Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In The Loma Mountains March 1970

 photo © by Chad Finer  

On a March 1970 trek into the Loma Mountains to climb Mt. Bintumani I stayed in this Kuranko village [Sokurella] for several days since my fellow Peace Corps volunteer who I was hiking with got ill. The villagers were friendly and generous and went about their daily tasks despite our presence. In this photo an elderly couple avoids the mid-day heat on their veranda. Here the woman is making cotton thread later to be dyed and made into country cloth - the local woven cloth. The man sits on his palm leaf hammock. He has the typical hat worn by the Kuranko. Sokurella in those days was a quiet  Kuranko village of about a dozen houses situated at the base of our destination - the summit known as Mt. Bintumani. Hiking from the end of the road - Kurobonla - to Sokurella took a day and was best started early in the morning when it was foggy and the air was cool. After negotiating with Paramount Chief Marrah for a guide (usually the night before) we'd set off at sunrise to head off on the bush trail. Fog would burn off by mid-morning and by this time the tremendous heat and humidity would be building. This being the end of the dry season, it rarely rained in March. By mid-day the trail would be incredibly hot with the Savannah sun beating down and the humidity being oppressive. On the trail we carried enough water for 3 or 4 days and little else except for a change of clothes and other necessities. I also carried a Primus white gas stove for cooking and for boiling any additional water that we might need. On the trail we could not rely or for that matter drink any of the local water if it was unboiled. The heat of mid - day to mid afternoon could get well over 100ºF and by the time of arrival at Sokurella we would change our sweat soaked clothes - that is is you were not headed on up the mountain. The trail from Kurobonla to Sokurella was up and down but there was no major steepness. Out of Sokurella the trail became more steep but high trees gave us shade and probably less heat by as much as 10º.  On the trail from Sokurella it was not uncommon to meet villagers heading with their goods in the opposite direction. Since we were an oddity in the area - it was not uncommon for folks to want to know what we were up to. Frequently little kids would run away for us and want to hide. The hike out of Sokurella and the increasing altitude made for improving and more tolerable temperature and lessening of the intense humidity. As we exited the rain forest the plateau area below the summit came into view and the noticeable difference was the wind which was not present below, and this cool breeze was wonderfully refreshing - almost cold.  The plateau area below the summit was a large area of wide open country with wonderfully romantic views in every direction as we headed further up the trail. This plateau ran somewhat diagonally up towards the summit and it was on it that we made our camp, about 1/2 hour by hike from the top. It was late in the day that we put up the tent and then headed up the last section which was quite steep, to reach the top. What I remember most upon reaching the top was how very cool it was, how very quiet it was, how spectacular the views were in every direction, and the thoughts that all of this created. Here I was - a foreigner (and Peace Corps Volunteer), so very far from my origins - looking out over this vast wilderness area in this very remote section of Africa - looking at some of the most spectacular views I have ever experienced - and feeling inside me so very far away from anything that I had ever experienced in my life. The eery silence of it all, the most spectacular beauty, and sense of accomplishment stick with me even after all those years.  After nearly an hour on the summit we headed back down to our camp and our tent, to ready dinner (on my Primus Stove) and get to sleep in the tent. Our guide headed down to Sokurella to re meet us the next morning back at our base camp.  The night air was quite cool (maybe as low as 60ºF) and I remember waking up that next morning to the fog of mountain clouds. I made a simple breakfast - and we headed back up for a second summit visit - this all before heading back down to Sokurella.

Each March while I was in Sierra Leone I hiked for a week in the remote Loma Mountains of Sierra Leone, a chain of mountains in the northeastern section of the country. This area was the most remote in the country - hard to get to and the harsh climate made hiking there exhausting.

Location: Village of Sokurella in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone

No comments: