute rests here and there throughout the day.

Finding the gorillas proved to be a day long trek. Ruth Atherley

Bwindi’s topography is rugged with narrow valleys intersected by rivers and steep hills. Elevations range from 3,904 to 8,553 feet above sea level, and 60 percent of the park has a height of more than 6,600 feet. This hike was – literally – breathtaking.

It was pouring rain, it was muddy, and it was messy. So very messy. We tracked the gorillas – straight up, straight down, and all around the mountains.

We had rangers, who are highly skilled professionals, and we had porters – locals who came on the hike to carry our backpack and assist.

The rangers hacked down brush, with machetes, trying to find any route over fallen branches, roots, loose rocks and stinging nettles – with our group following behind.

Think of the Grouse Grind – the same vertical, but no stairs, no footpath – just thick, angry vegetation everywhere. It wraps around your ankles, pulls you down and doesn’t let go.
And this mountain is four times as high as Grouse.

The rangers on the trek with us work for the gov’t Uganda Wildlife. Ruth Atherley

I saw several telling glances between the rangers and wondered if all of our efforts would be for nothing. That was a concern that seemed to float (unspoken) around us as we climbed.

Did I mention the mud? I was scared to walk down the more vertical parts because they were so steep and slick. So I slid down them. I ripped my pants and bruised my bottom (not to mention my ego).

The rangers – who I had become buddies with – were doubled over in laughter at my quirky way down the mountain. But, I decided, I am Ruthie, Queen of the Gorillas. I can go down the mountain any dang way I please. And I did – cheeks first.

(Thank goodness the mosquitoes and the biting red ants didn’t like the muddy mountain that day. That might have been too much to handle.)

One wrong step and I was falling down the side of the mountain – grasping anything I can get a hold of to stop myself. Getting back up isn’t that easy either. The forest floor is tricky – there were times I thought I was on semi-steady ground, but all of a sudden, my foot would slide through the underbrush and I would fall to my knees in prickly vines with the intention of keeping me there. I must have fallen a dozen times.

My husband ended up setting the pace for the hike. He was so far out ahead that the rangers affectionately nicknamed him “Silverback.” Later, they told me it was because, with his grey hair, he looked like the mighty mountain gorilla as he moved at a fast pace up the mountain, with two 25-year-olds right behind him. I was just behind them (a fact of which I am quite proud), keeping pace with the 30-35 age group (I’m older than that). Three others – a 40-something guy and a 65ish-year-old woman and man – were bringing up the rear.

The gorillas went this way. So, we hiked back up and over and down again. The gorillas went that way… well, you get the picture. The gorillas moved around a lot. We followed. And the universe laughed.

My thoughts cascaded from “what an incredible experience” to “I want to cry” to “I wonder if we have chips back at the hotel” to “I am Ruthie, Queen of the Gorillas!” to “I wonder if any tourist has ever died on this mountain and will I be the first?” to “next vacation, I think we should just go to a beach.” The committee in my head was on overdrive. I just let them talk while I put one foot in front of the other.

After five hours, we finally saw our gorillas. It was incredible. We had some difficulty perching on a skinny ledge about eight inches wide, but it gave us an amazing view of them. At one point, Christmas, a big 180 kg silverback, was right beneath me, about 4 meters away – straight down. If I slipped, I would have ended up in his lap.

Silverback gorillas are mostly ground dwellers but they can climb trees. Ruth Atherley

He looked right into my eyes. My heart filled up with joy, and I was reminded why I embarked on this crazy adventure. That moment was worth every painful step, bruise and aching muscle.

Our hour with the gorillas passed like it was five minutes.

It was just after 3 pm and the sun sets behind the mountains at around 6. It would be dark at 7 and pitch black by 8.

To get off the mountain and back to the ranger office before nightfall, we had to take a route that was even more challenging. I didn’t think that was possible, but there was no other way out.

As I put one foot in front of the other, I wondered: whose stupid idea was this anyway? And I remembered: it was mine. I wondered if my husband still loved me.

It was now close to 6 p.m. The sun was setting and we were still deep in the Impenetrable Forest.

We had another couple of hours to go – straight up the mountain – and we were struggling. It was getting colder, I was soaking wet, and I was really, really tired. Every muscle in my body ached.

My legs began to shake with each step. I slid into a creek that I was trying to leap across. My foot got stuck ankle-deep in the mud at another stream. I was so exhausted that when I slipped, I couldn’t recover my balance – so I fell. I slipped a lot.

Taking a deep breath, I acknowledged to myself that I couldn’t continue. I also took a moment to feel a little embarrassed about that. I mean, the 25-year-olds were going to finish, the 30-somethings were going to finish – heck, even my “Silverback” was going to finish – and I trained for this more than anyone on the hike.

Feeling defeated, I said to the head ranger: “The mountain has beaten me.”

He smiled compassionately and said: “African helicopter?” I nodded. He called.

It was at this moment that my day took a turn back to amazing.

Like the cavalry, they came, 12 men running down the slippery, slick, muddy mountain in flip-flops.

Every single one of them came up to say hello to me as I got into the wicker basket contraption.

My $200 hiking boots were of no help to me, but they wore flip-flops to save the day. And not one of them slipped. I thought that was the most incredible thing, until they loaded me up and ran up the mountain carrying me!

This was one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life.

I had the best view of the forest. I could see far and wide. I was Ruthie, Queen of the Gorillas once again.

My only regret is that my iPhone was in my backpack – which was with my porter (who was also running up the mountain with the rescuers). I wish I had video of what I saw from the African helicopter. It was the perfect ending to an insane day! Maybe it was even a make-up gift from the universe.

When they set me down at the park office, each of the men who carried me shook my hand. Of course, first they had to help me out of the basket – and that was no easy feat either. By then, my muscles had seized up. I am sure that it was quite a sight. I had tears in my eyes as I thanked them.

The African helicopter service is $300 USD, and worth every penny. With 12 young men as my team, payment came to $25 each. To carry a human being up the side of a mountain – running – for an hour.

My day in the Ugandan mountains with the gorillas will go down as one of the hardest, most amazing and most incredibly frustrating days of my life. It was magical.

Even though I got carried out, I lasted 10 hours. I’ve decided that makes me kind of badass.

Looking back, as difficult as it was, I wouldn’t change a thing. If it hadn’t been as hard as it was, these incredible young men wouldn’t have carried me up the mountain. And that was an experience worth having.

*A total of four hikers (including me) were carried out in African helicopters that day.

Источник: Vancouversun.com

Источник: Corruptioner.life

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