Gorilla trekking - do you need to be fit?!

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Feb 20th, 2006, 04:56 PM
  #1
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Gorilla trekking - do you need to be fit?!

I'm planning a trip to East Africa in October and hope to incorporate a visit to the mountain gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda.

My other half is enthusiastic about the gorillas, but stressing about whether he can survive the trek to find them! I'd be grateful for feedback from anyone who's been gorilla trekking - how strenuous did you find the trek? How fit do you consider yourself to be? Did anyone in your group struggle?

Any comments or suggestions would be much appreciated.
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Feb 20th, 2006, 06:24 PM
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Jane N-
I do weight training and cardio 3-4 days a week and wouldn't say you have to be fit but trust me, it certainly helps.

As far as the treks I've been on, I give two of them an 8-9 out of 10 in the strenuous category. The others around a 5-6+.

It all depends on what group of Gorillas you're going to see, what mountain/volcano you're climbing and how high or low they are on the mountain at any given time. Some of the groups will remain stationary once you find them and others will move either up or down the mountain so you have to follow them. You just never know what the gorillas are going to do when you start trekking to a particular group.

The guides/trackers put the slowest person first so everyone walks at that person's pace. And you get to stop along the way to rest, look at the views etc. so they work with the trekkers to ensure no one is overly exerted.

Vines are everywhere, on the ground and hanging from the trees. And the stinging nettles surround you so make sure you wear long sleeves.

No one is exempt from falling down or tripping over the vines, stumps, etcs. including the guides. It happens to everyone when you're in the midst of a rainforest.

People from all walks of life do the trekking. I've had people in my groups in their late 60's and early 70's and they've managed to get up the mountains just fine.
I've also been on treks with people 50+ lbs. overweight who make it up and down. The guides and porters are there to help and they do a great job.

For me, I love the challenge and that's half the fun of going on the
treks. The other half of course, is spending time with the magnificent gorillas.

Hope this helps.
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Feb 20th, 2006, 08:19 PM
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santharamhari
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Wow!!! i've always wanted to do the treks to find gorillas.....even though, i run marathons......i'm a pretty lazy guy........i run really long distances, but enjoy not moving much the rest of the day.....

This would be a nice change up safari......i'm generally used to the long relaxing drives trying to find the big cats etc etc., mixed in with sundoweners and all the other goodies.....

If i was to do this......i would start the trip with the trek and then go away to Kenya/Tanz to fullfill my desire for more cats........
 
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Feb 21st, 2006, 10:22 AM
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Sandy-
Was there a lot of climbing up, or walking up the slopes on the trek? I would love to do the trek, but do find going uphill 'breathtaking' (literally), I get winded very fast. Walking up a slow pace would probably be OK for me, but I don't think I could 'clamber' up the side of a volcanoe very well.

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Feb 21st, 2006, 10:34 AM
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divewop,
Any opinions about which--if either--is easier for trekking: Uganda or Rwanda?

Lynda and others, I think the people who've gone gorilla trekking/tracking and post regularly on this board are thit_cho, atravelynn, waynehazle and of course divewop.

I know I've forgotten some people (tuskerdave?).

Doing this, possibly in combination with Kenya, is on my shortlist.
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Feb 21st, 2006, 12:00 PM
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I did the Nkuringo group (Uganda) about a month ago -- we were told it is one of the steeper treks, and it was certainly steep, but I didn't think it was that difficult (and was a little disappointed the gorillas were only an hour and a half away b/c I was enjoying the hike). We went very slow -I fell a number of times w/my feet getting caught up on things or just plain falling, but nothing to get excited about (but I am much more uncoordinated than the average gal!) Rwanda is supposed to be easier (w/the exception of the Susa group) but I haven't made it there yet, so I can't really speak to that. We were very lucky though in that we were there on the third consecutive day w/o rain so this helped tremendously. As long as you are in "ok" shape, I would not let that deter you - it was absolutely amazing!
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Feb 21st, 2006, 12:14 PM
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I did the Amaharos and the Sabinyos in Rwanda PNV in October.

The Amaharos took about 1/2 hour to get to. It really wasn't that hard. However, I do aerobics and stsirmaster 3 - 5 times a week. On a 1 - 10 scale I give that one a five.

