Monday, 9 October 2017

Why I quit smoking (post 9 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.

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Monday 25 August 2008
Le and Yahoo left for Uhuru Peak at 0400hrs to catch the sunrise. At daybreak I walked across the crater floor with the assistant guide, Hamisi Mbewa, to Stella Point where I sent text messages I intended to send yesterday from the summit: "Greetings from Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,896m)..."

My tent at Crater camp.
Some of the responses were interesting. Joseph Ibanda, a pilot, wrote: "...the view must be spectacular from there..." He could not have used a better expression to express how I felt and there was no better place to live that experience than where I stood as I read his message. On my left was the vast expanse of the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi, at a distance but in clear view. Further below I had a clear view for about 1,500m that was interrupted by a thick cloud cover. I cannot describe the exhilaration of standing on the ground and yet look down at the clouds, more than 1,500m belw. Only a pilot could make that statement.


Having announced to the world that I had made it, we began our descent towards Barafu camp. The porters who rush past us contradict the difficulty that most novice climbers face. Nowhere is this difficulty brought to the fore as between Stella Point and Barafu where many of those who succumb to the high altitude and the physical exertion are separated from the experienced climbers. Amidst all this an old man of perhaps 70 years passed us almost running downhill with his mountain guide desperately trying to keep up with the pace. With the Beijing Olympics in progress I cannot help suspect that the old man could be using performance enhancing drugs. He put to shame climbers who were young enough to be his grandchildren.

Further downhill, past Barafu, we met climbers going up. They asked, "How was it?" My immediate response is "Tough". Le's response was more encouraging: "Fabulous, breathtaking." Then I remembered that I too climbed Kilimanjaro for the scenery: the breathtaking sight of Mawenzi at sunrise, the long vistas and the bird's eye view of the winding paths on the saddle, the feeling of being in the North Pole at the Crater Camp, but above all, standing on the ground with the clouds below. I stood there breathing the cold crispy mountain air and all I could say was "tough."
Enroute to Mweka camp.
Today we walked all the way from Crater Camp (5,790m), Barafu Camp (4,600m), Millenium High Camp (3,950m), to Mweka Camp (3,100m) where we spent our final night. This was another tough walk as my rarely exercised thigh muscles began to succumb to the six days of regular walking.


Previous post: 
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/09/why-i-quit-smoking-post-8-of-10.html

Next post: Frozen brains and why I quit smoking

Monday, 25 September 2017

Why I quit smoking (post 8 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.
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Sunday 24 August 2008
Although I felt pretty confident with myself today (I drank one can of Red Bull last night and another in the morning), others were worried. The alternative we had agreed upon in the past few days was, instead of making a single attempt for the summit from around midnight from Barafu camp, we would leave at day break. If on reaching Stella Point (after the steepest climb of the day) I felt I could still walk the remaining 1 kilometre to Uhuru Peak (a gentle slope on the rim) then I would proceed to the summit.

If, however, I ran out of Red Bull at Stella Point (5,756m) we would proceed down to spend the night at Crater Camp (5,790m) and would attempt to reach the summit tomorrow. We also agreed if Le felt my pace was slower, he would walk ahead with Hamisi, the assistant guide. Everyone felt I was carrying too much in my bag and I was advised to remove extra clothes from the bag and remain with the bare minimum.

Today we had fewer climbers passing us on the way. In fact, even the porters, who usually whizzed past us, were much slower on the way to Stella Point. Some were even tagging along behind us. We had the most spectacular view of Mawenzi, Kilimanjaro's other peak, and the saddle between Kibo and Mawenzi.

As the hours advanced my doubters kept saying we were making exceptionally good progress. At Stella Point I felt I had the energy to reach Uhuru Peak. I was surprised to find out that the last kilometre proved to be the most difficult walk yet. I must have run out of Red Bull. At Stella Point, Le went down to the Crater Camp, planning to return later for the sunset - and tomorrow for the sunrise.

I reached Uhuru Peak with Yahoo just after 1500hrs and a few minutes later a German climber and his guide reached the peak. We took their photographs and they took ours. I tried to send out text messages from my mobile phone but did not get a signal. I observed at a distance an antenna that appeared to be at a point higher than Uhuru Peak. Yahoo and the other guide concurred with my observation, saying that a reading of the altimeter at a point between Stella Point and Uhuru Peak shows a much higher altitude. In retrospect, and especially after my difficult walk from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak, I am suspect the summit could have been "relocated" further downhill to decrease the failure rate of those reaching the actual summit.
At the summit, with Yahoo (left)
We slept at the Crater Camp facing a large wall of ice, the Furtwangler Glacier. I felt I was in the Polar Circle. It was an uncomfortable night. I had breathed in a lot of dust walking behind Pius, Le, and Hamisi on the sandy climb towards Stella Point and had difficulty breathing. It was an extremely cold night. For the first time, I slept wearing my down jacket.

Next post: Is someone on steroids?

Previous post:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/08/why-i-quit-smoking-post-7-of-10_7.html

Monday, 7 August 2017

Why I quit smoking (post 7 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.


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Saturday 23 August 2008
We woke up to a clear sunny day and began another steep climb towards Barafu Camp. I detected some change in myself; I seem to have extra energy. It must be the Red Bull. I discussed at length with Yahoo the possibilities and options of bringing along climbers next year should I successfully complete the climb. It must have been the Red Bull that gave me the nerve to think I will reach the summit.
We reached Barafu Camp (4,600m) at around lunch time and ate at 1400hrs. I felt my body was getting used to the high altitude with each passing day. Yahoo, even while continuously discussing an exit strategy should I give up along the way, said I look better today.

At the Rangers' camp someone was selling Kilimanjaro Beer cans for sh.3,000, and the same for Coke. A matching price for the high altitude, I thought.

