31.08.2010 Feature Article

How to conquer mountain Afadjato

How to conquer mountain Afadjato
31.08.2010 LISTEN

In my case, as soon as we got to the top, the four of us flopped down on the reclining flat, white quartzite rocks and i started peeling off my sweat-soggy singlet, t-shirt and the utility jacket over them. But then orgasmic pleasure of having done what many Ghanaians have not yet done made me forget about my pleasurable tiredness.

From the top of the highest point in Ghana and Togo, you feel great affinity to people who have been here before and scratched their names into the rocks or written them with permanent markers to record their visit to this rare spot for posterity. If you are reading this report, Stan, Helen, Agyapong and all those whose names are on Afadjato summit and visited here before me, I salute you by saying Bravo for having achieved this feat long before I did.

From the top of mount Afadjato, one of the first logical things that visitors do is to sweep your eyes over the panorama of mountain ranges spread around you, huge massifs that tower around you so closely that you feel you could touch them with your fingers, yet so far.

All these mountains that define the boundary between Togo and Ghana are green-clad in mountain forest, thanks to the conservation efforts of the Ghana Wildlife Society and the communities of Gbledi and Fodome Ahor. The deep gorges between these mountains are also clothed in thick protected forests and in the distance you can see the Tagbo waterfall, hanging on the hills like a long, white bed-sheet. To the north-west of the Tagbo waterfall, you can also see two mountain-side farm hamlets 'hanging in the air' in the distance.

You feel that you are also floating in the sky among green mountains! On my next visit, we are going to plan an expedition of adventurers and researchers into the gorges of this geologically impressive corner of Ghana. We need to find what undiscovered adventure and eco-tourism products may be hidden down there, and as a biodiversity research organization, we and our partners are hugely interested in what our research scientists may find there to add to global scientific knowledge in terms of rare fauna and flora.

When you look away from the beautiful surrounding mountains and drag your eyes to the Western side, the Ghana side really, your breath catches in your throat. Suddenly your feeling that you are actually in the air [or in an aircraft] intensifies.

When you look south, you are greeted with the 'map' of Liate lying quietly below you, as if you could just toss a pebble onto its high street. But the distance is considerable because you see people almost like moving dots. Then on the north and western sides, you see the towns of Fodome, Gborgame and Chebi and the Senior Secondary School lying cooly down below.

Ghana Wildlife Society
The excitement of climbing Mountain Afadjato begins at the Afadjato base, the Visitor Centre for the Mt. Afadjato Community Ecotourism Initiative led by the Ghana Wildlife Society. You are first greeted by the knowledgeable and friendly  community guides. Then they lead you through the picnic sites and buffer zone past the boundary line to the real starting point.

A sign here tell you that you are about to attempt an adventure which you will remember every time till you die, the Afadjato climb. At this point, you hardly listen to the Tour Guide because you want 'to get going and dash up that mountain.' Brave thought but you cannot simply 'dash up' Afadjato, where at some points the gradient looks suspiciously like 50 degrees! And you begin to regret that you did not bring a walking stick or a third leg along.

But the Ghana Wildlife Society has in some really difficult places put hand grips in the form of strung nylon cords that you grip to haul yourself up climbing, or to arrest your free fall when coming down.

In several places, you simply grab a strong twine or a well-used stem. Nobody needs to tell you how to drag yourself up to the summit of Mountain Afadjato, if you are determined not to give up.

But when you trek up Afadjato and begin to feel like using a third leg and your face begins to really sweat, the devil question that keeps on coming to you is:' Was it wise to join this climbing venture?' Just as you begin to pant and ponder over this question, you see a signpost actually congratulating YOU for making 224.5 metres of Afadjato.

When I read this, I was both proud and disappointed. Proud because I would always tell people, 'Hey, I have attempted Afadjato before!'. Disappointed because measuring by my sweat output, 224.5 metres was a bit too low. Then Patricia my trainee tour guide asked, '224 metres? What does this mean?' I took up the answer, 'It means you still have over 600 metres to climb' She groaned. At this point, however, a powerful feeling grips you and makes you tell yourself, 'I have to beat this mountain, inshallah!' That feeling comes from your joints and muscles.

They tell you by their nice tingling feeling that yes, for the first time you have given them work to do after years of idleness. I tell you, your muscles feel good and happy when you introduce them to climbing Afadjato.

Exercise is happiness and this is an exercise in adventure, a double-take. And this is a wake-up call for keep fit clubs, Wildlife Clubs, Adventure clubs and the security agencies. We shall soon hope to have competitive climbs as a regular programme at Afadjato.

From Point 224, we began to become sharply aware of the wildlife in Afadjato. . I think this is a factor that made us forget to give up until we reached half-way up the Mountain. First, we surprised a large family of mongoose.

This was largely because we were mostly quiet, not least because we were busy panting through our open mouths. I explained to the Tour Guide an interesting Ghanaian superstition about mongooses and why these beautiful, clever animals are hated and maligned. We hold the feeling that mongooses hang around our village homes to catch our chickens for food.

