Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 9 of 10)

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, with Furtwangler Glacier in front.

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 be above the clouds, more than 1,500m above the clouds. 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 Camp 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 Camp, 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."

Today we walked all the way from Crater Camp (5,790m), Barafu Camp (4,600m), Millennium 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.

Next post: Frozen brains and why I quit smoking

Posts related to this one:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_28.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/11/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb.html

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro climb adventure (post 8 of 10)

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 the 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 wondering whether the summit could have been "relocated" further downhill to decrease the failure rate of those reaching the actual summit.

We slept at the Crater Camp facing a large mass of ice. I felt I was in the Polar Circle. It was an uncomfortable night. I had breathed in a lot of dust walking behind Pius (Yahoo), 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 heavy coat.

Next post: Is someone on steroids?

Posts related to this one:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_26.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb.html

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 7 of 10)

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 me; 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 past 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.

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 (or has not undergone at least three months of regular training for the climb)
- 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 particularly 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

Posts related to this one:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_24.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_28.html

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 6 of 10)

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.
A partial view of the Karanga valley and the last steep climb to Karanga Camp (3,963m).
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 from the Iraqw ethnic group.

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 above Barranco Camp. 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 passing 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

Posts related to this one:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_23.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_26.html

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 5 of 10)

Tuesday 19 August 2008
We drove 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, our guide Yahoo, and the assistant guide, Hamisi.
Many of Kilimanjaro 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, the kind of road made for off road vehicles, at the edge of a thick forest to begin our climb. It 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. We spent the first night at Mti Mkubwa (Big Tree) Camp, in the company of Velvet Monkeys.

The greatest difficulty of the first night was sleeping early. Trying to sleep at 8 was tortuous, 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 day pack 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 acute symptoms included the tongue turning green.

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

Posts related to this one:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_22.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_24.html

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 4 of 10)

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 in 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 last camp before the final attempt on the summit) 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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro climb adventure (Post 3 of 10)

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 difficult situation. 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 a problem of 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 Mt. Kilimanjaro 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.

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

Posts related to this one:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_19.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_22.html

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro climb adventure (Post 2 0f 10)

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*. As I gradually built my confidence during the climb, I decided to add “2008” to the event, signifying that it will become an annual event.

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.

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.
The Pare Mountains, seen from Uparo in Kilimanjaro Region.
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.

*I have since changed the name to: The Mwalimu Nyerere/Mt. Kilimanjaro Charity Climb

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

Posts related to this one:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_18.html
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_21.html

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why I quit smoking: My Kilimanjaro Climb Adventure (Post 1 of 10)

I cannot remember the first time I decided I should climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, but it could have been eight years ago. For no particular reason, I decided I wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Making that decision was the easiest part, implementing the decision was a totally different matter. Years came and went and I realised if I did not take drastic measures, I would never climb the mountain.

As the years passed, I found more reasons for climbing the mountain. I kept on meeting people from all over the world who had climbed Kilimanjaro and I felt deprived of the fact that Tanzanians had a treasure that an increasing number of foreigners were discovering and yet few Tanzanians climbed. At a certain point I decided I could not live anymore with a situation where I would meet a foreigner who had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and not being able to say I have also been there.

In the past decade a lot has been said and written about global warming and its effect on the natural habitat. Some experts predict that because of global warming the snows of Kilmanjaro will melt away in the not-too-distant future. I was compelled to climb Africa’s highest peak to see that snow before the effects of human development wiped it off the face of earth.

It has to be said that an opposing view suggests that the glaciers on Mt. Kilimanjaro are retreating, not because of global warming, but because of a combination of other factors. I was not going to wait for the experts to agree.

In August 2005 I met Gen. Mirisho Sarakikya, former Chief of Defence Forces of the Tanzanian Army (1964 - 1974) and a veteran climber of Kilimanjaro. He has climbed Kilimanjaro 46 times. I promised him I would join him in September of the following year but I did not and his words kept haunting me: “I would be very disappointed if you were one of those Tanzanians that I meet once and never see again.” Read: those Tanzanians who pledge to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro but never show up for the climb.

One reason that may account for few Tanzanians reaching the summit is the cost. It costs an average of $US1,500 to pay for the 8 day trek, a sum which is beyond the reach of most Tanzanians. There is a large number of Tanzanians who can afford to pay that sum, but the question is whether they can have a matching resolve to tackle a climb that, to most average human beings, is considerably tough.

I was surprised to find out that, apart from the guides and porters, there were virtually no Tanzanian climbers on Mt. Kilimanjaro. I probably met more than 100 climbers during the climb, but I met only one Tanzanian on his way up when I was descending. Sadly, he succumbed to altitude sickness and was brought down on a stretcher.

Next post: Preparing for the climb.

Post related to this one:
http://blogkili.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-i-quit-smoking-my-kilimanjaro-climb_19.html