In 2006, I was asked to participate in a charity walk for Hospice Witwatersrand. Having said, “Yes”, I had to withdraw due to a work commitment. Being a Hospice counselor I know how badly the organization needed funds and exposure.
I wanted to fulfill my original commitment, but with what? I decided that it needed to be BIG and a challenge.
Kilimanjaro had been on my bucket list for seven years and this was the challenge that could fulfill my ambition and raise money for a worthy cause.
And so the 1485am Radio Today/Hospice Kilimanjaro Challenge 2006 was born.
I do not believe that you can conquer anything that you find in nature, but you can conquer your fear of the adventure that lies ahead. Kilimanjaro was there before me, and it will continue to exist long after I have gone—perhaps with less ice and snow, but it will still be there.
The words of a Donovan song sum up my Kilimanjaro experience: ‘First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.’When I arrived at Kilimanjaro there was no mountain for two days, then suddenly there was. And when it finally revealed itself it was awesome. The expression ‘It took my breath away’ was brought home to me in more ways than one. We joked that the mountain did not exist and we were going to walk around for a week and then go home!
Some Kilimanjaro trivia:
It was the inspiration for Ernest Hemmingway’s short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1936). It is also referred to in a Monty Python Flying Circus sketch. Toto’s 1982 hit song ‘Africa’ contains a line about Kilimanjaro.It was also used as a backdrop in the film The Lion King.
There are actually three summits on Kilimanjaro—Shira, Mawenzi and the Kibo.Uhuru peak is found on the latter. Unfortunately global warming is affecting Kibo and when I shared my photographs with a friend who had climbed in the 1950s he could not believe that we had both climbed the same mountain.Little or no snow exists at the summit. If the global-warming experts are to be believed,in a relatively short time, the remaining glaciers will also melt and disappear, leaving the mountain bare and featureless.
If you organize your climb to coincide with a full moon it will add a whole new dimension to your experience. But no matter when you climb, or which route you choose, it is difficult to not be affected by the mountain.
The human soul needs to be nurtured by the sights and sounds of nature. No matter how urbanized we become we all seem to hanker to get out of the cities and into the country. Perhaps somewhere in our DNA we still retain the some of our old hunter/gatherer gene.
There were highs (many), lows (very few), and I got to see Africa from a whole new perspective. On my return a local journalist asked me if I had experienced any bad days on the mountain.
“Only one bad day,” I replied. “I had a severe headache and some nausea … however, I have dated women who have made me feel worse than that.”
I hope that reading this Blog will inspire you to attempt your own ‘mountain’.
DAY 1: Machame Gate - Machame camp
Altitude range: 1500 m – 3100 m
Hiking time: 7- 8 hours
Habitat: Rain forest
After you have registered at the gate office you will begin your Kilimanjaro climb.
First, you will enter the rain forest so you can fully expect to take a wet and soggy hike along a muddy trail until you hit the halfway point to the Machame camp. Here you will stop for lunch before heading off for the Machame camp.
By the time you arrive at Machame Camp later in the afternoon your porters will already have arrived and will have started preparing everything for your arrival, your tents will be pitched and water will be on the boil. You will be given a supply of water to wash with and later on your cook will prepare dinner for you. DAY 2: Machame camp - Shira camp
Altitude range: 2980 m – 3850 m
Hiking time: 6 –7 hours
Habitat: Rain forest and Moorland
After an early start you will be served breakfast at Machame Camp, then you climb an hour or so before you leave the glades of the forest. The gradient eases off a bit as you hike through moorlands for a further 2 hours until it’s time for lunch.
After a quick lunch and a short rest you will continue your ascent up a rocky ridge leading onto the Shira plateau. On a clear day you will see from here the Western Breach with its awesome glaciers in the east.
A short hike from here will bring you to the Shira campsite, where you will be spending the night. Again, the porters will have your tents pitched before you arrive and will boil drinking and washing water, before your cook prepares your dinner.