We hold the further belief that to catch the chicken, the mongoose opens up its anus to expose a maggot ridden prostate gland and when the chicken comes near to peck at the prostrate, the mongoose either grabs at the chicken or, outrageously, traps the chicken's head with its anus.

This is a clear case of giving the dog a bad name just to have the pleasure of hanging it. Not least among its numerous uses, mongooses keep the population of snakes under control, and the same goes for agricultural pests like mice, rats and squirrels.

One thing that told me that the forests of Afadjato has received significant levels of protection  was when I heard the relaxed daytime hooting of two owls, a mark of the confidence they have developed in security.

The Afadjato mountain biodiversity area is counted among the world's known and recorded Important Bird Areas [IBAs] underscoring its global importance. There is also an explosion of sunbirds in the lower canopies of the Afadjato forest.

When you reach point 442.5 metres, you feel very tired in the chest and almost angry with the sweat streaming into your eyes, but your muscles are really happy to be doing something live after a long lay-off. You get the feeling that you should be doing this difficult but pleasurable thing more often and regularly.

climbing Afadjato
It even tells you that you should start doing exercises regularly. In my case, I saw a strange similarity between climbing Afadjato and cycling of all things. So my resolution at point 664 metres was to either fix my 'dead' bike or save to buy a new one asap.

There is also the feeling that at this point, not even the devil or the whole Ghana army can deter you from making it to the mountain-top. You also get this overwhelming feeling that you are about to go on record because you are joining the number of Ghanaians who have conquered Afadjato.

In fact, at Point 664 metres, you feel like celebrating, and unsurprisingly, this is the point where evidence of litter shows climbers drink their last reserves of water. There is sachets and fruit drinks litter here.

I have suggested, just in passing that instead of just these exciting resting points just identified with height figures, we should have better identification with the names of the persons whose instrumentality helped realize the project. I have suggested such names as Owusu Base, Ntiamoa Summit, Togbe Kutse Point, Togbe Adabla Point, Togbe Ajimah Spot etc. These would add some touch to the Afadjato climb. This will also be a way of writing the project promoters' names in letters of conservation gold!

I am disappointing you by saying that from point 664 onward, you begin to feel really tired if you did not slow down your pace a little after the half-way mark. Your tiredness is not in your legs but in your chest, and largely made worse by the sweating.

As I said, most climbers finish their water here. As a veteran, I ensured that MY TEAM OF FOUR WENT WITHOUT WATER. If you want to really climb a mountain and you go about increasing your weight with copious water intakes, it will bog you down with tiredness and sweating. In fact none of my team mentioned water through the one hour climb and forty-five minutes descent. When we came down, I still had forgotten about water.

From Point 664, it is still your excited muscles that push you on and up the mountain. It is like you have taken your dog out for play and the dog wants to play more than you intended for him. Your brain supports the muscles because you are about to set a lifetime record by doing what even the President has never done.

The biggest surprise of the climb is when you get around this bend in the trail which zig-zags around the mountain-side and see for the first time not forest and trail as usual but a piece of sky high above you. Then you know that you have made it at last.

This feeling of total excitement fills you before you even see the signage saying: WOW, YOU HAVE MADE IT. YOU ARE ON TOP OF THE HIGHEST POINT IN GHANA. ENJOY THE PANORAMIC VIEW.  It is at this point that you get the feeling that you really want to 'dash up' the last ten metres to flop down on the rocks at the summit of Afadjato.

Ecotourism Project
The Afadjato conservation and Community Ecotourism Project is an effort by the Ghana Wildlife Society and the communities of Gbledi, Fodome Ahor and Chebi to conserve the mountain forest after restoring the degraded hillsides that were being washed away through erosion.

The project from its inception created jobs through alternative livelihoods interventions including tree planting, bee keeping, palm oil and palm kernel business, tour guiding and food service to tourists. The communities also have a poultry farm, as well as machinery for oil extraction. Revenues from tourist visitations also go to the communities under a sharing principle.

In October 2010, a big event will be organized at the Afadjato base that would involve music and, a traditional food fair, bicycle race from Hohoe and a |marathon from Hohoe. The main event, however, will be an Afadjato Climb by fifty registered walkers and mountain enthusiasts for prized by a sponsoring beverage company.

A number of corporate bodies, media houses and event promoters are currently syndicating the event which will be used to promote unity among the communities, announce the ecotourism and investment plans for the area. Also the event will be used to expose the infrastructural needs of the eco-tourism and adventure enclave. Even more importantly, the event will be used to re-launch the Wildlife Clubs of Ghana.

Since returning from Afadjato, I have been asking people one question and drawing mainly NOs. Have you ever visited Afadjato and conquered it? Climb it and feel good about it on top of the world.

My next effort is perhaps to gather a number of media people and drive them up the Mountain which everybody must climb. AFADJATO WAITS FOR YOU.

Jacob Oti Awere