Top of Africa                    September 2007                      by Jayant Doshi (A walk up Mount Kilimanjaro)It was i...
Foundation     which    runs    severalhospitals in south India, and areplanning to build a new one in Gujarat,India. The ...
sun. It was dark by the time we reached                                         our camp, and it was drizzling. The fast  ...
metres before coming down to 3850 metres to camp at Barranco camp site. Afterdinner there was little energy left for anyon...
going to climb the awesome looking, steep and perpendicular Barranco wall. From                                           ...
rest stop. My head lights stopped                                          working soon after we started walking.         ...
and goaded the body to keep moving. By                                         about eight I was there with a great sigh  ...
next camp. The walk was all downhill,and we could cope with that at this stage.Rain had made the path slippery andagain I ...
Compared to my Himalaya treks, this one was very short in duration and did notfeel like a trek. Compared to Himalayas, thi...
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Top of africa

  1. 1. Top of Africa September 2007 by Jayant Doshi (A walk up Mount Kilimanjaro)It was in 1956 that some friends mooted the idea of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and I was very excited by the very thought of doing so, but the idea was rejected by our parents and the climb never took place. But even at that young age, the spirit of adventure existed within me, and it lay dormant inside me for years to come. Only in the last decade has that spirit of adventure reared its head out of the depths of my inner spirit. When I met my neighbour recently, and he mentioned that he was climbing MountKilimanjaro, I immediately jumped on the idea even though I had just come backfrom a gruelling long trek in the Himalayas. Having done a nineteen day trek, Iwas told that climbing the highest mountain in Africa would be a iffy. Only timewill tell if this was so.Mount Kilimanjaro is one ofthose independently standingmountains, and has the highestpeak in Africa, standing at 5895metres or 19650 feet height, andone of those rare mountainswhich can be reached to the topby just walking withoutrequiring any skills or gear formountain climbing. As such,trekking to the top of the highestmountain in Africa has become a very popular destination for novices who wish totry their luck and spirit of adventure by climbing this mountain. Mount Kilimanjarohas three peaks, and the Kibo peak is home to Uhuru, the highest point on themountain. The mountain is a dormant volcano, and most of the mountain is formed from volcanic lava. For me, this was going to be my fifth foray into the mountains at similar heights, and my third such trek in twelve months, so I was the most experienced in the group. I guess one falls in love with these mountains. God created all these wonders, and it is nice to be able to go up there and appreciate His creation. The trek was organised for a worthy cause; Sanakara Eye
  2. 2. Foundation which runs severalhospitals in south India, and areplanning to build a new one in Gujarat,India. The Foundation aims to createself financing modern hospitals, anduse the surplus to finance thetreatment of those who cannot affordeye treatments in such hospitals.Some of the group, including myself,left London on 1st September, andreached Nairobi airport late afternoon,and found the place in total chaos. Wejust about managed to get our onward flight boarding passes, and reached Moshiin the evening. We reached our lodge for our stay for the next two nights. Otherswere joining us the next day. We had a briefing from the guides on Sundayevening who answered our questions, and then checked our baggage to ensurethat no one was forgetting any essential equipment. We were twenty one in the group, and for me this was a different experience as in the past treks the maximum I had was a group of four. The group varied in age from the youngest at 17 and I being the oldest, with an array of age range that covered each decade with largest group in their forties. The professional mixture was also very impressive with two doctors, including a cardiologist, two dentists, two lawyers, a few pharmacists, fivestudents with hopes of becoming professionals and one retired person none otherthen myself. We had five ladies. Four of the group were coming from USA whilethe rest were coming from London. It was an impressive mixture of age, gender,profession and origin.We were told that we would be picked up at 9.30 in the morning on Monday tostart our trek, but it was almost 11.00when we left the lodge and arrived atMachami Gate. There were hundreds ofother trekkers waiting there to get aclearance before they started their trek. Itwas almost 1.00 when we started ourclimb on Mount Kilimanjaro. Everyonewas fresh and enthusiastic, and as suchthe start of the trek was brisk. Westopped for lunch soon after; and afterlunch the steps became faster, and thegroup split into small groups. The walkwas through forest, and the thick cover oftrees protected us from the glare of the
  3. 3. sun. It was dark by the time we reached our camp, and it was drizzling. The fast pace of walking had tired few of the members. Our camp was at Machami Hut at a height of 3000 metres. After dinner everyone went to sleep. It was first time experience for many to unpack the bags and sleeping bags in the confines of a small tent, and sharing it with someone else. Our dining tent was a tight squeeze for a group of twenty one. It was quite an artto learn to sit on a three legged stool, with our heads brushing against the tent,but soon everyone mastered the art. Sitting close by in tight spaces was resentedat first, but soon everyone got used to it, and over the next few days began toenjoy the cosy atmosphere in the tent. The dining tent became the centre of ourgatherings, with some jokes being exchanged and lively conversation made thetent look like a palace. Our breakfast and dinner in that tent became like ourmeeting point; other then that the whole group hardly met to do any activity. Theladies took on the task of