Friday, March 11, 2011

The Bald Mountain

At least that's what its Karamojong name, Morungole, means. It's a good enough name since the summit is above the tree-line. Three years ago, I tried to climb Morungole with a friend but failed. We started too late in the morning and didn't have enough food and water. The rapid ascent, dehydration, and weakness exacerbated what should've been only minor effects from the altitude: I started getting a headache and tunnel vision. Disappointed at not reaching the top, we had to turn around and head back down.

At approximately 9000 feet above sea level, Morungole is the highest mountain in our district. From its lofty vistas you can see well into three countries: Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. The northern and western slopes of the mountain are claimed by Kidepo National Park, while the southern and eastern slops fall within a national forest. The Ik and Karamojong people who live on the mountain don't seem perturbed by this, though, and so far the government has let them stay. There they farm their potatoes, cabbages, corn, and beans, enjoying ample rainfall and bubbling brooks. Staying high on the mountain protects them from bush-dwelling marauders, though the distance between their villages and the foot of the mountain makes education for children and healthcare hard to get.

Where Morungole begins to rise from the valley floor, the land is covered in woodland forest. As the altitude increases, the ravines and gorges, carved out by streams over eons of time, are draped in rainforest, complete with towering hardwoods, vines, and moss-carpeted rocks.

On the upper slopes, the forest gives way to afro-alpine shrub-land, dotted with stands of Portuguese cypress clothed in moss and lichen.

With Amber gone to Kampala for a women's conference over the weekend, I took the chance to retry Morungole. I picked up an Ik friend and headed out to the village of Usake, at the foot of the mountain. A large group of people met us there, first to gawk at the foreigner speaking a few phrases in their language, and second to see what 'good things' they could get out of the foreigner.

Partway up the mountain, it started to rain through a shroud of cold mist. But since I was already soaked in sweat, I didn't mind at all. At each village we passed, we repeated the same act: greeting in Ik (met with stares and giggles of amazement), giving packets of salt as gifts, and trying to explain why I didn't want to take the night there (it was only mid-afternoon after all...but the people just don't understand what is so interesting about the top of a mountain). Our impromptu guide eventually lost the trail, or so he said, so we were forced to take the night in a village. The family we imposed upon was kind enough to offer us a hut all to ourselves, but all the same, the mice and rats made plenty sure I got no sleep.

Fortunately, high mountain air and adrenaline have a way of mitigating the effects of sleep deprivation. Following an old man and two young boys, we reached the summit of Morungole at 9:00 am that morning. At the rocky peak, if the 40-50 mph wind didn't do it, the view certainly could take your breath away.

Just below the peak, I thought to myself: "This is it. Today I am actually making it to the top!" It was a moment of personal victory and profound satisfaction. Now, whenever I glance over at that jagged-topped mountain from our home in Timu, I will remember the struggle and the victory. And that will be worth it all.


rln said...

Go TERRILL!!! so glad you made it and didn't get hurt or anything. beautiful pics. thanks!

The Reeds said...

Woo-hoo! You made it! Glad no tunnel vision and maybe the ratty night was good for aclimatizing (?) is that even a word??


ChadandRachel said...

Where there are cheerful mice and rats, snakes are absent.

Phil said...

And I was wishing that we could have attempted the climb (my age and sedentary life being no handicap, I'm sure) during our visit, but then you mentioned the rodents . . . anyways, Congratulations. Well done!

Notinthewild said...

Of course you couldn't climb without a night in the village. :\
And such a climb! Reminds me of our trek up Kili
"Veni Vedi Vici!"

Lois said...

very much reminds me of how we just had to climb the mtn we saw from the CO farm every day. Tho we passed up on a lot of 14ers, and it was "only" just under 13,000 ft, it was far more compelling.

amazing view!

Jonathan said...

Wow! How many villages/ manatas are on that mountain?