Crazy climb up 877 steps on Kwahu Mountain scarp
The Kwahu Easter festivities for 2023 begin in earnest next week and bring to mind some not-too-nostalgic feelings of my experience at the 2016 edition, which was oversubscribed with its attendant traffic jams.
One of my memorable experiences was my attempt to be a hero by climbing a long flight of wooden steps up the Kwahu mountain at Obo.
I had to be crazy to attempt climbing a 15 km long flight of over 877 wooden stairs to the apex of the mountain at Obo, but I couldn’t be damned – I was at my daring best.
Someway somehow, I was charged to make the flight of steep steps that pointed up to ‘heaven’ and there was no iota of fear. Where I got that boldness from I could not tell.
I must admit though that when I got to a point after climbing forever, I felt a bit disappointed as the sign said I had only climbed 300 of the flight of steps. “What! Can I make the rest of the journey?” I asked myself.
But there was this very encouraging writing that said “Keep Going, You’re Almost There”.
Reading the inscription spurred me on and it was there that I said to myself that I would not stop until I had arrived at the apex. It was easier said than done, but determination was my companion as I climbed at my own pace, stopping anytime I felt I needed to take a short rest.
Before long, I was there, at a dizzy height of 2,500ft above sea level, although the last portion was the trickiest part. Thankfully, the designer and local engineers had provided rails to help the climber, which were absent for three-quarters of the way up, as they had seen that it was steepest and scariest getting to the end or top.
Coming down the flight of steps was not any easier as I had to contend with wobbling knees as I descended.
Appropriately named, the designer and innovator of the 877 stairs up the Kwahu Mountain at Obo, Eric Tinkorang, who is also the owner of the Jay’s Lodge where the flight of stairs is located at Obo-Kwahu, said he decided to name the flight of stairs Air JAYS because “there is a feeling of lightness when you get up there as if you are in the air.”
The JAYs refer to his two daughters, Jessie, 31, and Joana, 29, and the flight of steps was unveiled on May 1, 2015. The 2016 Kwahu Easter was, therefore, the first time the facility was included in the major thrills to mark the occasion.
Mr Tinkorang, who has lived in France for over 20 years as a network systems engineer, said the idea of a stairway to the top of the mountain came to him as an inspiration, and as he explored the possibility of constructing it, everyone thought that he was crazy to even come up with that thought.
A crazy man
“When I went up there, I had an inspiration. I thought ok, no one had conquered the slopes yet. I was going to be the crazy guy to do that the first time,” he reminisced.
He, nevertheless, pursued his dream and came up with a design that would not destroy the topography as he had promised the chiefs. This was translated into the wooden stairs up the steep slope with the assistance of seven other local persons.
“I fell in love with Obo because it is the only town on the Kwahu Ridge cast in the valley, so I thought wow, this could be the ideal place,” he recounted.
He was, however, faced with high cost even with the initial lodge structures because of the undulating nature of the land, the difficulty in carrying materials up the Kwahu Ridge, expensive labour cost and the humid nature of Obo, which required special attention.
After it was all done and his French Caribbean wife from Martinique got to see it for the first time, she also thought the husband was too daring. “You are a crazy man but I love you,” she told her husband.
The first such project in Ghana and probably the world, Mr Tinkorang has also added to the steps, the first-ever commercialised zip line up a slope and also the first-ever unique canopy walkway on a mountain.
Very difficult project
But constructing the 877 steps, 200 metres long zip line and 75 metres canopy walkway did not come easy. After the designs had been approved by the relevant authorities, it was then left with making it all real.
Mr Tinkorang said the team settled for Denya wood, a hard tropical wood used for rail sleepers because of its ability to withstand rot, termites and other insects, and last for over 600 years.
The challenge with using the wood, referred to as Ironwood in Australia and Greenheart wood in England, is that due to its density it is not every nail that can be used for it except special tough nails.
The sheer weight of the wood also made carrying it uphill a huge challenge, Mr Tinkorang stated. Nonetheless, they were able to step by step manually clear up the path of big trees, carry the wood uphill and construct the stairs.
He narrated that on one occasion when they were trying to fell a 60ft tree to make way for the steps, a huge snake dropped on the neck of the one using a Dorma chainsaw machine, and he quickly had to throw away the machine or else it would have accidentally wounded him.
He said the most difficult part was constructing the zip line, as they had to manually carry a 40ft long pole with a thick girth of 10 millimetres and a weight of 800 kgs up and also position it correctly in a hole that had been dug for it.
“I had to stay in bed for three days after we had erected the pole for the zip line,” he recounted.
High cost of project
The entire project, including the lodge infrastructure, cost about US$1.2 million, Mr Tinkorang said. He was partnered by a friend who took 20 per cent of the cost, Nana Darkwa, an eminent Kwahu businessman.