At 3850 m DAY 3: Shira Camp - Barranco camp
Altitude range: 3850 m – 3950 m
Hiking time: 7-8 hours
Habitat: Semi desert and rocky terrain
From Shira camp the route turns east towards Kibo and you will find yourself hiking through semi desert conditions and fairly rocky conditions surrounding Lava Tower – to get here you will have hiked for about 5 hours and you will have attained an altitude of over 4450 m. You will have lunch before beginning your ascent towards Lava Tower at 4600 m.
After lunch you descend again by approximately 650 m down to the Barranco camp
The camp is located in a valley just below the impressive Great Barranco Wall. Enjoy the magnificent sunset DAY 4: Barranco camp – Karanga (acclimatization)
Altitude range: 3950 m – 4200 m
Hiking time: 7 hours
Habitat: Alpine desert
After breakfast you will leave Barranco camp and make your way up the Great Barranco Wall – this part of the climb looks far worse than it really is – remember this when you start this climb! From the Great Barranco Wall you will then descend through the Karanga Valley over intervening ridges and valleys, to the junction that connects with the Mweka route.
From this junction it will take you almost another hour to reach Barafu Hut. At an altitude of 4560 m, your tents are pitched on a narrow, stony ridge and are exposed to all the elements
You will also need to spend some time preparing your equipment for your summit attempt. Ensure that headlamp and camera batteries are in order and make sure you have spare sets of batteries available as well. DAY 5: Karanga-Barafu camp
Altitude range: 4200 m – 4600 m
Hiking time: 3-4 hours
Habitat: Stoney scree
DAY 6:Summit day: Barafu camp- Stella Point and Uhuru Peak! Millennium camp
Altitude range: 4600 m – 5895 m
Hiking time: To the summit; 8 hours.returns
Today will by far be your toughest day of climb, you will rise around 23h30.
The walk to Stella point is for many climbers probably the most mentally and physically challenging part of the entire route. You will be hiking about 7 hours to get to Stella Point - here you will stop for a rest and a truly magnificent African sunrise. Departing from Stella Point, hour, when you will finally reach the summit of Uhuru Peak at 5895 meters.
Don’t get too relaxed and spend too much time on the summit, Cold and fatigue will set in quickly and you may find it very difficult to get started again. enjoy the fact that you have Kilimanjaro
The first part of your descent to Barafu will take almost 3 hours. Here you will stop for a short rest before heading down to Mweka hut – it takes an average of 5 hours to work your way down the rock and scree path to the moorland and eventually back into the rain forest. Millennium camp is situated in the upper forest and mist or rain can be expected in the late afternoon. As usual your tents, dinner, and washing water will be prepared DAY 7: Millenium camp - Mweka Gate
Average walking time 3-4 hours
Habitat: Rain Forest
After an early and well-deserved breakfast, it is a short 3-hour and scenic hike back to the Mweka Park gate, where you sign your name and enter your details in a register. To make your achievement official, you will receive a summit certificate. If you reached Stella Point you will be presented with a green certificate, and if you made it all the way to Uhuru Peak you will have earned yourself a gold certificate.
It’s not over yet though - you still have to walk from the Mweka Gate down into the Mweka village, normally a muddy 3 km hike that will take an hour or so.
Collecting my kit at Cape Union Mart in Johannesburg
Our first major training hike at Suikerbosrand nature reserve near Heidleberg.
Take a deep breath and move one foot forward, and hold that position! Now take another breath and bring your back foot level with your front foot…and repeat for 7 days. You should now have some idea of how difficult it is to slow down on the mountain.
Trying to walk like that through the suburb in which I live would have got looks of pity and perhaps some kind soul might even have called an ambulance.
In order not to get bored, and to break the monotony of training, I added cycling to the hiking and running. I tried to alternate the running and cycling during the week and then hiked or did a long walk on the weekend. Don’t overtrain. I made that mistake before my first Comrades Marathon, a 90km(55 mile) running race staged every year in South Africa, and almost did not finish it. Since then, less is more, for me anyway.
