In some ways I was sorry he was heading down, but also I realised I was fitter than I had expected. Although it was a tough climb in this climate, I was not overtired, no parts of my body were aching unduly. And I was intrigued enough to see the top of the hills and hope to get a view down the other side to continue the exertion.
The climb became even steeper. I was now really clambering, not walking. I was having to lift my leg right up to reach up to the next step, holding on to the tree trunks as I went, but looking carefully first to make sure I was not putting my hand on some angry insect or spiky thorn. I paused frequently, as much to gain my breath as to wait for Gray and our ranger friend to catch up. Gray is about ten years older than I and he told me between gasps that he was hoping to have done more exercise before he left the US but time caught up on him.
We paused at one stop; there was no room on the path to stand at the same elevation so my foot was level with Gray’s chest and his foot above the ranger’s head. The wind was gently swaying the trees at this elevation but it barely reached us sweating on the forest floor. There were other noises too. A loud crackling noise came up from the plain. It sounded like it was nearby but when we managed to find a clearing, we saw billowing plumes of smoke. It must have been 10km away but the size of the fire front was so large it was creating this cacophony; it was bringing down large trees. It was less than half way through the dry season that the sight of this fire made me fear for the villages in March and April before the rains finally broke.
There were more noises closer to us. We could hear a deep resonating hooting from the cleft in the escarpment to our right; it was answered by more calling from deeper down the valley. It was accompanied by the sound of branches being vigorously thrashed. I was listening to my first wild chimpanzees. No way could we see them through this thick canopy, and the ranger estimated they were about 1km away, but there was no mistaking their voices, various deep sounds mixed with cackling going through a couple of octaves. Although it was the barest contact with these amazing creatures, it felt magical and humble to be in their homes.
Eventually we the path levelled off and skirted along the escarpment edge, but instead of glorious vistas off towards Guinea, we saw just tree trunks. The vegetation here never opens up to a grassy plain. Gray consulted a big print out of his land cover map he had worked on from the satellite imagery and was disappointed to work out that the pathway did not get close to these uniform green areas that he suspected were long grass.