The next day we got the Sabinyos, who actually came down right on the edge of the local farmland. I mean we didn't have to do a thing! It was about 15 minutes or less of trekking... it was almost dissapointing, except that because they were in open land we got GREAT views up them. I am still working on this section, but to ee the chief silverback in the Sabinyos:
http://www.waynehazle.com/eastafrica/rwanda/index.htm

By the way, people in other groups told me it took as much as 2 hours (!) to get to the families they were assigned to. The picking is also completely random. So my advice is definitely work on getting into shape a little.
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Feb 21st, 2006, 12:22 PM
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FANTASTIC PHOTO! I'm jealous - our viewing was obscured a good bit by foliage, but I expected that (and it was still worth every penny to see them). I need to go to Rwanda now...
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Feb 21st, 2006, 12:34 PM
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Wayne - wonderful photo! I don't remember if I ever commented on your trip report/website/photos. It took awhile to read about your trip and look at your pictures and it was worth every minute. I really, really enjoyed it. I look forward to seeing more of your gorilla images so let us know when they are up.
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Feb 21st, 2006, 12:41 PM
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LyndaS-
I like to do the toughest treks (one of which is the Susa group most of the time) so there can be a lot of climbing on those. And I use my hands to pull me up sometimes or just to push away the foliage so I suggest wearing a good set of thick garden gloves or something similar.

And wear good hiking boots. Not tennis shoes, not loafers. You will step in all kinds of dirt, mud etc. And yes, you will get pretty dirty on the extended treks.
Some of my treks up the volcanoes lasted from 2 to 2.5 hours. And that is just one way.
The thing about the gorilla trekking is that because the gorilla groups are in different locations on the volcanoes on any given day, there are no set paths most of the time. Sometimes they can be close to the wall/farmland, sometimes way up.

The lead guide creates the trails with a panga (machete) and the rest of the folks follow. It's fun being the last person in line because you can trun around and literally watch the bush close in behind after you walk through.

I too was quite winded starting out. Realize you are starting at around 6000 feet (2000 meters) so you can expect to be a little winded unless you already live at that altitude.

Once you get a good cadence/rhythm of walking going, you soon adapt.

You can also decide to turn around anytime if you don't think you can make it. A porter or guide will assist you back down the volcano. Your health and/or well-being comes first.

Leely,
I thought Uganda was easier but the trekking was a little bit longer to get to the gorillas. I didn't think it was as steep as my Rwanda climbs.

All in all, it's a lot of fun for folks that like to keep moving or like an adventure. And if you specifically want a challenge, you can always ask at the ORTPN office in the a.m., which group might be the hardest to get to that day. That is, if the gorillas don't decide to move down to meet you halfway. ;-)
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Feb 21st, 2006, 12:47 PM
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hi jane and all. i'll chime in later ok.
see ya,
d
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Feb 21st, 2006, 01:03 PM
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Wayne-
Wow! Great pic of the Silverback especially to be out in the open like that. Hope you've framed that one!
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Feb 21st, 2006, 01:27 PM
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yep that gorilla picture is right on the wall in my office blown up to 11x14 and framed. Right next to it is the cheetah picture at http://www.waynehazle.com/eastafrica...Mara/index.htm

A funny thing happened on the way to PNV... we spent a morning in Nyungwe tracking chimps and talk about a rough hike! It was literally the most physically exhausting thing I have EVER done! I managed to bust up two good cameras AND my video camera bouncing around and falling in that forest.

Somehow by the time I got to Rhungeri, I had tinkered enough with the video camera that it started to work again. Luckily my wife carried an old point and zoom camera as a backup and that is how we got the silverback picture.

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Feb 21st, 2006, 01:33 PM
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Another great tidbit with that Sabinyo silverback, he was quite active, unlike the Amaharo silverback, who was older and pretty much just laid around.

We could see the Sabinyo chief sit at the edge of a hill and look around and make visual contact with every member in the group, practically taking count.

At one point we got close to them while they were eating their bamboo. The Chief ran in a circle around us breaking a bunch of bamboo stalks, he looked at us and then went back to eating. The guides said he did that just to let us know when was in charge of this area. We didn't question him
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Feb 21st, 2006, 02:04 PM
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Yeah, I wouldn't question any of those silverbacks. Or even the mothers or juveniles. As far as I'm concerned, they're all in charge!
Heck, for that matter, the baby chimps I did the forest walk with at Ngamba were pretty doggone strong too! If they pulled me, I'd go wherever they wanted.

