Mount Cameroon is the highest mountain in West Africa which towers above the friendly town of Buea in the West. It is also an active volcano which last erupted in 2012.
There are few things I’ve done as challenging as this hike, but altitude trekking has never been my thing. Standing at 4,040 meters (13,255ft) above sea level, it’s not a walk in the park but the mountain doesn’t tease the idea that it’s an easy climb.
The difference between Mount Cameroon and other mountains, is there are no switchbacks. There are no twists, turns or flat patches where you can gather your thoughts (and breath) for the next onslaught. The trail goes up at an alarming angle. It’s painful, it burns the calves and quads, but it’s also incredibly beautiful and it more than earned its place on our travel Cameroon itinerary.
Who to book with
You need a permit to hike and when researching companies to hike with, you’ll find a multitude with varying prices. We booked HADY Guiding Services who openly admit they aren’t the cheapest. What gave me the faith to book with them was an online recommendation, followed by swift and informative responses to emails. The night before, we met with Hilary to pass over the money and go through the specifics of the hike. He gave clear information, listened and took notes. He also made himself available for phone calls and honest advice throughout our independent travels. Knowing what I know now about HADY Guiding Services, I’d have no hesitation in sending a deposit internationally which would typically put the fear of god into me.
To cater for the two of us, HADY supplied a guide, cook and two porters which seemed excessive but if anything goes wrong we were confident to be in safe hands. The three day hike cost us 200,000 CFA (€325) per person but it was clear to see where the extra money went. It was also clear with the standard of staff that in the event of an accident, they would find a solution instead of adding to the problem.
Where to stay
In theory, you will need to book a pre and post night in Buea, we stayed at the Capitol Hotel. They have a great restaurant and bar area and hot water which is a rarity in Cameroonian hotels. I paid 20,000 CFA for a single room with air-con. If you’re looking for a good bar in the evening, go play some pool at St Claire’s Hotel or try the Experimental Wine House for a more local experience.
Pursuit of the summit
We opted for the three day hike but you can also book 2 or 1 day packages, or a 4 day package with the lure of elephant sightings (although I understand this is rare). For us, three days allowed us to take our time to admire the views, as opposed to racing against the clock (and sunset). It gave us time to acclimatise but also allowed for a slower descent due to sore legs and knees. Below is a breakdown of how we split our time on the mountain.
Day 1 – 7 hours to reach camp 2
We were picked up at 07:00 and driven the short distance to the starting point and gear check. You can leave luggage at the HADY base which is handy. They give you the option of using their tent, self-inflating mat, sleeping bag and walking poles. We met the team of head guide, cook and two porters who carried all the equipment, food and drinking water.
The trail starts off at an elevation of 3300 ft. in farmland, past Buea Prison, where the climbing is easy and uphill. At around 3600 ft. we entered tropical rainforest beginning at 3600 ft. up to hut 1 at 6100 ft. It’s all uphill and hard going but once you hit above the tree line, that’s when the handwork truly begins.
At 6700 ft. you reach the Savannah where there are mainly grasses, bushes and a few small trees. Views were swathed in cloud and fog on the ascent which was beautiful and a cool reprieve from the heat. On there way down we were in the heat all the way. At 7,400 ft. you will reach the intermediate hut between hut 1 and 2. From here the incline is very steep and you are exposed to the elements all the way to hut 2 at 9,500 ft.
Hut 2 has recently opened up lodge rooms if its comfort you seek, otherwise you’ll wake up to sunrise views over the clouds from your tent. There is a kiosk which sells stupidly priced drinks, but after a long hiking day, who can resist a cold beer! It gets chilly at night so a three season sleeping bag and liner is a minimum. Both nights I wore my warm hat and thermals.
Day 2 – 5 hours to reach the summit, 4 hours to descend to camp 2
Today is a tough day, partly because of the altitude, partly sore legs, but mostly because it’s just straight up. It’s one of those mountains where you think you’re at the top, but there is another peak to climb. At the summit it is cold and windy and I wore gloves, hat, trousers and a ski jacket.
From hut 2, the trail steepens again but perhaps not as much as the previous day, all the way to hut 3 at 12,340 ft. From here the incline gets easier but the altitude is tough on the breathing and the legs.
The hike back to hut 2 is hard and your knees take a battering. Here is a picture taken at the summit.
Day 3 – 7 hours to descend from camp 2 back down to Buea
What goes up must come down and mountain climbing is no exception. It’s a long day hiking down Mount Cameroon, mainly because of the steepness and loose gravel but its also very beautiful.
Things to bring
– First air kit
– Good hiking shoes (the ground is loose rough volcanic rocks)
– Sleeping bag (HADY supply these but I bought my own based on a previous bad experience)
– Sleeping pad (HADY supply this but both of ours were punctured so didn’t inflate)
– Tent (HADY supply this)
– Torch or headlamp
– Clothes – be prepared for warm or humid weather as you are likely to experience all. It gets cold at night
– Rain jacket
– Day pack
– Toilet paper (and a plastic bag so it doesn’t stay on the mountain)
– Snacks (HADY supply)
– Music (iPod or phone)
– Warm hat for summit and evening, sun hat
– Insect spray (although there are less higher up the mountain)
A couple of points
With the addition of extra staff on the hike, it means more people to tip afterwards so factor this into your budget.
– Also be sure to check the self-inflating mats as both of ours had holes in them so didn’t stay inflated.
– If you do decide to go the cheaper option, ask to see the hiking permit. One Welsh chap we ran into, was clearly walking with a guide who hadn’t obtained this document and not only was he not able to summit, there appeared to be trouble when confronted by another guide.
– If you hear that there is trouble in Buea and are concerned about your safety, call Hilary (+237 677 43 03 01) and discuss the realities of the situation with him. We found there to be a lot of miss-information throughout our time in Cameroon.
I’ll leave you with a video I made of our time on Mount Cameroon.
Oh and when you’re hiking up the mountain, keep an eye out for runners who are training for the annual race up and down the mountain. The record is something around four and a half hours and the prize money is CFA 10 million. Think how much a pay cheque like that could change someones life!
In case you want to see a short video which summed up our time in Cameroon, click the video below:
Every visitor to Cameroon should make this part of their travel itinerary. Happy hiking folks!