Climbing Dog Mountain

John and Chamba

The first challenge was how to get there. We had only seen Dog Mountain (as we called it) from afar; one a few lumps rising out of a valley southeast of Bali-Nyonga, Cameroon.

It looked like a moss-covered rock in the shape of a beagle’s head—left profile. There was no telling how big it was, or how far away, but it didn’t look formidable.

And, as they say, Man weh i git mop, no fit mis road: A man with a mouth can’t get lost (i.e. You can always ask someone for directions).

The next challenge was how to get there with Chamba. It was quite a few miles away, down a long dirt road. Walking was not a reasonable option.

I’d given it some thought and came up with a method. If it didn’t work, we would have had to leave Chamba at home. John picked up Chamba and sat behind me on the motorcycle. Chamba sat on John’s lap in a hogtied sort of way. His front legs rested on John’s left leg, his hind legs on John’s right leg.

Chamba’s head was just behind my left elbow. He struggled at first, but then accepted the situation. Then we were off.

The road is fairly straight and flat, but descends gradually over several miles into the valley where Dog Mountain is.

We were headed southeast. We passed through the village of Mantum and several others. The red mud brick houses became increasingly dispersed the further we got away from Bali-Nyonga, until mostly scraggly fields of corn and other subsistence crops lined the road.

John and Chamba
John and Chamba

(The Bali-Nyonga have something of a fortress mentality. They concentrate their homes in the dense town. Consequently, they must often travel many miles to their farms.).

I went slowly and cautiously, not wanting to frighten Chamba. Eventually he seemed calm and even interested in observing the countryside. His head was up, his tongue out.

I increased our speed. When we hit 31 kilometers per hour (about 19 mph), Chamba ducked his head behind my body. The wind seemed to bother him, so I slowed down. Out came the head and the tongue again. And again I increased our speed. At precisely 31 kph, Chamba hid his head again.

John and I conducted the experiment several times, hoping Chamba would get used to a faster speed. We became fascinated by Chamba’s precision, so we didn’t mind too much that it slowed us down.

We must have been a minor spectacle, but I don’t recall much pointing and laughing. Just the usual white man attention. As we got nearer we were hesitant to ask directions, fearing we’d be told that we couldn’t go there, for traditional reasons or because it was private property.

Eventually we asked someone and were pointed down a small side road that ended at a gate. A weathered sign read “Bali Ngemba Forest Reserve.”

Chamba was happy to be off the motorcycle. We hiked toward Dog Mountain until there was no longer a trail. What had appeared from a distance as moss on a rock, was in fact grassy, dense, and quite tall – over our heads in places.

We had a dull machete with us, but I found it easier to just push the reeds down large clumps at a time, sometimes with a body slam. It was very slow going. Chamba was unable to run ahead as he would have preferred.

Finally, at a certain elevation, the reeds thinned and we were able to hop from rock to rock. We were on the beagle’s snout, and could see the crown of it’s head.

John and I disagreed on the best route. I tried climbing the “ear” — which turned out to be a very steep cliff with crusty handholds and footholds the consistency of old cornbread. I looked down and wondered who would retrieve my body and how.

Chamba wisely stuck with John. I managed to climb to safety. John and Chamba met me by a more reasonable route. We climbed around the top of the peak. It was beautiful day to be alive, in Africa, with two good friends. The panorama was amazing.

We could see Bali-Nyonga off in the distance. Our adopted home looked tiny and unfamiliar from this perspective.

The descent was made tricky, in part because Chamba didn’t like going down the steep rocks. My first strategy was to just keep going forward, and let him catch up once he’d worked up the nerve to do it. That didn’t happen. I had to hike back up to the peak and put on his leash to encourage him to come with me.

Bali Ngemba Forest Reserve
Dog Mountain seen from the village of Mbu to the north. It doesn’t look much like a dog from this view. (Photo by my dad)

I imagined Chamba slipping down the steep rocks, hanging by his choke chain, and me being left with the choice of either dropping him, or strangling him. I improvised a harness out of the leash so that Chamba would hang by his armpits instead of his neck in such an event.

Fortunately, Chamba was sure-footed, if lacking slightly in nerve. He kept his feet on the ground, and we made it down safely. I don’t remember much about the ride home, except that Chamba continued to detect 31 kph — until finally deciding just to rest his head behind my back for the duration, out of the wind. We were worn out. Knowing that even Chamba was exhausted made the day particularly satisfying.

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