We also met the group of young German climbers, who rushed pass us near Lava Tower yesterday, coming down from the summit. I was told they had gone past Karanga Camp and had probably slept only a few hours at Barafu before making the final ascent. We spent the night at Karanga.

Today I had enough mountain climbing experience to offer some advice to novices. I will not recommend this climb to someone who:

- does not exercise regularly
- cannot withstand cold weather
- sits in a office from Monday to Friday and on a bar/pub stool between Friday and Sunday
- after a few hours of walking thinks, "What am I doing here? I could be sitting in a warm room, sipping cold beer, and watching my favourite soccer league."

If you want to climb the mountain you have to be motivated by a paticularly strong motive. I chose raising money for education. I have been thinking about why anyone would pay money to experience such hardship and I still cannot find a good reason. I can list many of my friends, family members, and colleagues who will not even accept payment to climb this mountain.

Tomorrow I will find out whether I have what it takes to reach Africa's highest point. Today, we had a clear view of the mountain and I imagined I will experience one tough climb tomorrow. I began to re-examine the expression "climbing Kilimanjaro is more of a mental test that a physical one." As I observed tomorrow's steep climb, the significance sank in: how can anyone who is climbing for the first time fail to grasp that meaning.

As we wrapped up the evening I told Le that the worst part of the climb yet has to be going to the toilet. At home I have the luxury, rarely used, of opening up an old newspaper during sessions; on Kilimanjaro I have to squat on a pit latrine. I have difficulty squatting anywhere, so squatting at 4,600m above sea level becomes exceptionally difficult.

At high altitudes even tying the boot laces requires tremendous exertion. In the mornings I tie
up one boot lace and am forced to catch my breath for about five minutes before I tie the other. Going to toilet requires perhaps twice the energy of tying a boot lace.

Today I watched three climbers arrive at Barafu from below and observed their distressed faces and thought: if that is how I looked at the end of a day's walk, this has to be an extremely difficult climb.

I have also concluded that this is a mountain that has to be admired - from a long distance, or preferably from photographs but certainly not to be climbed.

Next post: Uhuru Peak and the Crater Camp

Previous post:
https://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/07/why-i-quit-smoking-post-6-of-10.html

Next post:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/09/why-i-quit-smoking-post-8-of-10.html

Monday, 31 July 2017

Why I quit smoking (Post 6 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.


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Thursday 21 August 2008
We had a long gentle climb from Shira Camp (3,400m) all the way past Lava Tower (4,600m). Those with extra energy have the option of climbing the Lava Tower, which I estimated rises some 500m above the path to Barranco Camp, our destination. We met a group of young Germans climbing down from the Lava Tower.
It was a long tiring descent from Lava Tower to Barranco (3,950m), where I met two Park Rangers, both environmentalists, who took great interest in my climb. Why was I climbing? If I reached the summit will I climb other mountains, such as Meru, or Oldoinyo Lengai? One of them told me he is a Maasai and said he also has a long name like mine. He told me his colleague is an Iraqw, one of Tanzania's numerous ethnic groups.

In the evening's debriefing I sensed Yahoo felt I was struggling with the climb because he suggested I take a different descent route to the one Jose' had suggested and the one Le was keen to follow. Yahoo said I might have to take a more direct route to Mweka Gate rather than through Machame as Jose' had recommended:

Day 7: Start waking to summit at around 1 or 1:30 am if normal weather conditions. [ Delay 2 hours if there is a spell of really bad weather, with strong wind and cold]. 4.800 m to 5.985 m (summit). Worth also walking in 15 minutes to the edge of Kibo, to the west. From there descend to crater floor and Furtw√§ngler glacier. From there easy to walk to Stella point and onward to Gillman’s point. But if feel fit, it is worth proceeding up to central cone and from there follow undefined shortcut to a point just north of Gillman’s point (quite obvious). Descend to 4.700 m (Kibo Hut). Lunch / Walk across the “saddle”, to Mawenzi hut at about 4.500 m (6-8 hours + 2½ hours + 2½ hours)

I accepted. The guide makes the final decision based on his assessment of each climber's progress and although I felt I was not yet out of the running, I did not have the energy to argue after the day's walk. Maybe I might have a different opinion in the morning.

Friday 22 August 2008
I woke up feeling much better today. We began the walk facing a cliff that could have been 750m high. This, Pius explained, was the "Breakfast Climb". Owing to its difficulty he said once we reach the top we will be craving for another breakfast. He said many climbers give up without trying at this point and descend to Moshi. And yet, this was a cliff that some pioneer decided was, as Le often pointed out during the climb, do-able.

Pius said he almost gave up his career as a mountain guide when he first was told the Breakfast Climb was the only way to the summit on this route. Midway through the Breakfast Climb we passed a point called "Rock Kiss" where you literally hug the cliff face to avoid a long fatal drop.

The final stretch up to Karanga Camp (3,963m) was another long tiring climb. At Karanga, we began to get the more familiar view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. As we move eastwards, we catch a different view with each day. Before sleeping, I drank one of the four cans of Red Bull and was restless most of the night. In the morning Pius said the temperature probably fell below freezing during the night.

Next post: The effects of Red Bull

Related posts:
https://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/07/why-i-quit-smoking-post-5-of-10.html
https://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/08/why-i-quit-smoking-post-7-of-10_7.html

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.


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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."

Related posts
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/07/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_17.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/07/why-i-quit-smoking-post-6-of-10.html

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.


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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


Related posts:

http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/07/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/07/why-i-quit-smoking-post-5-of-10.html

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.


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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.

Related posts:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2016/12/why-i-quit-smoking-post-2-of-10.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2017/07/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_17.html


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