Monday, 24 July 2017

Why I quit smoking (post 5 of 10)

I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for the first time in August 2008. I share my observations from that climb, including a day-by-day account of one of the most life-changing experiences I have had.

Tuesday 19 August 2008
We were driven from Moshi towards Arusha and then headed for Machame on our way to the starting point. I was disappointed cloud cover prevented us from having a clear view of the mountain. After registration, the Kilimanjaro Park rangers inspected our porters' climbing gear. Our group consisted of 9 porters, lead guide Yahoo, and his assistant, Hamisi.
Many of Kilimanjaro's porters work in difficult conditions and carry heavy loads with tents, sleeping bags, food, and water to ensure that climbers reach Uhuru Peak in relative comfort. However, their poor working conditions sometimes endanger not only their health but their lives. We heard stories of porters who died because they were inadequately clothed.

We were dropped at the end of a rough road at the edge of a thick forest to begin our climb, the kind of road made for offroad vehicles. We began what to me was the slowest walk I have ever walked since I learnt to walk. Yahoo, in front, set the pace during the four-hour trek. Later, when tackling the toughest sections of the climb I understood how important it was to set a slow pace to maintain steady progress. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We spent the first night at Big Tree Camp, in the company of Black-and-white colobus monkeys.

The greatest difficulty of the first night is sleeping early. I spent tortuous hours trying to sleep at 8, but only for the first night. In the subsequent seven nights I was so tired from the day's walk that I could have slept at midday. The other test was trying to fall asleep in a sleeping bag. Try to imagine being rolled up in a carpet and falling asleep. Towards the end of the climb I had said so much against sleeping bags that Le recommended I look up an Australian version that offers more room.

Surprisingly as I tossed and turned I could hear someone snoring in the next tent.

Wednesday 20 August 2008
Today, I believe I accomplished the longest walk ever. I suspect not even Nelson Mandela whose autobiography is titled Long Walk to Freedom, has taken a longer walk. Except for a one-hour lunch break at Shira One Camp, we walked from 7 in the morning until about 8 in the evening, encountering a steep climb early during the day as we moved out of the forest and onto the Shira Plateau.

The toughest section of the day was after sunset when Yahoo pointed to a distant light on top of a ridge and said that was our destination. It was a long difficult climb that seemed endless. At one point I handed my backpack to Yahoo and completed the section without a load. At this point I began to doubt whether I would reach the peak.

Though never bothered by the cold, I suffered from a shortness of breath which Yahoo said was a symptom of altitude sickness. He said the accute symptoms included the tongue turning green.

Next post: To Barranco Camp and the "breakfast climb."

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Monday, 17 July 2017

Why I quit smoking (post 4 of 10)

I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for the first time in August 2008. I share my observations from that climb, including a day-by-day account of one of the most life-changing experiences I have had.

Sunday 17 August 2008
Having dropped the Pare Mountain trek I kept reassuring myself with Jose’s words: I need not be exceptionally fit for the 7 to 8-day route he recommended: Lemosho – Southern Circuit, Barafu, Uhuru Peak. The long route permits a gradual acclimatization of the body and it is an almost foolproof tested method of reaching the summit.

My friend Jose has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro 12 times and would have joined me on this year’s climb for his thirteenth climb. But as bad luck would have it he suffered an ankle injury and will not climb this time. He has also climbed parts of the Himalayas, up to Mt. Everest Base Camp.

He said Mr. Le Hu Dyuong, a software engineer from Vietnam, will join me for the climb. Le had also been to Everest Base Camp and had also climbed Mt. Kenya before his Kilimanjaro ascent. In fact, he asked me to postpone the Kilimanjaro climb so that he would get a few days’ rest after climbing Mt. Kenya. A few days after climbing Kilimanjaro, he climbed Mt. Meru. Then he took two weeks’ rest and planned to climb Mt. Oldoinyo Lengai, but logistics prevented him from climbing the volcano.

Monday 18 August 2008
In the morning I met Le at Moshi bus stand. We stayed at the Springlands Hotel and during lunch sat with a couple from Manchester, originally from South Africa. They told us Kilimanjaro was a tough climb, but a worthwhile attempt. They suggested we should also try to climb the Lava Tower on our way up.
In the afternoon we assembled for the pre-climb briefing and were introduced to one tall lanky mountain guide with dreadlocks called Pius. He told us he was also known as “Yahoo” to his colleagues.

