Africa's Other Mountains

Mount Kenya

There is a buffalo outside my tent. Groggily, I awaken out of the kind of deep sleep that always follows a strenuous day in high mountains. "What do you think we should do?" whispers Dan. Good question.

As a general rule, I like to consider myself a reasonably competent outdoors person. Dan has a few tricks up his sleeve, too. We can fix a delaminated boot sole, splint a tent pole with a stick, take a stove apart and put it together, and make a fire out of cow dung. We know what to do if a rattlesnake rattles, if a bear tries to steal the food, or if a skunk pays a midnight visit. But nowhere in our hiking experience—for that matter, nowhere in our research or in our hundreds of conversations with fellow hikers—have we ever dealt with the subject of what to do when a cape buffalo is outside our tent at two o'clock in the morning. It is so close we can hear it breathe, and I am acutely aware that all that stands between it and us is a thin layer of nylon.

"I don't know," I say. "What do you think we should do?"

Do we talk loudly, so it runs away—or will that make it angry? Is a 3,000-pound buffalo likely to avoid a four-pound nylon tent or step on it? Does it know we're here? Would that be a good thing, or a bad thing? Is it cape buffalo or hippos that kill more people in Africa than do lions?

If you're looking for answers, you'll have to ask someone else. All I know is that eventually, our hearts stopped pounding. (You can only live in a state of abject terror for so long.) Eventually, the buffalo moved away, although we heard it, on and off, sniffing and snorting for the rest of the night. We didn't dare leave the tent till morning, when we stepped out to find the buffalo's calling cards neatly deposited in front of the door.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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