MT KILIMANJARO : The highest mountain in Africa
Yes, I climbed – and summitted it along with good friends in August 1999!
As you can see, we made the cover of National Geographic, and if you read the blurb on the cover, you will see why!
We planned this event as a celebration of the turn of the 20th century. Susan and Frederic, good friends on the rhs of the picture, came from the States, I am in the middle, George and Vonn on the lhs.
It was an event not without its dramas. I was training like mad prior to leaving Johannesburg. My left leg packed up several weeks before and I could barely walk let alone train. But an injection into my butt two days before departure took away the pain (it was a miracle) and off we flew to Tanzania.
The first day of our climb we hit MUD, my back pack was way too heavy and I thought this was the end of me. The mud was like the nigredo to me – being fully in the blackness of despair. Susan and I talked of death – when we could talk. My sleeping bag went astray the first night and the second night but George had an extra one, bless his thermal socks.
Wilson, our leader, was like a good father to us, encouraging us to go ‘pole pole’, Swahili for ‘slowly slowly’ so as to acclimatise to the ever increasing thinness of the air. He said many times to us when we were in despair, ‘if it’s not difficult it’s not worth it’, a mantra in the moment that kept us going.
The Barranco Wall on the 3rd day – no, surely not! Not possible to climb over THAT! Surely now was the time to shed my mortal coil. But somehow, my body made unbelievable contortions to get over it.
Luckily none of us in our group had succumbed to `altitude mountain sickness’ which, if it happens, it’s off the mountain immediately. We met a few highly trained younger men from Cape Town with their own physician, who had succumbed and they had to get off. If AMS gets you it gets you. No fault no blame.
Long story short: at 11 p.m. on the 5th night we left Barafu camp to begin the final ascent. My water bottle froze, my headlights gave up. Julius, one of the porters, my guide, my shadow, wordlessly pushing, guiding, encouraging, pole pole.
The sun rose several hours later; we reached Stella Point, 200 meters below Uhuru. Glaciers as far as the eye could see. Gigantic, imposing, awesome! Uhuru was in sight!
We reached Uhuru at 7.45 a.m. We all promptly burst into tears and hugged each other and cried some more. We were ecstatic. WE’D MADE IT! Feeling is believing! UHURU – like a lion roar!
The descent off the mountain was another story. Only later did it hit me that once you get up you have to get down – as above so below. It was a re-visited nightmare, hitting primordial thick sloppy sludgy mud, AGAIN!
In summary, each of us was going into the unknown, stretching ourselves out of our comfort zones. I am sure that our attitude to this was just about right – do your best, be aware, be attentive, be yourself, be grateful to the Fates, fellow travellers, guides –
We spent 2 nights thereafter at Maji Moto and 2 nights at the Ngogorogoro Crater Lodge, safari lodges in this beautiful part of Africa, where the wildlife is abundant. Rhino, elephant, lion, wildebeest, flamingo … o my … no words –
O, incidentally, Susan and Frederic had the cover of the National Geographic especially made!