Friday, 13 December 2013

Valuable lessons from the Mt. Kilimanjaro Uhuru Climb of 2011 (post 1 of 3)

I have written before about my December 2011 of climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro but have not commented on why, in my opinion, I failed to reach the summit. That climb illustrated some of the donts that prevent climbers from reaching the summit and provided valuable lessons for those who intend to climb Kilimanjaro, whether for the first time or as repeat climbers.

The basic lesson I learnt is that training, and training, and more training, is a critical success factor. I cannot overstate its importance. I did not commit enough time to training and when the testing times confronted us on the climb I did not have the capacity to meet the challenge.

Many guides on Kilimanjaro will tell you that they have successfully led the most ill-trained climbers to the summit. Prior to that climb I managed to reach the summit with hardly any training and built this huge confidence in myself that the most crucial factor in reaching the summit is actually the will to continue pushing and exerting your body under immense physical strain. It is true, even with absence of training, if you summon your will power against Kilimanjaro, you will reach the top. But it is also true if you add some training to a will made of steel then the climb becomes much easier.

I normally maintain a daily log of the observations I make during each climb, but for some reason during the December 2011 climb I recorded only the first 3 days of the climb. However, by the third day, the recipe for what I consider my failure to reach the summit had already been cast.

The climb was jointly organized by the Tanzania Tourist Board and Zara Tanzania Adventures to mark 50 years of Tanzania's independence. I was chosen to lead the climb by TTB.

4 December 2011
During a short ceremony to flag off the climbers, the Moshi district commissioner referred to me as the "gwiji" (expert) of the climb. He said he was pleased to hear that I was the group leader of the Mt. Kilimanjaro Uhuru Climb.

[Lesson 1: Mt. Kilimanjaro does not care how impressive is your record; it will decide whether or not you reach the top.]

We have an interesting mix of 24 climbers: a presenter from Clouds TV and his cameraman; two young women, one from Tanzania Association of Tour Operators' Tantravel Magazine; a long distance runner; a German film crew filming a documentary during the climb with my participation; and others who I hope to know along the way.

This would go down as the worst start I have experienced during my several climbs of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Because of the poor road condition, after we registered at Londrossi Gate the minibus dropped us at the junction to the drop-off point at the edge of the forest. Some of the climbers hopped on a Landrover and those of us who remained began to walk in anticipation of being picked up by one of the vehicles. About 15 minutes into the walk the Zara off-road truck which we boarded during the September 2011 climb picked us.
We began our trek on a muddy road.
The current rains had damaged the road so much that even the truck took us only part of the way to the normal drop-off point. It took us well over an hour to reach the edge of the forest, at around 1800hrs.

[Lesson 2: If possible, avoid the rainy season. It can introduce the most unpleasant surprises to the climbing experience. Although weather patterns have sometimes become unpredictable, the short rains on Mt. Kilimanjaro fall between mid-November to December while the long rain period lasts between April and mid-June.]

A continuous light shower continued to fall throughout our trek to the first camp, Mti Mkubwa, and the forest floor was drenched and slippery. These conditions took their toll on the porters. When we reached Mti Mkubwa camp, well after 2200hrs, a significant number of porters were still behind. Consequently, some of the climber’s bags were missing and we ate late.

It is rare for a an experienced mountain guide to falter at any stage of the Kilimanjaro climb, but today I witnessed Yahoo regularly slipping on the trail and at one time I offered him one of my walking poles which he gladly accepted.

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting. I look forward to the next episodes.