Discover more from Show Me One Thing - by Funmi Oyatogun
What's the highest point in Nigeria and why has no one heard of it?
I climbed Nigeria's highest mountain in Taraba State, Nigeria with a small group, created a documentary and marked the summit for future climbers. Was it worth it? Here's the full story!
I just returned from climbing Nigeria’s highest mountain. This was a big dream of mine for a few years and it is the most emotional climb I have ever embarked on. I must confess that it was very heavy to lift the Nigerian flag at the summit (for obvious reasons) but the love I have for the country is hard to shake off. Before you read the full story, check out this gorgeous candid photo, about 200 m from the summit.
Now, to the story!
What's the highest point in Nigeria and why has no one heard of it? Fun fact: there’s a documentary coming out soon that has a bit more detail. Here we go:
I may have been 24 or 25 when I first learned the specific name of Nigeria’s highest mountain (Chappal Waddi or Gangirwal). As I prepared to climb Mount Cameroon in 2017, I became more curious about our own mountain and was quite disappointed to find out that information was sparse and unreliable. Three mountains later including Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro, I knew that Chappal Waddi was located in Taraba State, that it was inside Nigeria’s largest National Park (Gashaka Gumti National Park) and that I would love to climb it before I turned 30. On the afternoon of International Women’s Day of 2021 - 8th of March - and only 8 days away from my 29th birthday, I summited Chappal Waddi with a group of 4 friends, 1 tour guide, 3 filmmakers, 4 rangers and 18 porters.
Why is it not popular?
Chappal Waddi is 2,419 m above sea level. Even though it is much lower than Mounts Cameroon, Kenya and Kilimanjaro, it is a big deal because it is the highest in Nigeria and West Africa (Cameroon is in Central Africa). If we teach students about the first president, the longest river and the largest city, why don’t we learn about the highest mountain? Why isn’t Chappal Waddi popular among Nigerians?
Well, let’s do a quick overview.
There are two states in Northeastern Nigeria called Adamawa and Taraba. These two states play host to Nigeria’s National park - Gashaka Gumti National Park. On the Taraba side, there is Nigeria’s highest mountain called Chappal Waddi. To get there, there is only one flight from Abuja to Jalingo, the state capital of Taraba. This flight is operated by Overland Airways, once a day, from Monday to Friday. This means that we had to fly from Lagos to Abuja then from Abuja to Jalingo (thank God for Overland) before we started the journey across Taraba State. This was what our schedule looked like:
What inspired the climb?
This climb was inspired by sheer adventure and a desire to find out how we can open up this incredible mountain to the country and the world. It is quite embarrassing that the average Nigerian does not know that the highest mountain in West Africa is in our country, and that an even greater number of people cannot call it by name. As I climbed Mounts Cameroon, Kenya and Kilimanjaro, I knew that if this was the last gift I gave my country, I would want to help explore the mountain and make it more accessible to the average person.
A few months to the climb, we were excited to have Overland Airways jump on board as flight sponsors for the Abuja to Jalingo leg of our trip. It was especially exciting because Overland is the only airline that can take you to the summit of Nigeria; connecting the country to the capital city of Taraba. A huge shout-out to the Overland team; their warm treatment of our crew from the beginning to the end was impressive.
It was also important to me that our summit had a clear sign post, as all major mountains do. I was honored to have gotten permission to do this and my friends were too. So, even though my carpentry skills are horrible, I almost cried for joy as we hammered the sign in place and lifted up the Nigerian flag at the summit of our country. P.S: carpentry is an underrated skill. All my nails kept bending :(
Choosing a team.
Every travel experience is just as memorable as the team. For this expedition, it was important to me that the group was small, intimate and voraciously thirsty for adventure because many aspects of this trip were unknown. I clarified early on that this was not a typical packaged tour by TVP Adventures; that it was an expedition that I would gladly go on by myself but would happily open up to a small group. How could I promise people a paid experience that I didn’t know much about myself? What if costs ran over our estimates? What if schedules changed at the last minute? What if we couldn’t make it to the summit? There were many ‘what-ifs’ and I did not want the group to be a surprise! I wanted people I knew and trusted and for whom a surprising outcome would not mean an end to our personal or professional relationship. Also, as a physically challenging experience, the documentary crew needed to be up for the long walks and hikes and not throw in the towel at any point. Once we had a set team, we all planned for months, got COVID tested and set out! The group would become the secret sauce to our success!
