Being in certain places brings about that, ‘I’d rather be in the metaphorical version of this’ feeling, if I’m going to be completely honest. I mean, it’s really easy to belt out the infamous lyrics by Marvin Gaye x Tammi Terrell at a karaoke night, “Ain’t no mountain hiiiiigh enough!” And then think about having to sort through a mountain of paperwork on your desk, or how you have a mountain of laundry to wash. All reasonably tough in their own rights, but conquering an actual mountain is no easy feat. Especially if it’s your third time, and extra specially if it’s on your birthday!
Mount Mumpu (approx. 2000m) is nothing in comparison to, let’s keep in continental shall we, Kilimanjaro (5895m). Don’t even think about bringing Everest into this because it’s not in this spectrum haha. But even at the thought of summiting Uhuru peak, my legs begin to cramp up and I get a shiver down my spine. To those that have gone before and shared their stories, bravo to you! I admire you truly, and I am content to live vicariously through your tough times. But the fact that I can proudly say I have climbed the tallest free standing mountain in Zambia, and three times at that, is enough for me to permanently cross mountains off my bucket list.
The first time I went up Mumpu was in 2006. It was a compulsory class trip courtesy of Chengelo. To get there, it takes a few hours on a bumpy bush track from Mkushi town, and that is an experience in itself, especially if you’re going there in an open truck. You get to meet nature and all her friends before you even arrive at the small campsite on the Changwena riverbank. The only thing to indicate your arrival being the road disappearing into the river and a clearing in the trees. So if you plan on going there, you need to be self-equipped, as the nearest village is a couple of hours back in the way of Mkushi. The water is safe enough to drink if purified, but for other conveniences, remember the bush is now your best friend. 😉
To get to the mountain, you need to follow the trail across some stepping stones in the river, to where it reappears, and walk (or drive if you have 4WD), for about seven kilometres (though it feels much longer!), over a hill and far away. Mumpu is one of seven sister hills that you can count as you go along. You eventually arrive at the Kankuka river, where you can set up camp or opt to proceed if you’re feeling ambitious. This will be your last point for water, so make sure to fill up!
I believe there are several ways to get to the top, but all three times I have been have involved clambering through a huge bat cave! One of the largest in Southern Africa I believe. At many points having to use your hands as well, which will come away ridden with bat poop. It’s a real challenge and you’ll be grateful to see the sun again on the other side.
Once through the cave, it doesn’t take too long to summit. You’ll have to climb up a few steeper edges, then balance across a very windy ridge and over a few boulders.
Sidebar: A storm a few years back resulted in a lightning bolt striking the official beacon, causing it to topple over, so you will find huge pieces of the concrete scattered around. But you will know you’re at the top because you’ll find a big cross, carried up by the Chengelo form 3 class of 2016.
The name Mumpu is a short form of the name “Mumpu Welume” which translates as mountain of the devil. From a distance, the entrance to the cave looks like a down-turned mouth, which adds to the eerie air. And in the old days, people would come from all around to make sacrifices in the cave. There are many myths and stories told by people that have had strange encounters at the place. However, as a Christian school, the students decided to put the cross up, as a declaration that ultimately, the mountain belongs to God.
I don’t know if I can say it gets easier. I remember the first time we did it back in my day, (I can actually say that), we did the entire Changwena to Kankuka, ascent, descent and back to Changwena camp in a single day. I can’t say what was the worst part then, but I remember the descent being steeply frustrating (pun intended). The second time I went was a year later, when I was now an outdoor monitor. And then it was much easier as I knew what to expect I guess. These days it’s a bit relaxed and the trek and climb are spread out over two days.
Last year, I had the opportunity to go there again, all these years later, as an outdoor instructor. It was very different. Now being there as ‘Miss Wong’, one of the people helping the students get to the top. It was a lot harder in that respect, not just dealing with the dirt on my own hands, and having to act like it was just a breeze so they would be encouraged to push themselves too. Meanwhile, I felt severe impostor syndrome. I was the big bad wolf, huffing and puffing my way into a space that was unintended for me #gettingtoooldforthis. I climbed Mount Mumpu on the 27th of September 2018, my birthday. It was more than the fact that I was finally able to get cell reception and reply to the early morning wishes, (oops, forgot to mention there is no signal in the area…story for part two). Rather, it meant that it was a climb of special significance to me. Third time’s the charm right?
When we finally got to the top, amidst excited chatter and downing gallons of water, Josh announced that it was my birthday! Which was followed by the kids all trying to guess my age and then bursting into the birthday song while I stood there awkwardly. In the back of my mind I was just wondering when I could finally scoff the snickers bar I had reserved as a special treat to me, from me.
As they were climbing, we had told them to each pick up a rock which would represent their biggest fear. At the top we then asked them to lay it down at the foot of the cross in surrender. This was a big highlight for me. Based on the fact that I had been lost in this area not that long ago (part 2), I was extremely grateful to God that I had actually lived to see this day. I know, it seems dramatic. But my own biggest fear, was dying young.
I’ve had many sleepless nights when I was too afraid to go to sleep because I thought I wouldn’t wake up. And other times I would hear about a person my age that had died suddenly and the fear gripped me at the thought that it could have been me. I’ve been afraid of dying and not living to fulfill my purpose. So I too, picked up a rock, talked to God about these thoughts that had haunted me, and then proceeded to lay my burden down at the cross.
Standing on God’s promises has become to me as sure as standing on that mountain top. Having been through the valley, and through the dark haunting caves, by God’s strength I can confidently say He has brought me out from fear, and let me live in the fullness of His son Jesus. I have danced on the mountaintop and I know that there ain’t no mountain high enough, that can keep me from God’s amazing love.
Part 2 coming soon!