We had a short argument with him when he tried to dissuade us from the 7-8 day climb Jose’ suggested and, instead, proposed a shorter route. We insisted on the longer route and, especially, spending two nights at Barafu Camp, the base camp, to get our bodies acclimatized to the high altitude.

I suggested to Yahoo he was in a rush to get back to Moshi to pick up another group of climbers and earn extra cash but, unfortunately, he was stuck with one inexperienced climber and another experienced climber who knew enough about altitude sickness not to take any chances. Yahoo reluctantly agreed.

After I picked up a Kilimanjaro mountain map the shop attendant tried to sell me mosquito repellent, but Le quickly dismissed any possibility of finding mosquitoes on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Tanzanians are aware how enterprising the people of Kilimanjaro are. Well, if I had any doubts, I knew today the Chagga were exceptional salespeople.

Next post: I take the first step towards the summit

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Monday, 10 July 2017

Why I quit smoking (Post 3 of 10)

I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for the first time in August 2008. I share my observations from that climb, including a day-by-day account of one of the most life-changing experiences I have had.

Friday 15 August 2008
Left Butiama for Mwanza early in the morning, intending to drive through before any traffic police officer was on the road to inspect my car insurance that had expired by a few days. My problem was I realized too late the relatively high cost of climbing Kilimanjaro and was not sure whether I had enough money to pay for both the insurance premium and the climb.

At Mwanza, I picked up my rebate ticket offered by Air Tanzania Corporation Limited (ATCL) for the Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb 2008 for my Mwanza-Kilimanjaro-Mwanza flight. I continue to be amused that it sounds like a grand fund raising campaign, but there I was, one person who had cornered himself into a quandary. I was the campaign. I flew to Kilimanjaro International Airport in the evening.

Saturday 16 August 2008
I woke up early to file my article for the Sunday News, late as usual. I have difficulty coming up with a new topic for the column every week. I spend most of the time thinking through a subject and by the time I sit down to write the article, it is way past the deadline. One advantage of climbing the mountain will be I might be able to squeeze out more than one article for the column.

I spoke to Zainab Ansell, owner of Zara Tanzania Adventures and she informed me that her company was offering me a fully-paid 8-day Kilimanjaro trek worth $US1,500. I was elated.

In the afternoon, my friend from Mwanga sent a car to pick me up at Moshi and I slept in a room that had about a hundred mosquitoes. I spent more than an hour reducing their number using the cloth-canon technique. The technique involves waiting for a mosquito to land on a wall and then hurling clothing against the wall. It is one one of the most environmentally friendly mosquito-eliminating method that I know.

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Next post: I meet Le, an experienced climber and Yahoo, our mountain guide.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Here's how to prepare for the next Kilimanjaro climb

Here's how to prepare for the next Kilimanjaro climb, if you are looking at doing something that is both adventurous, and will benefit the community.

After postponing two previous climbs, and canceling the September 2017 climb, I am planning to join again Tanzania Development Support to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in January 2018 to raise funds for its education program at Nyegina Secondary School in Mara region.

You can join the climb to support TDS's project or just to enjoy reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. There are few more exhilarating experiences like reaching the summit.

Here's how:

  • get in touch with me by email to register your name so that I can provide you regular updates on the climb
  • start your training, at least four months before the climb in January (early September, the latest)
  • cycling, hiking, jogging are some of the exercises that are suitable
  • when you have committed to join the climb, sign up on this Facebook page, dedicated to my annual Kilimanjaro climbs
A few points to remember before commencing the climb from Londorossi Gate
In the coming months, I will share on this blog suggestions on the combination of upper body, lower body, and aerobic exercises that will prepare you reach the highest point on the African continent with ease.

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is not easy, but most people can reach the summit with the right preparations.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Music is an excellent distration

Music is an excellent distraction from the challenges of outdoor activities, including cycling, my preferred method of training.

No wonder it is illegal in some countries to wear headphones while cycling. It endangers the safety of the cyclist.

I have read articles suggesting how Kilimanjaro climbers can ease the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro by listening to their favourite music as they negotiate through the difficult sections of Kilimanjaro's routes to the summit.

I attest to the effectiveness of this advice because I find that cycling while listening to music reduces the intensity of the challenges that I face.

What works all the time for me in shifting attention from the immediate challenge is to concentrate on the lyrics and the instruments, as if I am rehearsing for an exam on the song.