In the end, I climbed with Toyeke Adedipe, Dotun Ajibade, Kingsley Obaseki, Ibinabo Oyibo, Kola Adetimole and Bethel Moseglad - our tour guide extraordinaire. I must say that if you’re ever planning to visit Taraba State, the Mambilla Plateau or Chappal Waddi, your best bet is Bethel Moseglad of Nature Connects. He knows his stuff in that state! We also had a team of 4 incredible rangers and 18 porters.
Is it difficult or unsafe?
Everyone around the world was concerned for our safety. It is important to remind everyone that safety is in two parts - the actual safety and the perception of safety. Both elements are important because one without the other is useless. In this case, majority of the security concerns were based on the unfortunate perception of insecurity that has plagued the entire country over the last decade or so. The North is not a monolith of insecurity and the North East is not a monolith of terrorism.
This does not take away from the real issues we had to face on the ground. For example, we drove in a convoy of police officers on the Jalingo-Serti stretch because of how notorious that road has become with bandits and robbers. We also had to tread carefully on our last day because there was a clash between the park rangers and some unscrupulous miscreants and even though the clash was fatal on the side of the miscreants, it gave us room for concern. I must give kudos to the National Park Service who work hard to ensure that visitors are as safe as could be, especially with trained armed rangers who are with climbers all the way from Serti to the Summit.
In terms of difficulty, there is a stretch that requires us to get in a rugged Mambilla jeep on a dusty road for 5-6 hours. This was the most uncomfortable portion of the entire trip and the dust bath is worse than what can be described in words. I am looking forward to an alternative way of navigating this road (maybe by chopper or in AC Land Rovers) so that we can bring groups to the mountain. In fact, a chopper service from Jalingo airport to the foot of the mountain would cut out every single security or dust concern. Other than that stretch, the trip was rugged but bearable.
The actual climb.
I will do a separate post that details my daily diary of the climb and another one that answers FAQs for future climbers. However, the climb itself was spectacular. It was physically demanding as it involved walking, motorbikes, a rugged jeep, a bus and planes for hours at a time. In the end, the views are out of this world and I believe that anyone with average fitness and a lot of patience can summit this mountain.
We had a lot of help.
I know from experience that in the multitude of counsel, there is a safety net. In planning this expedition, I spared no opportunity to ask questions. Mr. Abdulhameed of Gashaka Gumti National Park went over and beyond to prepare the entire NPS team for our arrival. His boss, the CP of the park gave us permission to donate the sign at the summit and allowed his team help us beyond their regular job descriptions. When I asked Tunde Morakinyo of Africa Nature Investors for a quick call, we ended up having dinner and I filled two pages of notes with his tips on how to navigate the hike from Abuja to the summit. I was surprised when Phillip Okafor offered me his sleeping bag as a sample to show that I didn’t need to import bags for the team from France. In the end, because of his recommendation, I ordered sleeping bags, made in Abuja. And when I asked Joseph Aro about tips on GPS tracking equipment, he hooked me up with the best apps.
By the time we got to Gashaka Gumti, Mr. Chidi Ukoha and Mr. Dauda were supplying coolers of rice and yam and whatever else we needed. Of course, there were still some surprises but I am so thankful to everyone who made this experience a lot more seamless for us all.
Is it worth it?
Absolutely, 100% worth it!
Look at some of the shots we were able to get on the morning after the summit. There’s a way that a mountain comes to life in the Harmattan season that’s bare and vulnerable. I cannot wait to see it when it is all lush and green in the rains.
It was cold before the Sun came out but who cares…we’ve got photos to take :)
One more at the Summit!
That was a mouthful! Thanks for reading to this point.
So, tell me by email or as a comment:
Did you know about Chappal Waddi before now?
Have you ever even wondered what Nigeria’s highest mountain is?
Would you climb it?
What can we do to make this mountain and the entire Mambilla Plateau a globally relevant tourist destination?
Before you go, please share this newsletter with other curious minds. There’s something pretty cool to discover every week!