Thursday, 29 December 2016

Music is an excellent distraction

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.

Related post:

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Why I quit smoking (post 1 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.


I don't remember the first time I decided to 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 while I had not. I felt deprived that Tanzanians had a treasure enjoyed by many foreigners but known to few Tanzanians. I decided I could not live anymore with a situation where I would meet a foreigner who had climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro while I had not.

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 determined to reach Africa’s highest peak to before that snow disappeared.

There is an opposing view claiming 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 2006 but I did not and his words kept on 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 why few Tanzanians reach 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. Tanzanians who can afford to pay that sum, probably lack the resolve to tackle a climb that, to most average people, is considerably challenging.

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 my first climb, but I met only one Tanzanian on his way up when I was descending. He had succumbed to altitude sickness and was brought down on a stretcher.

Next post: Preparing for the climb.

Related post:

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The seven hills section on the Lemosho route

The seven hills section on the Lemosho route is one tough climb.

For the novice climber, that is. It is reached on the second day of the climb and is between Mti Mkubwa (2,785m) and Shira 1 (3,504m) camps.

This climb begins in dense forest and with each step and altitude the climber emerges on a landscape of shorter vegetation and finally to a stunning panorama of hills and mountains.
The seven hills section on the Lemosho route.
The day takes the climber to the Shira Plateau. The shorter hike stops at Shira 1 camp, but the longer hike takes the climber to Shira 2 (3,895m) camp to conclude the second day on the Lemosho route.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The training continues....

I continue with my cycling routine as part of my training schedule. In the third week of this new effort, I am already feeling considerable improvement in my level of fitness.

I still have some discomfort tying my shoe laces - there's that bulging obstacle above my waist that compels me to make an extra effort to reach at my shoes.
After cycling with Ross, he recommended a cycling app called MapyMyRide that I have used since and as I resume my recent cycling routine, I have attempted to log my routes with this app but not without some disappointment. The past few sessions went unrecorded because I had made an error in the settings and instead of logging hours of cycling I recorded hours of crunches and leg lifts.

The other good news is I am already cycling on a 22.2-kilometre route, something I had planned for December and only after I got used to the 13-kilometre route.

Monday, 31 October 2016

That perennial question of motivation for training

Remember one of my recent posts announcing that I am resuming training? Read here. It has not happened. The training, that is.

The training was as brief as the post. But I am not giving up. It's all in the spirit of facing the challenge of climbing a mountain. Giving up should not be in the climber's vocabulary, but props up regularly all the way to the summit.

To seasoned mountaineers, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is an easy task, but to any ordinary individual who has little training, Mt Kilimanjaro is a tough proposition.
So, as I prepare myself (again!) for the next climb, probably in June 2017, I applaud those who did not give up and reached the summit. I equally applaud those who tried as much as they could but did not reach the summit.

Reaching the summit is great achievement, but it is not everything.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

On climbing gear and bragging rights

I am discovering mountaineering from the cart to the donkey, rather than the other way round.

When I first climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2008 one of my relatives, who had climbed Mt. Meru earlier, gave me some high altitude clothing he had used during his climb including a down jacket, and a high altitude trekking trouser, made by North Face. At the time I had no idea where North Face stood in the pecking order of outdoor product manufacturers.
On my first ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro I reached the summit in the afternoon and spent an extremely cold night in this tent on the crater floor. I woke up the next morning to take this photo of part of Furtw√§ngler Glacier. I was fully clothed in the sleeping bag throughout the night and the North Face down jacket and high altitude trousers provided great relief.
Several years later of climbing Kilimanjaro I have gradually learnt that I was wearing a top-rated brand. I also recently found out that North Face products are popular with college students in the United States. Some of these students have little interest in using their North Face products for outdoor activity; they buy North Face products for the sole purpose of acquiring bragging rights for owning a coveted brand.

I have been slowly adding up my gear for my long-term mountaineering quests, and have recently bought a North Face duffle bag. I have spent money on hiring gear over the years, and I realize it's cheaper to buy some of the equipment.

Continuing with my learning curve on the hidden aspects of mountaineering, I am wondering whether someone may have spotted me with my duffle bag at the airport and quietly sneered at me for showing off.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Back to square one on training

In my penultimate post, I wrote of my preparations for the January 2016 Mt. Kilimanjaro climb. I missed the climb because of a loss in my family and that loss kept me off training for a long time. Now, I begin the arduous task of reminding my mind and my body of the direct link between adequate training and reaching the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro.

This author suggests that once the brain is reminded that training is worthwhile (read worthwhile as also meaning "enables one to reach the summit") then it becomes easier to jump into that routine.
Kibo, as seen from the Marangu route.
Here are more ways to motivate yourself to exercise (written for women, but works just as well for men).

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Snowfall in Maryland

I am spending some time in the state of Maryland in the United States and a sudden snowfall triggered memories of home, in more than one way.

I forwarded a photo I snapped from the kitchen window, below, to friends and joked that I had a

 feeling that it was time to go home alluding to the fact that 'home' was warm and sunny and amenable to strolling down the main village road and catching a conversation with friends and acquaintances, or where Zebras roam the plains, whereas in Maryland (at least where I am) it made more sense to remain inside than venture out into the cold weather.
...where Zebras roam the plains.
The flip side of 'home' is where it is much colder than what I am experiencing at the moment: Mt. Kilimanjaro. on reflection, I gradually moved from my stereotypical depiction of home to a more balanced depiction of what Tanzania is: warm in some places, and bitterly cold in others.
A climber, right, with two Tanzanian guides at Stella Point (5,685m) on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
And, surprisingly, I miss both of them.