When I rode with Ross Methven from Butiama to Dodoma he told me he does not like to listen to music while riding. He does not permit his mind to wander away from the challenge. He prefers to concentrate on the challenge head on.
Riding into a wind swept Manyoni during the ride to Dodoma. (Photo: Ross Methven)
In my case music is an excellent distraction from the challenges of outdoor activities.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The odds of this

The odds of this happening: three airline passengers sitting next to each other, apparently with nothing in common, to eventually have some shared experience was an amazing coincidence.

Early this year, I was on a connecting flight from Doha and was stuck at the window seat of the row with two other passengers on my left side.

I thought the passenger next to me was throwing a lot of his weight around, literally. He was elbowing me away from placing my left arm on the armrest and did so without any misgivings.

He read a huge book and as I glanced over I could not determine what language he was reading. He read a lot from that book, and when he put down the book he engaged the other passenger to my far left in conversation.

I realized one can learn so much by just listening. I tend to be a person who prefers to keep quiet when I travel. If I am not reading something I prefer to contemplate life silently. And I cherish that privacy, and try to maintain it as much as possible. Sometimes, my biggest fear when I travel is I will be seated next to someone who wants to talk throughout a long haul flight, denying the quiet I so much cherish while traveling.

Not long after our departure from Doha, I glanced out of the window and saw a snow-covered mountain range. Our flight was just approaching the southern coast of the Caspian Sea. I later learnt these were the Alborz Mountains.

My neighbour to the left also saw what I saw and began recounting his experience of climbing those mountains. I thought that was an interesting coincidence. I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and was sitting next to someone who had also climbed these beautiful mountains in Iran.
Photo of Tehran with the Alborz mountain range By Hansueli Krapf - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The other passenger continued to listen with interest to my neighbours adventures on the Alborz mountains. I thought how unfortunate that I had shown little interest to speak to anyone; it could have been an interesting conversation to join, with my experiences of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

When my neighbor exhausted his narrative, he asked the other passenger: "So, what do you do?" The response confirmed to me that I might have to reconsider avoiding conversations with strangers.

He responded he spends most of his time climbing mountains, and had climbed Mt. Everest several times. I have never met someone who has climbed Mt. Everest, but I sure have a lot of  questions to ask someone who has, but I thought I would look awkward to suddenly have any interest in my neighbors, so I keenly followed the conversation between them.

The odds of this happening: three passengers sitting next to each other and having some mountaineering experience to share between them was just amazing.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Why I quit smoking (post 2 of 10)

I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro for the first time in August 2008. I share my observations from that climb, including a day-by-day account of one of the most life-changing experiences I have had.

In 2007 when it looked like I had lost yet another opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro, I decided I had to do something drastic or else I would continue dreaming of reaching Uhuru Peak. I had to place myself at a point of no return. I decided to tell a few people that I will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro this year to raise funds for education. The first one was Sr. Stephanie Blaszczynski, headmistress of Chief Edward Wanzagi Girls’ Secondary School near Butiama and she said, “Why don’t you raise money for us? We need a dormitory for the students.”

I also wrote an e-mail to Howard Chinner, a resident of Sevenoaks, England, with whom I have corresponded after he read one of my columns. He suggested I could raise funds for Village Education Project Kilimanjaro (VEPK) located at Mshiri, Marangu, on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

It was partly from his suggestion that what would have been a nameless event, involving climbing the world's highest free standing dormant volcano, became The Mwalimu Nyerere Charity Climb.

With those two commitments it was not possible to excuse myself out of the climb. I then sent out an email to appeal to all those who I felt will have sympathy (and a generosity to match) for one or both of the targeted beneficiaries of the climb. I received some positive response, further preventing me from making any plans that excluded climbing Kilimanjaro.

Prior to the climb, I spent some time trying to raise my fitness level by trekking around some of Butiama’s mountains. I changed my usual 5 kilometre walk around the Muhunda Forest, Butiama's ancestral forest, to a longer trek up Mt. Mtuzu, adding perhaps 3 kilometres to my trek. As I settled into my new exercise regimen I became convinced I was transforming my body into a formidable climbing machine.
Mt. Mtuzu in the background
A friend who lives near Mt. Kilimanjaro told me my convictions were fragile, that Butiama does not have mountains but only anthills, and that the closest I would get to experiencing climbing Kilimanjaro would be to join him in Mwanga and spend some time climbing the Pare Mountains.

I spent two days in Mwanga, but did not climb any mountain. Instead I took a rest and prayed that I was fit enough to climb Kilimanjaro.

Next post: I leave a village and head for a mountain.

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