Karen Hauptfleisch on Gorillas, mountains on the moon and Rwanda

Karen Hauptfleisch
Pretoria Monthly Meeting
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 18:45

 Karen Hauptfleisch has a dream of climbing the highest peak in every country in Africa and her talk concentrates on her recent experience in Uganda and Rwanda.  Pretoria based and the driving force behind Soapkids, Karen  will share her undaunted spirit and zest for explorations with us.  She says she has some wonderful footage to back up her talk.  

"There’s something magical about Ruwenzori. I’m notorious for crying when I have to get off a mountain. In 2005, I made history (I think), by crying when I set eyes on the mountain of the moon. Due to bad weather, we didn’t make it to the top – but I left a big chunk of my heart behind and I knew I would return.


Once at Margherita hut, all the equipment was tested before snuggling up for the evening. It was heart-warming listening to the happy chattering of the porter and guides.

12 July: I woke up at 03h15, my heart palpitating. I was scared and simultaneously excited. Hein decided to stay behind after experiencing trouble with his breathing and at 04h30, our two guides, Helle and myself started our adventure to the top.

I thanked my lucky stars that it was still dark when we started using ropes to get up some rocks and just before sunrise, we reached the first glacier. Being tied to Helle and William, listening to the crunching sound of the snow, I felt like a true mountaineer.


The climb was spectacular

Just after reaching the end of the first glacier, Helle decided to turn around and Enoch escorted her. Poor William had no choice – I was adamant to carry on. Because the rocks were so slippery, we kept our crampons on and had to concentrate very hard not to fall. It was therefore quite a surprise when William called out – “The start of the Margherita glacier”.


I looked up, and almost fainted. A sheer 20 m ice wall stared me in the face! I was on the verge of hyperventilating when I realised that it was a fantastic thing that I didn’t know what was lying ahead of me. I had to get to the top! Once on top, I could start hyperventilating thinking about getting down!

Kick the left crampon in, kick the right crampon in, swing the ice-axe, say a prayer and don’t look down! Kick the left crampon in, kick the right crampon in, swing the ice-axe, say a prayer and don’t look down!


Once on top, I tried my level best to stop my body from shaking. The worst is over. From now on, it will be a piece of cake.


Luckily, I didn’t know what was lying ahead of me! An extremely steep “hill” followed. “Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, look back and count till 20 before repeating the exercise”. William encourages me by telling me that we are almost at the top. But I am an African and I tell him that I don’t need encouragement. I know that time and distance is irrelevant in Africa. Besides, I was enjoying the suffering and was extremely glad that I didn’t know what to expect.


The climb involved a lot of ropes

“We’re almost there”, remarks William, and to my surprise, the snow has stopped, but huge rocks waited – and it involved a lot of fixed ropes. One step at a time, one step at a time. Trust William – and then a thought crossed my mind – what if something happens to William!

A more exposed ledge followed and finally, we were on top! The wind was howling and after the usual pictures, we decided to go down.

Getting back on the glazier, swinging from one rope to the next, I did a lot of praying,


Hiking across the glazier, I shouted in awe, prayed and swore a lot. How am I going to get down the glacier! Reminding myself that nothing can be worse than public speaking, I calmed down – for a second or two.


Too soon, we faced the 20m sheer drop! I watched in awe while William used the ice-screws, and after what felt like ages, I was abseiling down the ice.

Safely on the ground, it was time for another prayer. “Dear God, please don’t let anything happen to William. If something happens to him, we’re in trouble!”


Margherita Peak

The angels were with us! William made it safely down the Margherita Glacier and the hike down to the hut felt like a piece of cake – rock climbing and all. Once again, I was extremely grateful for starting in the dark and having no clue of what lay ahead.


I was welcomed like a hero and a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich was handed to me! I felt like Sir Edmond Hillary!

My legs were still very shaky but I made it down to Hunwick Camp. It has been a long day and overcoming my fears took their toll. I was planning on summiting Mt Baker the next morning, starting at 04h00 with Enoch, but since my legs were still shaky, I decided to sleep in till 06h00!


The Kiewiet, Rietondale Tennis club


Free for members and guests