By Nicky Young July 2015
I am not one for fanciful thinking, I don’t believe in mythology or magic and I am far from superstitious. In retrospect however, we should have paid attention to the omens that warned us not to hike Mt. Kadam.
Before we managed to escape from Kampala we had already lost two of our participants. One left due to a rapidly worsening fever and the other went to search for his phone which was snatched from his hand as we sat in the traffic. Even though our group left Kampala at 7:00 PM we hadn’t even reached the infamous Mukono traffic till about 8:30 PM. It was here that we saw why the traffic was so thick; a truck lay ominously on its side. The remnants of our crew eventually made it to Mbale at around 2:00AM.
After a quick breakfast in Endiro and a 5 or so hour drive we arrived at the town of Nakapiripirit. Here we began the long ritual of preparing for the hike and organising logistics with our guides. Previous hikers have praised the Kadam guides as knowledgeable and helpful, unfortunately for us these guides were away. Our guides, we later found out barely knew their way up the mountains. We squeezed ourselves as two to a boda with our hiking backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, litres of water etc. and headed to the base of Kadam via a small overgrown mud path.
The start of the hike was blisteringly hot and we travelled through thick itchy grass, this terrain soon gave way and we spent many hours hiking up a gentle incline that was shaded with thick trees. We passed a number of small huts where local people were preparing a mild stimulant leaf they call Miraa; more commonly known as Khat. Our guides, one in particular, began to chew handfuls of these leaves. As the gentle path disappeared and was replaced with thick bush our guides began to argue about directions. The guide who had been leading so far turned around, he was sweating profusely through a winter coat; which he insisted on wearing, and his eyes were bloodshot red, darting and wild. It was clear that the Khat was heavily affecting him and at this point the group began to question his guiding abilities. We spent an hour or so whacking through thick bush as our guide who we aptly named Khatman argued with his comrades about directions and continued to consume more Khat. After a substantial amount of bush whacking, a lot of uncertainty and the loss of a pair of sunglasses, we finally made it to the camping location where we set up our tents in soil that was so filled with holes it seemed like it was the remnants of a battleground.
We head to watch the sunset on a rock with an amazing view of the valleys below whilst being bathed in the kind of breeze that only exists at high altitudes in Uganda. We shared some whiskey, good stories and enjoyed a fantastic dinner of pasta, guacamole and salsa as we relaxed in front of the fire.
After a night’s sleep on what felt like a pile of rocks a number of the group were feeling unwell complaining of stomach issues, headaches and general lethargy, one of whom opted to stay behind at the camp. The group doctor prescribed a plethora of medicines for a number of our hikers as we organised our daypacks and started our journey. The path led us into a beautifully thick forest on a bed of soft crumbly mud. We soon came to a stunning waterfall where we hastily filled up our water bottles. As we pressed on our guides once again began to dispute the way, pointing in different directions. The group uneasy began to second guess the guides navigational skills. We were soon distracted by more stunning waterfalls, pools and paths of stepping stones. Once we made it into the clearing we had our first injury, a fall resulting in a wounded ankle. After some basic first aid and bandaging we pressed on until we once again hit another session of frustratingly thick bushwhacking. Before reaching the summit there was some great fun, but potentially dangerous basic bouldering. Some of the group sensibly decided to take the longer but safer grass path at the side.
At the summit we rest, had lunch and enjoyed the view. We soon hurried back to the campsite trying to get out of the forest before dark. Once again we spent a lot of time splitting into separate groups as the guides couldn’t agree on a path. We made it to the camp just in time and enjoyed a warming, spicy meal of lentils and rice. As we sat around the campfire a number of the group had the horrifying realisation that their valuables were missing; most notably an ornate knife with 12 years of cross-cultural sentimental value and a mobile phone.
The next day we gorged ourselves on a delicious breakfast of porridge with brown sugar, raisins and currants. Once again a collection of medicines was exchanged between people under the ever watchful eye of our doctor. Before descending we decided that the fairest thing to do as a group was to search every hiker and guide to make sure that the missing items had not been stolen. After a thorough frisking we failed to find the valuables but we did locate all the packets of the missing extra food in Khatman’s pockets. A small reconnaissance team got together to search for the missing items whilst the rest of us packed up and prepared for the descent. After a number of hours the team returned with the phone saying that it had been found lying suspiciously on an obvious rock right next to Khatman, unfortunately the knife was not found.
The descent was surprisingly fast and easy and we soon breathed a sigh of relief as we took our last steps off of the mountain knowing that it could no longer take our health or our belongings. At base as we organised ourselves for the long ride home, we had to repeatedly stop Khatman from stealing people’s items from right in front of them. As we head back towards Mbale a number of people pre-ordered their meals at Endiro. They were surprised when they arrived as the waitress seemed to have no idea of any food orders, it was only then that we realised the food had been ordered to Endiro in Kampala. The journey home was heavily congested and we kept our moral high with hours of repetitive Afrobeat music. We were pleasantly comforted by our arrival in Kampala as we believed nothing else would go wrong. Our comfort was a little premature however as our driver decided to throw a hissy fit refusing to take us home unless we paid extra, despite the costs being agreed upon days before. In our tired states and hoping to avoid any further conflict we buckled and paid the driver.
Our poor feverish hiker who left at the beginning had a horrific case of malaria and ended up in hospital where she was given an accidental blood transfusion. Even she couldn’t escape the curse of Kadam. On the plus side the lost mobile phone was recovered at the fee of 200,000 UGX, oh and it didn’t rain during the whole trip!