Last weekend our family of five (missing Caleb) headed into the high mists of the Aberdare Mountain range, a national park situated at ten to thirteen thousand feet, only a couple of hours from Kijabe. We packed for self-sufficient wilderness camping, and took a not-often-traveled spur off the main gravel road to a camp site deep in the bush. The track was basically a barely discernible set of tire tracks bouncing through a bog and forest. At one point we thought we had arrived, but I detected further tracks and walked ahead to look for the actual camp site. As I emerged there was a snorting and crashing of dark shapes through the dense brush, two buffalo, as I hid behind a fallen tree and shouted! Thankfully they never came back, but we could see areas of pressed grass where others had lain, and plenty of droppings in the vicinity. We set up our tents in the dusk and got the fire going to heat up our chili.
The most magical aspect of that campsite, besides the spacious shade, the uninterrupted sky, the dense greenery, the distant sound of falling water, the complete absence of human noise or presence, was the bushbuck. These curious deer-like mammals came to check us out as we set up camp, and became pleasant pests throughout our stay. As long as we sat still they approached us, gingerly, carefully, ears pricked and noses quivering. We set out some salt, and they were hooked. By the end of the first evening they were licking salt out of our hands, nosing into our tents, pawing through our ashes. We learned that they make a dog-like (or baboon-like) bark when alarmed. We were quietly entertained by the half-dozen or more that grazed around us. The males were darker, with spiraling horns, bolder. The females were more skittish, preferring to approach in pairs. In twenty years of game driving we have often spotted bushbuck and reedbuck, but they were always a glimpse of fur disappearing into a thicket. It was truly amazing to observe them at leisure, with no fear, inches away.
Of course it would not be a Myhre vacation if we merely grilled tandoori chicken and nan by a blazing fire, or made pancakes and coffee as the day warmed. We headed out Saturday to try and climb to the highest point in the range. Only the road to the trail was almost as untraveled as the road to the campsite. Time and time again Scott locked into low-4WD to grind through mud and puddles. We looked out over the lobelias and bamboo, the tussocks and bogs, the purples and yellows of wild flowers, spectacular alpine scenery. And we had very nearly made it to our goal when a particularly muddy uphill slowed us down to a crawl, and then we began to slide. Within seconds the car was wedged into a deep rut, nearly axle-deep in mud that dripped down from a hillside bog. Good thing we have Luke and Jack along to push, I thought, we'll be out in no time.
However what followed was about a two-hour ordeal. We were very very far from any park headquarters, out of cell phone range, on a road no one else seemed to travel. Scott dug, moving mud behind our wheels, creating better tracks. Jack and Luke cut down branches and small trees to lay down for traction. Julia and I hiked back to a culvert where we gathered stones to laboriously drag back to wedge under the wheels. We pushed and rocked, stood on the sideboards to provide counter-weight, revved and spun. After a herculean effort Scott got it going in reverse, and we traded one swamp for another. Julia and I jumped off the side as the car tilted a perilous 45 degrees into more muck. More digging, more stones, more tree-cutting, more spattering mud and spinning tires, until we at last emerged back onto the road.
Turning around was not an appealing option, and probably not possible at that point. Scott decided to try the hill one more time, staying far to the other side. The boys put down more branches. We all got inside to improve traction, and Scott got up as much momentum as we could. However we slowed and slowed and just at the point we were starting to slip back, Scott yelled "PUSH" and Luke and Jack were out their doors in two seconds flat, shoulders into the rear of the car, shoving. Which was exactly enough to keep us from repeating the slide into the bog, and they muscled us up to the top of the hill. I think that was my favorite moment of the trip, the sudden leap out the door rescue.
After all that time and struggle, we did not end up pursuing the hike. Instead we drove out of the park by another gate, took washboard farming roads in a big loop, came back into the park on the salient side, drove by buffalo herds and jumpy wart hogs and graceful waterbuck, then climbed back to the alpine meadows from the other side. As we drove each day we had periods of gathering clouds, driving rain, and pounding hail. Real ice, falling from the sky here near the equator, piling in little white frozen drifts on the roadside. It was cold. Very cold. But then the rain would stop and patches of blue would open up again.
We read books and listened to a sermon, cooked great meals, made up stories. As we left Sunday we hiked to a spectacular serious of waterfalls, the Karungu Falls, plunging hundreds of feet over sheer rock, splitting the steep jungle.
It was truly an out-of-time experience, the alpine world seeming farther away than would be possible on a short drive. My "love language" is quality time, so a weekend campout with my kids (most of them) is a huge gift to me. I returned to the sheer stress of the ICU, three babies with overwhelming infections have died in the last two weeks, the struggling nights I had spent seeming to be for nothing. Grieving families and blood and CPR drain life, and I am thankful for an African alpine weekend of restoration.