The hiking can be done at a variety of different places. No matter where in the world you live, you will probably have to drive for at least an hour to get to a decent hiking venue. I got bored with that and decided to walk around the suburb I live in.Walking through suburban streets dressed in Kilimanjaro climbing gear is enough to get the police interested. As it might look that you are wearing the entire contents of a wardrobe and then carrying even more household goods in your back pack. And talking of backpacks, try to have about 5-7kgs(11-15 lbs.) in yours when you do your training. Use these hikes to get the height of your trekking poles correct. When I went on my first hike I was unaware that my trekking poles had to be ‘set’. A comfortable height is reached when your forearms are parallel to the ground. Some people find them unnecessary; others only use one pole. But I found that a pair works best. You may end up walking like a praying mantis but they take the strain of your shoulders and act as a second pair of arms. Luckily for me I live between a large park and a dam in western Johannesburg.This meant that I was able to use both areas to walk in. Because they are relatively flat areas, I chose to do longer walks at a brisk pace. I usually walked for about four hours at a pace of around 15min per km. A lot faster than the Kili-shuffle, but will give you a good training base. You are thinking, he said walk slowly…aren’t you? It is better to train at a faster pace than a slow one.
I also tried to get in at least three runs a weeks of around thirty-forty minutes.
In a pensive mood before the climb
During the last week before the climb I cut back on the physical training and concentrated on training my mind.
My visualization technique is very simple…get a good mountain map and your itinerary. That is the most physical part of this exercise.
Now walk the route, in your head. Try to feel the mud beneath your boots, the cold and the damp, but more importantly be positive about every step you take. See yourself succeeding every day. You cannot physically train for altitude, but you can mentally prepare for the physical effect on your body. So see yourself overcoming the headaches and the nausea. Plan that this might happen. It happened to me on the second day of the climb, and I accepted the headache and thanked the mountain for giving me the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. After a lie down and a reasonable nights sleep I was fine and I was not troubled by either of these symptoms again. I did have a headache almost every morning but that was from sleeping with no pillow.
You also need to prepare you mind not to second-guess what your symptoms are. A headache could be just that, not a symptom of impending altitude sickness. By the same token, do not deny your symptoms as this could put your life in danger.
By the time I actually got to Kilimanjaro I had ‘climbed’ the route seven times.
The most important aspect of mental preparation is to be positive. I was able to see myself enjoying the climb and the adventure of everyday on the mountain.
If your mind is strong, your body will follow. It does not have much of a choice.
It is said that older people who tackle Kilimanjaro will succeed, and I believe that mental preparation is the reason for this.
A quote from my journal seems to highlight this point “I have walked the route several times in my mind in the week leading up to the climb and I am quietly confident that I am mentally and physically ready to accept this challenge”
About two weeks before we left for Tanzania, our route to the summit was changed to due the closure of the Western Breach route being closed. Luckily for me I found out in time, or mentally I would have been climbing the wrong route!
Train both your body and your mind and you will be well prepared to accept the challenge that Kilimanjaro has to offer you.
Our board our bus at the airport to take us to our hotel in Moshi
OK,Keys Hotel was not the greatest hotel in the world...but the bed was comfortable and the room was clean
The team. They were all Cape Union Mart staff except for Hagen(the editor of FHM magazine and I)
Signs are very important...
I read them all, just in case...
these times are only approximate and will depend on the speed of the slowest walker in any group
the Machame entrance gate, the people on the outside are looking for work as porters or guides
Very important notice...
the lower slopes are tropical rain forest
One way up...another way down
This is the mountain "ambulance"...no brakes but it does get you off the mountain quickly and that is exactly what you want if you are in trouble...
This is what Quinton had to say about his experience...
“I was fine that Friday morning, when we started out for the summit.
I was in high spirits and mentally prepared, especially, my mind set.
It was into the third hour of our climb that I started becoming breathless and my toes and finger tips started going numb from the cold.
I gathered it was as a result of the stop, go all the time as one’s body tends to cool down from this and you lose your rhythm of breathing and pace.
I was becoming extremely nauseas and tried to throw up, but to no avail.So I attempted to force myself to be sick, still no luck.
Our guide, Emmanuel, had told me, should I throw up that it would make me feel much better, but it never happened as I was not able to.
