Archive for March, 2012
One of the very first posts I made when I started this blog was regarding a climb on Mount Fuji. At the time I joked that climbing Fuji was a mission akin to a one legged man carrying a polar bear to the top of Everest in a canoe. In actual fact, it was surprisingly simple, if somewhat monotonous.
So, when a friend told me he was planning a trip to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro, I thought my extensive experience with punishing, slightly oblique strolls might prove invaluable and I immediately offered my expertise.
This was to be the whole purpose for our trip to Tanzania and the culmination of almost a week’s training.
Having ariived in Arusha, we were to meet the organiser of our tour, a man named Nelson. Unlike his more famous namesake, Nelson turned out to be pretty laid back. In fact, it would be impossible to be more laid back than Nelson without a serious convex urvature of the spine. When we rang him up once at 2pm to confirm our trip and his response was “Awwww man, it’s too early! Call me back in a couple of hours.”
Anyway, against all expectation, it turned out everything had been organised quite well. After a while, we found the people who were supposed to pick us up from the bus and they took us to our hotel which was also quite nice. We were met by two young men who described the climb as easy and tempted us with some frosty cold Kilimanjaro beers if we were to come back successful. Without meaning to spoil the whole story, I still don’t know what that beer tastes like.
I would like to categorically like to state now, that climbing Fuji and climbing Kilimanjaro and not quite as similar as I originally estimated. For starters, the Fuji ascent take around 5 to 6 hours. The Kilimanjaro ascent takes around 5 to 6 days.
Four of those days are spent in relative comfort, being waited on hand and foot by the small army of people we paid to service our every need. Apparently, it is necessary to have an staff of 14 black men to get two overweight white men to the top of a mountain.
Our guide Babalu introduced them one at a time; “These are your porters, this is your waiter, this is your evening butler, this is your morning butler, this is your personal fitness trainer, this is your manicurist and hair stylist… etc”.
I have absolutely no recollection of their names, except that the assistant guide was called Peter. The only reason I remember that much, is that he was the man who effectively carried me back down the mountain.
For the first 4 days of our trek, it looked like my oblique strollery skills were coming to the fore. We didn’t climb any gradients greater then about 3 degrees, and we were only walking for about 5 hours a day.
Admittedly, the lack of oxygen was slightly worrying at times, but hallucinating that I’m a tap dancing pink elephant is no more ridiculous than hallucinating that I’m a person capable of climbing a bloody great mountain.
So, after 4 days we were ready to make our summit attempt. Please note, in the literature provided for the climb, they specifically use the word “attempt”, no doubt in a bid to avoid prosecution.
Suddenly, we were no longer walking up a gradual incline. Somebody had snuck in while we slept and added another 40 degrees of slope to our mountain.
What I remember of this climb was scree and enough switchbacks to make a snake think “Cant we move straight for a while?” Eventually we made it to Gillman’s point, which is at the caldera, but not the highest point on Kilimanjaro.
By this stage, altitude sickness was causing my head to pound like a epileptic Chinese man with a new drum kit.
After nearly falling dizzily into the crater and then being told it would be another hour to make the highest point, I decided I had reached my limit. My friend, to his credit, pushed on a made the summit, in what I can only assume was a desperate bid to make me feel like a useless piece of shit.
When we arrived back down, Babalu (who had been a champion all the way through) organised a “Congratulations, you tried but actually you kinda suck” certificate for me and then encouraged me to try again some other time. It was a mark of how nice a man he was that I didn’t feel a need to turn around and punch him in the nose.