Mount Cameroon Race of Hope Marathon

Festival Essentials

Where: Buea, Southwest Cameroon, Central-West Africa
When: Held annually in the last weekend of January or the first weekend of February
What happens: 500 runners battle up and down the steep and unforgiving slopes of Mount Cameroon on a marathon length course

Where It’s At

Mount Cameroon, situated 180 miles west of Yaounde, is the highest mountain in West Africa. It is still an active volcano having last erupted only five years ago. It is seen as a sacred place for the local Bakweri people who live on its surrounding slopes; they refer to it as Mongo-mo-Ndemi, or Mountain of Thunder.

What Happens at The Race of Hope

The mountain is famous around the world for the annual Race of Hope which takes place in the last weekend of January or the first weekend of February. The course, covering a marathon length of 26 miles, is steep, exhausting, and unforgiving.

This gruelling competition attracts competitors and spectators from around the globe. More than 500 runners battle it out to be the first to race to the summit of Mount Cameroon and back again. Since it began in 1973, the winners have all been from the host nation and the Cameroonians are unwilling to relinquish their title. The star of this endurance race is a woman called Sarah Etonge, who lives close to Mount Cameroon. She has been dubbed ‘the Queen of the Mountain’ as in recent years she has won the race four times in a row. She tries to run to the top at least once a week as part of her dedicated training programme. Her accomplishments and dedication is even more of an achievement as when she is not scaling the mountain she is a single mother to seven children.

Watching the Race and Other Trekking Routes

The starting point for the Race of Hope is Buea. This small and unassuming town is swamped with over 50,000 people who come to watch the race. This is also where tourists can start the climb on the Guinness Track – the most direct route to the summit. The best way to do this is through theEcotourism Centre, located opposite the Buea Market and beneath the local council office. A small fee is payable for a permit and the money is used to preserve the mountain’s unique ecosystem, wildlife, and plants.

The climb takes two to five days and the mixture of steep, stony slopes and alpine conditions at the summit make it a challenging expedition. The Ecotourism Office insists you hire a guide which is a good idea on this unpredictable terrain. They also issue you with porters who will help carry your equipment, food, and water for the climb. Bring good walking shoes, warm waterproof clothing, a sleeping bag, tent and enough food and water to be sufficient.

More Information

Mount Cameroon
Article by a man who has climbed the mountain giving a first hand view with good photos.

Cameroon Athletic Federation
The group who organise the Race of Hope. Site in French.

Main Image: Mount Cameroon, AfricaTravelAssociation, Flickr Creative Commons

By Emma Jones