It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves
Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, rises up above the plains to 5895m. A snow-capped free standing volcano, it dominates the landscape which withers below in the African sun.
It has seen the feet of many thousands of travellers each year, pitting their wits against this quiet monster. It has seen celebrities and ordinaries, the young, the old, the fast and the slow. The fastest ascent was just under 5 hours, the oldest person to scale its heights 86 years, the youngest just seven. It has seen the super fit and the not-so-fit. And it has been the work for many, many Tanzanians who nip up and down the trails carrying the needs of the traveller on their heads.
And then, there was me, sitting at Heathrow Airport, considering the approaching trek with as much enthusiasm as a tooth extraction; I was scared. And with good reason; I don’t have an ‘action girl’ self image; a 50-something, it’s more of a sloth-like demeanor who likes to while away my time dreaming.
Facts about Kilimanjaro
- Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free standing mountain in the world.
- The summit on Mount Kilimanjaro is called Uhuru Peak and stands at 5,895m or 19,341 feet.
- There are six official Kilimanjaro routes. Three routes – Machame, Umbwe, and Marangu – approach from the South, two routes – Shira and Lemosho – from the west and Rongai approaches from the North-East.
- It is estimated that between 3-7 deaths a year. Deaths on the mountain occur due to various reasons including AMS (such as HACE and HAPE), falls, and hypothermia.
- The fastest ascent and descent of Mount Kilimanjaro is held by Swiss mountain runner, Karl Egloff, who ran to the top the summit and back in 6 hours and 42 minutes in August 2014.
- The fastest ascent by a women is held by German born Anne-Marie Flammersfeld, who in July 2015 climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in 8 Hrs 32 Minutes.
- The youngest person to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro is Keats Boyd, at the tender age of 7 years old.
- Angela Vorobeva is the oldest person and women to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, aged 86 years.
That was what got me into this in the first place, dreaming that maybe, just maybe I could be standing at 5895m in front of the summit sign for Uhuru.
And from those dreams, I find myself on the roads between Marangu and the Rongai Gate, passing by the Sunday worshippers leave their churches, walking home, remembering happy times in Kenya with my daughter years ago. It distracts me a little from my panic.
In two hours, we reach the gate and our guide, Mussa, introduces us to Jonathon, our co-guide. “You will get to know the porters over the next few days,” he tells us as the groups of laden porters begin disappearing up the trail. There are 16 porters/guides/chefs looking after our group which is only three people!
The trail winds through pine forests, a 2m wide track is lined with potato plants. Local children run out of their houses as we pass by and join us, some asking for chocolate, some content to hold hands and be part of this spectacle of porters and mzungu.*
Briefly we are entertained by the family of colobus monkeys, a welcome moment which allows me for the first time to forget where I am trekking and enjoy the great leaps that these black and white monkeys take through the trees.
As the trail steepens, I already feel my breathing increasing and settling with each step. Walking in single file, I find that I have plenty of time to allow my sense of panic to rise, and fall quickly. My resolve, my positive mental attitude to wax and wane…I can do it, I can’t do it, I am suffocating, I can’t breathe. I am not sure which thought landed as I fell gratefully to sleep at Simba Camp, 2600m.