I'm going to try to get to the Susa group (again) and Sabinyo group on my upcoming trip. I'd like to get the Sabinyo Silverback on camera since he is the largest male of the tourist groups. And I just love the big number of infants and juveniles in the Susa group.
If I remember correctly, one of our other fodorites, SunnyDays (Lawrence) had gotten great pics of some new babies in Group 13 (now 15?) so I may try to get up to see them as well.
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Feb 21st, 2006, 03:46 PM
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hi jane, yeah i did bwindi in june-2treks.
i forget which group i did first.but of the 2 that was the hardest. it took 6hrs to get to the gorillas all up hill.at times i found it tough on my wind-not because of my body per-say. but i had forgotten my blood pressure meds. even though its the mild meds-i can feel my self getting messed up.my body was fine-but getting winded at times. a lot of stepping over, pushing stuff down, bending under, grabbing on to stuff so you dont fall-maybe haha.
one of the older men fell backwards, he picked his head up- there he went.luckily his camera was ok.
i slipped on what felt like ice! these smaller branches lined together on the ground-soak an wet.my feet kept going and going-then i went down-just like on the ice.
yes you get very sweaty and dirty.
even the porters dont know which way we will go. but it was cool,i'd do it again-sure.
i took some stills-but the best stuff i have is on video! i will never ever regret taking mostly video in there.
the second day trekking, another group. a bit easier. with trails, a lot of straight walking. some hills. we found those gorillas in about 2/3hrs.got back about 2pm. the first day- about 6pm or so. i did all this with almost no sleep both days.
i hardly sleep at all while on safari-thats just the way it is for me.
between that and the tusker beers hehe.
it was good to sweat out those tuskers.
so your planning on oct?
i have another trip coming up march 10th. i was thinking about doing rwanda trekking in oct-then off to the masai mara in oct. of course, way too soon. i wont know for some months to come.
cheers, d
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Feb 21st, 2006, 04:38 PM
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Jane,

how strenuous did you find the trek?

Depends on where the gorillas are. Some treks were very strenuous, others a walk in the park. Do hire a porter to carry your things to make the trek easier. Your porter can assist you in climbing too. If you wished, you could hire a second porter just for helping with the climb. The cost of a porter was reasonable, maybe $5 or a little more.

How fit do you consider yourself to be?

I walk and bike for transportation and fun and I often walk up a dozen flights of stairs. I use dumbbells while watching TV sometimes. Not a runner or weightlifter. Others who were naturally more sedentary did train for the trip and were glad they had. One hired a personal trainer, which helped her, but not needed in my opinion.

Did anyone in your group struggle?

All of us struggled at times, except a marathoner who did not sweat or even drink her water. In Uganda all of us, even the marathoner, fell down at least once. In a total of 14(non-consecutive) treks not one person could not make it, though one guy came close. One participant was 78 and did fine. On one Rwanda trek there was a couple with health problems so we stopped every 15 minutes or so.

The group advances at the pace of the slowest person, who goes in front, behind the guide. You can stop anytime you want. I would suggest carrying a water bottle on your person, not just in a backpack given to your porter. Then you can sip continually (not just when you stop) and avoid dehydration. I have a holster sort of thing for my water bottle and drank every 10 minutes.

Don't know when you are going but when I've gone in June through August, the climate in Rwanda was far superior to what I experienced in Uganda. Cool and pleaseant in Rwanda vs. extremely hot and humid in Uganda. The difficulty of the climb was equal between the two countries, just depended where the gorillas were.

As a last resort, my guide told me that in Rwanda, they will carry you to the gorillas on a stretcher if you prefer.

Hope you both decide to go for it!


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Feb 21st, 2006, 05:36 PM
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One of my recurring nightmares for this trip was that I would forget my blood pressure meds and go into cardiac arrest up in those mountains.

I kept pills in three different containers, one in my camera bag which was always with me
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Feb 21st, 2006, 07:08 PM
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Just returned from Honduras, and just now checking emails.

There is a certain amount of "luck" involved in the treks that determines how far the gorillas are from the access points. I visited Bwindi (Uganda) and PNV (Rwanda) in August 2003, and the trek to visit the gorillas in Bwindi was only 25 minutes or so (too short for my liking) and relatively easy, but others that I spoke to had much lengthier and challenging treks. In Rwanda, we had a 90-minute trek, the final 30 minutes or so being up the side of a volcano. Everyone on that trek seemed in at least average condition, and I think the staff separated the less fit to send them to an easier group (we didn't have any of the more elderly people assigned to our trek).

I hired porters in both parks to carry my backpack, not because it made the trek any easier, but more to give a few dollars to a local.

You don't need to be a triathlete, but you would need to be able to walk several miles in the woods (you could get lucky and it could be shorter, but I think you'd need to judge whether you could do an average trek). Its a lot to pay to have to turn back.

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Feb 22nd, 2006, 12:49 PM
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Thanks to everyone who's posted replies - it's been really helpful.

Wayne's photo of the silverback was just amazing too - easily enough to convince me that it's going to be worthwhile!

Cheers.
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