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Ascent of Mont Oku on 2015-03-05

Climber: Rob Woodall

Others in Party:Adrian Rayner
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Thursday, March 5, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Bus
Peak:Mont Oku
    Location:Cameroon
    Elevation:9879 ft / 3011 m

Ascent Trip Report

This is the second of Cameroon's two ultra prominent peaks, which we climb in a one week trip from the UK. It's a day hike, with the trailhead not hard to reach although a bumpy ride on a rough road (but being paved as of 2015). For information and to arrange accommodation and guiding, contact ndifondavid@yahoo.co.uk

3 March. After our Mount Cameroon ascent we're advised our best bet for reaching Oku is the overnight bus to Bamenda - and we're advised to get a taxi down to the bus terminal (Musango Bus Services; ATM nearby) and arrange this straight away. Good advice: there are about 6 seats left by early pm. Cost XAF 550 each (5 GBP). NB this is the 70 seater coach: the minibuses have a bad reputation wrt safety.

We return later in the evening: the coach supposedly leaves at 8.30pm although it says 8000 on the ticket and when we ask the man loading the bags, he says 9pm. It actually leaves at 10pm after numerous "final" toots of the horn. In practice it seems to leave whenever the last customer chooses to show up - although for the uninitiated it's probably as well to arrive in good time.

The coach is reasonably modern and comfortable although no toilets, nor air conditioning although the ventilation is ok provided the coach is moving. Before we're under way a guy stands up and runs through a well rehearsed spiel about family health, as though a public service, although he's clearly trying to sell books. Whether he's delaying our departure isn't clear.

Then he gets off and a genuine hellfire preacher gives us 20 minutes or so; even takes a collection at the end! At last we have quiet and manage to doze a little. Partway is a stop for toilets, and for street food which we avoid. Then a few more (very bumpy) miles before another long stop: another speaker gets up and entertains the passengers for a while. Then everyone gets off the hot stuffy coach and we discover we've already arrived at Bamenda - and it's nice and cool outside, an hour before sunrise. Musango Bus Services depot at Bamenda is at N5.96092 E10.14993

4 March. The hold bags are unloaded and collected in a very civilised fashion, someone asks where we're going, we say Oku and a taxi is located. Turns out he just takes us a couple of km up the road to where the Oku minibus starts (N5.96752 E10.17210), and the quoted rather high price is reduced a bit.

The minibus will take us all the way to Oku (3hrs) for about 3GBP each, we get a receipt, all good. Note that it's best to get the early minibus: after about 8am, if passengers are few there may be few if any other runs. In about an hour the driver has a full bus (very - 15 in a 12 seater) and sets off. Being crammed in we don't see much, but the last hour or so is very steep with glimpses of rugged country and steep drops. The road becomes dirt, and steeper sections require some determined driving. One steep loose section requires half of the passengers to get out and walk a few metres.

The dirt road tops out at 2300m and with the peak only 6km away, looks like a promising start point, with glimpses of Lake Oku, and a park signboard. However no sign of a village and we descend to 1700m before the first stop. A lady we talk to says we need to stay on the bus to Elak-Oku. We do, and a man meets us (possibly on a tip off from the lady on the bus; NB there's a Tourist Office where the minibus terminates) and takes us up to the King David Hotel (N6.24523 E10.50898). We're duly checked in and it is clear from the visitor book that quite a few people come here to climb the peak and it's easy to set up. The rest of the day is spent on a combination of tourism and light bureaucracy, pleasant enough and we've nothing else we planned to do today.

First David the hotelier takes us to sign in with the police: a pleasant if no-nonsense lady officer. Turns out we should have brought a couple of photocopies of our passports. Adrian has one and she takes this and jots my details down on it too. Learning we've had no breakfast she shares her lunch with us! A very kind gesture: we take a small amount only, with fresh bread she's sent someone out for - while she delivers some villager a stern ticking off in the next room.

Next we visit the other police office (Special Branch!) and they note our details and tell us to phone if we have any difficulties. They too need a copy of our passports; we agree to use the copy agency in town and come back to them. Then lunch (food isn't hard to find although no restaurants as such, as far as we can see, and the beef is tough around here), then a look round the colourful market (Wednesday is market day, a good day to arrive).

Our final task is to meet the king! Called the Fon: actually an elected lifetime role with some judicial duties (non criminal/ family matters) but also around 50 wives. We have some fees to pay (tourist fee approx GBP 10 per person plus some smaller items), then David shows us round the museum and craft shop, then the Fon is ready to see us. A nice gentleman: we have a chat about his role and the community in general.

Later while we're having a beer David notices that the "family" court is in session: defendant and witnesses standing outside; jury somewhere inside the Fon's compound; a "messenger" in ceremonial robe shuttling between them until a verdict or settlement is reached.

Back to the King David at sunset for dinner and early night with some sleep to catch up on.

