Saturday 29 October 2011

Kilimanjaro July 2000 Part 1

I bought this postcard to remind me of this wonderful adventure
In 1999, Gavin Bate from Adventure Alternative was interviewed on UTV News discussing how he planned to climb the 7 Summits, which are the highest peaks in each of the various continents across the world. On a some of the trips he planned to bring along fee paying amateurs who could experience some of the mountain challenges,  and in the case of Kilimanjaro would be able to tackle the summit.

Kilimanjaro is the largest mountain in Africa, standing at 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. Its not an impossible challenge, but it is also one not to be taken lightly, as a few months before our trip someone died attempting the summit. Altitude sickness is unpredictable.

Summit day for our group was 12 July 2000. The plan was that we would arrive to camp early on 11 July, have some rest and then around midnight set off for the peak. The objective was to reach the summit as dawn breaks and to avoid the need for an arduous climb with the hot sun beating down on you.

Unfortunately our group was sluggish arriving into camp on 11 July and Gavin decided to delay the summit attempt until 6am on 12 July. This was a bad decision.

The night before the summit, due to our altitude and the resulting very cold temperatures almost all our water supplies had frozen. My platypus drinking system was a bag of ice, completely useless, no-one advised us to store our water inside our sleeping bags to ensure it wouldn't freeze. Naivety on our part as we simply did not have the experience of the harsh mountain conditions to appreciate that night time temperatures would drop so low.

We woke early and prepared to leave, a small group (approx 5) had already been identified as too ill to attempt the summit. I set off with the main group and was making reasonable progress, I stopped for a about 30 secs as the pace was very fast, due to the group leader wanting to make up for the delayed start. I was beginning to struggle.

I was immediately told to descend and to join the group of 5 who weren't able to attempt the summit, I was gutted. Months of hard work and preparation ended in a flash.

I made my way down the mountain and joined the other who were traversing around the mountain, I was told some of the small group had already begun the journey. It was about 7am by now.
An extract from my July 2000 diary written during the trip.

Shortly after 8am, my walking partner (Chris) and I met two of the girls from our group resting, one of them was barely conscious. She was really struggling with the altitude. They had two of our local guides with them. I asked the guide how long to get to the bottom of the mountain. He told me 3 hours. So we agreed to send the other guide to the evening campsite with a note for the group leader advising that we would descend and meet them at our hotel in Moshi.

I had no idea at this stage that Africans have little understanding of time or distance. 3 hours meant nothing.
We set off for the hotel with mental images of steak, beer and hot showers as company. We anticipated a short descent and hoped to be in the hotel for 3pm. Each time we asked the guide if we were nearly there he responded "not long, maybe 3 hours"...this was becoming very irritating. None of us really appreciated that most Africans didn't use wrist watches, didn't measure distance and didn't really care how long it took them to complete a task. Time was irrelevant.
I had already advised the others (there was now just 4 of us Chris, me and two girls called Claire) to conserve water but to keep hydrated. By 6pm we had reached the rain forest section of the mountain, I knew it would take several more hours to complete our journey. Due to the density of the the trees very little daylight reached ground level and it was time to use our torches, I then discovered the others had not packed them in their backpacks so all we had was my head torch for the entire group.
my trusty torch has been all over the world with me

This was to become the start of many problems, at one point I was convinced I saw a snake climbing up my walking pole. This was my mind playing tricks, but it didn't help my nerves.

As if matters could get worse one of the girls in our group started to menstruate, she obviously hadn't anticipated this and had no sanitary towels. By this stage she was hysterical, refusing to walk and begging us to leave her. This was a disaster. We really did start to think lions would be following the scent and that somewhere in the dusk of the Kili rainforest we were being eyed up for dinner. She fainted and would not come round. I test her vitals, performed some reflexes and her responses suggested she was faking. The other girl in the group slapped her face and eventually after about 40 minutes she came round. She was walking so slowly that we would never reach the base within the next 10 hours.

We decided that I would go with the guide for help and that Chris would remain with the two girls. We found a rocky area where they could shelter and would be safe until the guide and rangers would return. Chris and the girl had to spend the next few hours in total darkness, with only their imaginations and the sounds of the African jungle for company. I'm so glad I got to go for help....