Anyone can climb a mountain. Well, not quite anyone but that may probably be correct for hills. Two things will happen when you climb a mountain successfully. I mean anything above 4000m. The rest are anthills. You’ll do it again or you never will. Those who climb again are of a certain type. They are loners; introverts with a disposition to enjoy silence or they are extroverts looking for the next great story to tell; hunters of attention. However I find the loonies are common. People who talk solo meditation, moon watching and night gazing.
Mountains are their home; there in the farmland and forests, in the heather and moorland, in the highland desert and summit zone, in the middle fog, cold winds and erratic climate. They walk for 6 or 7 hours a day and keep walking, headed for the base camp. The base camp is often 2 nights away. When you think the camp is near, the guide says stop; this is lunch point. It’s only halfway. 15 minutes. You take photos under two baobab trees that converged 7m from the ground to form a massive gate in the middle of the forest. Or in the caves that climbers, porters, guides and rangers shelter into when it rains.
Base camp will always be cold. If the sky is clear, you may see the summit. You’ll be up at 1am to start the ascent. It’s unbelievable sometimes when you see what awaits you. And so you eat and sleep early. I first climbed a mountain in August 2009 and knew I had just started. That was Mt. Kenya (4,985m), second highest in Africa. Unfortunately, our guide was a joke who reached the summit in moccasins, jeans and a pair of socks as gloves. He also lost his wallet as he slid on the way down and that meant he also lost food money or so he said. One girl has breathing problems and we can’t leave her behind. She’s doing 5 steps and finding a rock to sit on. By then, we are all peeing very yellow stuff due to dehydration. No water. Mountain sickness has also set upon us and there are frequent quarrels over small stuff. Another dude has a severe headache but claims handstands can cure a headache. He’s busy looking for the best spot to perform two. We came in sober, we’ll go home nuts. With no food, we had to borrow from strangers in the next camp. We set up our tents outside, slither into sleeping bags and I thought our guide was going to freeze in the 0 degrees camp. I give him a coat and a pair of gloves. At night a friend claims it’s too cold and he wants to get into my sleeping bag. I refuse. Friends who pee in bed always want to sleep near you. Even those that do it in bags.
Next was Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895m) with excellent organisation but the same crew. Tough but incredible satisfaction of reaching Uhuru peak, the highest point in Africa. On that morning of January 29 2010, it was the birthday of one of us. It probably will be his best and highest birthday ever. As with summits, it’s very very cold and we only stay long enough for photos. Traffic is high at any day in Kilimanjaro and climbers jostle for a photo moment posing with the Uhuru Peak plaque. Great feeling of accomplishment. You watch the beauty of the sun rise and can only be sorry for the climbers that got sick and had to retreat to the base camp, or those that just couldn’t make it this far. With oxygen being in shorter supply as you climb, breathing with labour and with the cold that pierces your boots and ravages your toes, you respect their decision.
I returned to Mt. Kenya 2 years later in the month of November. It rained all the way, day and night. We went for the summit under the falling snow, tracing the guide’s bootprints with our headlamps. At 7am we got to point Lenana. It was the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. The whole of the mountain was white, covered in knee-deep soft snow. For the strong winds, we only held long enough for the photos and started the steep scary descent. The park has put a strong cable from the Lenana point way down to a safe point. Climbers have to tightly hold onto the cable as they descend or else they tumble into the valley below on either side. Climbers have died this way and dragged others with them.
A few weeks ago, it was the turn of Mt. Meru in Tanzania (4,566m); the 5th highest in Africa. I had always wanted to conquer it. Steep all the way up, thick forests, 2 major peaks and 11 minor peaks, spectacular views of Kilimanjaro under a clear sky and a chance to see game. With 3 others that I met for the first time, we had enough stories to keep us sane for 3 nights and 4 days. All of us had done Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro before so you couldn’t scare anyone. Just stories. When you climb together, you bond strongly even after the trip. I found the ascent to the summit the most tricky. With 11 peaks, you always appear to be getting there and these series of mini not-yets, isn’t what your mind wants. Mountains are more about the mind than the body. If your mind goes on a lock down, your body will.
We reached the top at 7:15am. It was too foggy to see far but not as cold. We had enough time to take photos and to sign a visitors’ book at the peak. What a great idea by Arusha National Park! I like descending fast to get down and rest. In 3 hours we were back at the base camp for breakfast, a short rest and to start another 3 hour walk to the camp where we were to spend the night.
Another great climb, made even better by a cool team, caring porters, the cook, Boni, the guides, our friendly ranger, Frederick, plus excellent arrangements and facilities by the park. I’m not sure which other I will climb next. Mt. Kenya is in the plans but from a different and most scenic route this time; the Chogoria route. Maybe Mt. Elgon (4,321m) will come first.