5 March. SUMMIT DAY. Grey morning with sun burning through later. Our guide Francis arrives at 7.30 am and we continue on the main (dirt) road uphill from the hotel turnoff. The road passes a school and a modern building which we learn belongs to the honey cooperative. We continue uphill on a good trail through cultivated fields: potatoes being planted in time for the rainy season which will start mid March.

The main trail enters woodland and continues quite steeply, following a distinct ridge for a while with nice views at one point. Our guide is less knowledgeable on the birds than I had hoped (small birds all seem to be The Sunbird, including the one obvious close range wheatear). However he tells us about some main trees and points out a few traps (rats are a source of meat and sell in the market for CAF500 for ten) and finds some honeycombs. After a steep rocky section (not quite a scramble) we reach the summit grasslands (forest tops out at N6.21205 E10.53011, 2800m), which have quite a population of goats and sheep. We pass a sheep pen with a building used by those tending the animals.

The trail climbs steadily through grassland, avoiding a few minor summits. A final climb crosses a bouldery fore-summit (N6.20042 E10.51912) then shortly reaches the slightly higher main summit (N6.19998 E10.51862, 3017m, 1m boulder) which has a tall pole which may have been a cross, the remains of a Stevensons Screen weather station, and a triangulation station consisting of a level concrete slab with inscription, the marker being a metal rod. There's also a metal pipe set into concrete nearby which is apparently auxiliary marker 3 (but no sign of aux 2 as far as I can see). A pair of black kites give several good views.

Our ascent takes 3h30 including one longish break. We laze for an hour in warm sunshine then descend (in 3 hours), initially making a small detour to a small top just to the west (N6.19989 E10.51730, boulder) which turns out to be slightly lower. Our route descends west for 1km following a broad ridge (more sheep and goat pasture; quite a few stonechats) then descends north, initially through bracken which is native here as it is in the UK - and the young shoots are a cure for piles, we're told. Then the well defined trail passes through scrub giving way to nice mature woodland. Francis points out the calls of Bannerman's Turaco (assuming his knowledge of this flagship species, a local endemic, is accurate) although we never see them. He says they call a lot around 2pm; I think I've heard this of other Turaco species.

Our trail crosses a stream, follows it for a while then descends through fields - Francis seems to know everybody and we tourists get a cheery Good Afternoon from everyone we meet. At the top edge of the village, trees are being felled. They seem to cut them into neat planks on the spot using chainsaws - no mean feat although presumably more efficient for them than taking the whole trees to a central location with a circular saw.

We've hit the village about 1km from our starting point and have an interesting walk though a network of small paths between houses (all built of mud brick and corrugated sheeting although some are quite stylish and satellite dishes are not uncommon), crossing a few small valleys and adding about 100m of ascent before finally reaching our hotel.
We pay Francis (about GBP10) then the three of us adjourn for a very welcome beer. Then a relaxing hour or two before dinner. A very satisfying ascent of a relatively obscure peak. Tomorrow we start our journey home.

6 March. David has booked us onto the early minibus ... which eventually leaves just before 1pm! 21 of us crammed into 15 seater this time (but it's actually licensed for 19 passengers - and we pass through a couple of check points, so apparently above board).

A young woman from Bamenda also staying at the hotel in Oku is travelling back on the same bus and befriends us: on arrival (this minibus finishes at N5.99282 E10.18489) finds us a hotel (N5.96953 E10.17307) near the Amour Mezan bus depot and her brother gets our Douala coach tickets for us. In return we pay for her minibus ticket and buy them dinner. All very agreeable. Adrian and I head down to the Amour Mezan bus terminal (about 300m to south) later to check that everything is in order.

Spending a whole day travelling 50km on public transport doesn't sound very efficient but is the sort of thing which has to be allowed for, and we're happy it worked out. The option is to pay the driver for the empty seats - however for the uninitiated it's not easy to work out what is going on and how many passengers have signed up.

7 March. Breakfast at 7 (doesn't happen, the cook slept in!), bus station at 8. Bus turns out to be a 20 seater, smaller than expected, but seats quite comfortable, and leaves ahead of the scheduled 0830! No air conditioning so pretty hot as we reach lower elevations, no surprise.

We are at the bus terminal (Amour Mezan, N4.09648 E9.63892) on the outskirts of Douala in the expected 6h. The only other white face is a German girl who knows the country quite well. She has a friend picking her up and we get a lift too, into town where we're dropped at a hotel (Bano Palace, N4.05264 E9.70349) for a nice meal and some wifi. Then our lift calls in again and takes us the short drive to the airport.

We've arranged a few hours layover in Brussels on the way home to the UK, and although the flight is delayed (heavy rain in Douala - the only rain of our trip!) we manage to visit the Belgian and Netherlands highpoints.

Oku photo album
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3318 ft / 1011 m
    Round-Trip Distance:10.4 mi / 16.8 km
    Trailhead:King David Hotel Elak-Oku  6561 ft / 1999 m
    Grade/Class:YDS 1
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country
    Gear Used:
Guide
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Rob Woodall
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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