I was now on the stage where I had to stop every 2-3 minutes to catch my breath and I was feeling dizzy.I then remembered that there were still 2 staff members about 30 minutes behind me, I thought I would rest for a while until they reached me and then I would join them.I decided to call my girlfriend (Karen) who was in front of me.
Soon after I called her name, I passed out.
When I came around all I could see was all these bright lights from the headlamps and couldn’t remember where I was or how I got there. Then there was this thing over my mouth and it scared the living daylights out of me, it was the oxygen mask. I was told that I tried to get up and start walking but was forced to the ground. My girlfriend told me that I had stopped breathing and as they [guides] were struggling to put the oxygen on, had to do mouth to mouth to help me breathe. They wanted to put me into a compression bag to help adjust to the altitude but couldn’t get the oxygen to work, but eventually they managed to do so.
It was decided to get me off the mountain as quickly and as soon as possible, as by this stage I was going in and out of consciousness.
I don’t remember anything on the descent, only waking up on the stretcher in the rain forest and the raindrops falling on my face. I was taken back to the hotel and waited there for the doctor.
I am extremely grateful and thankful to the two guides who had assisted me. They were extremely professional in the descent and I highly respect them.
They were very considerate but can you imagine physically carrying an 89kg unconscious man down about 3000m on a stretcher.
Raymond and Emmanuel I salute you two! NOT TO FORGET, the porters that assisted you.
I will never forget this experience, EVER!
I am definitely going back to finish what I’ve started.
You are not allowed to climb alone, and you must be accompanied by a minimum of 1 guide, 2 porters and a cook. The fastest solo ascent of Kilimanjaro was in June 2005 by an American who did it in just under five and half-hours!
The Tanzanian Government and their Parks board are very protective of their mountain and the income that they derive from it. This means that they have no ceiling on the amount of people that they give mountain permits to.
Unlike regular hiking, the majority of your gear, food, tent will be carried by porters. So make sure that you hire enough to get you to the summit. Remember that you are going to be putting yourself in the hands of the guides and porters that take you to the summit, so if the package offered sounds to good to be true, be wary. Saving on the cost of an extra guide or porter may turn out to be very costly
Guides are compulsory for all Kilimanjaro routes.
Before you book your tour, make sure that the company concerned is using guides registered with the Kilimanjaro National Parks Board.
A qualified Kilimanjaro guide holds great prestige and respect within his local community.
Before becoming a fully qualified guide, an apprenticeship has to be served. He would start off by being employed as a porter for a minimum of three years. This is followed by another two years as an assistant guide. If he, there are very few female guides, is found competent, he would get an opportunity to become a registered guide. Guides and porters will do, on average three (5 - 6 day) expeditions per month
Aside from your guide, the porters and cooks are very important. By the time you arrive at a camp, tents have been pitched, water has been boiled and the mess tent and afternoon snacks have been laid out, and your bags are waiting for you.While all this is happening the cooks will be preparing meals that will astound you, given the primitive conditions on the mountain.
We look in awe at what lies ahead.
on a clear day you can see Kilimanjaro...
Our intrepid team walking through a Martian landscape
A memorial to a porter that died on Kilimanjaro.Unlike Everest, bodies are carried off the mountain
Karanga Valley camp(4200m)
good camera equipment is necessary.In 2006 this Samsung Pro815 was top of the range.
The toilets are closer to camp than I expected.
On of our porters making a cell phone call...
In all the literature I read before leaving it was pointed out that tipping was essential as the guides and porters rely on this source of income. It is recommended not to tip your porters until you and all your gear have descended from the mountain.
I found that the staff we had on our climb were excellent, and this reflected the attention to detail that Wild Frontiers have in their operation. Our guides, Emmanuel and Raymond and head guide John were excellent and very competent. Every time I stopped to take pictures, which was often, one of them always stopped with me. They never rushed me or asked me not to stop, but were very helpful and always had a smile or an encouraging word.
Three in a row. Even they were smelly and NOT a place where you want to spend too much time, they are part of the landscape