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.