servingporridge in the morning, and soup inthe evening. Compared to Nepal, thefood quality and variety lacked anyimagination, variation or culinaryquality. At the end of the sixth day,everyone had got fed up with porridgeand same sort of soup.Next morning, we started later thenplanned, and this was to be expectedwhen so many people were involved.We were warned that today’s walkwas over steep terrain and were advised to walk together at slow pace. The mainguide put down his foot next morning, and demanded that we all follow the guidewho led the party, and walked at his pace. The guide in front walked at a veryslow pace, and kept the group together. We all got used to that pace, and withhindsight, it seems that the pace was right to avoid tiredness. We had crossed the forest, and now we were in open rugged land with lots of lava rocks and scree (loose dry soil with tiny stones) on the ground. It was five in the evening when the first group reached the camp site, and it was almost seven by the time the last ones arrived. We had camped at Shira camp site at a height of 3900 metres. It was a long tiring day, and after sleeping problems the previous night, everyone had sound sleep on the second day. Wednesday was no different. It was a long tiring day when we climbed to 4500
  4. 4. metres before coming down to 3850 metres to camp at Barranco camp site. Afterdinner there was little energy left for anyone to do anything but to sleep.As we went higher up, it got colder. Aswe were advised to drink lot of liquids,it was natural that most of us needed towake up at night to relieve ourbladders. Sharing a tent with anotherperson, getting into the liner, which hadbeen inserted in the sleeping bag, wasdifficult enough; but then to wake up inthe middle of the night, wriggle out ofthe liner and the sleeping bag withoutdisturbing the partner, putting on warmclothes and the boots, go out in thedark, of course with a torch, and thento come back, remove the boots and the extra clothes, and then wriggle back intothe liner and the sleeping bag would be counted as the most difficult taskundertaken by us during the trip. But to turn back to go to the tent, and suddenlyrealise that you are not sure which is your tent, from a cluster of 11 tents alllooking same, and then fiddle in the dark with the torch to find your tent could be the most embarrassing and nerve wrecking moment. In the process, the person would be waking up most of the other tent residents. Sound of the zipper being opened and closed made a shrieking noise in the silence of the night, and tended to wake up most other then very sound sleepers. With such a large group it was to be expected that medical problems would be prevalent. The doctor was kept busy advising about all sorts of problems. Allthe group members, with my exception, started taking diamox (medicine foraltitude sickness) from the very first day, and they took extra dose on the very lastday. I took the chance but luckily, I did not get any effects of altitude sickness.Actually, I did not have any sort of problems except slight headache on one day. Idid not get any leg aches after long day’strekking, nor did I feel tired as such. Ihad offered to do yoga exercises, but wegot a few opportunities and some of thegroup took advantage of stretchingexercises after a day’s trek.On Thursday, we had a short day ofwalking, but we were asked to be readyby eight. We were woken up later thenplanned, but we left earlier then previousday to everyone’s surprise. I haddisturbed night of sleep. Today we were
  5. 5. going to climb the awesome looking, steep and perpendicular Barranco wall. From our camp site the Barranco wall looked daunting and difficult. We were pre-warned that we will have to use our hands more then the poles. For most of the time, we literally had to use our hands to hold a rock, and lift our bodies. To our surprise, no one found this steep climb difficult, and the general concensus was that this was the most interesting and challenging day of trekking, and that the day made the whole trip worth its while. We camped at Karanga which was at a height of 3930 metres,though we had climbed Barranco wall to a height of 4200 metres. We wereadvised that we all must try to sleep in the afternoon after lunch. But I found itdifficult to get any sleep. We were woken up at five to take our dinner, and thenasked to sleep till ten. While somemanaged to sleep I could not get anysleep in spite of the fact that previousnight I did not sleep too well either.We got up at ten at night and preparedourselves for a long night of walking.As it was expected that temperatureswill drop to minus fifteen or eventwenty, we were advised to put on allthe clothes we had brought, or carrysome of the spare ones in our daypacks. We were given hot porridge towarm our bodies. By the time westarted our walk, it was 11.35 at night. The talk of those low temperatures scaredsome of the novice trekkers, and they overloaded themselves with too manyprotective clothing. I knew from past experience, and from my ability to bear cold,that too many clothing can hinder walking and the body can get too warm. We were all following the guide, and walking at a very slow pace. It was dark night; with no moon, but a clear sky was littered with thousands of stars shining as if there were holes in the vast blue sky, and the light from beyond was shining through those holes. At the base of the mountain, one could see thousands of street and building lights from Moshi, as if the ground had been covered with a carpet of stars. It was cool, but theatmosphere was pleasant and electrifying. We kept walking and the guidesadvised us not to take any rest as the cold would affect our ability to walk after a
  6. 6. rest stop. My head lights stopped working soon after we started walking. I could have changed the batteries, but that would have taken time. The guide very rudely told me if I am not able to see, and I had to admit that I could see. But then I had to follow the light of the person in front and back to guide myself. We kept walking. By three or a bit later in the early morning the temperatures suddenly dropped. I could feel myfingers going numb, and I could feel the chill on my ears and the face. I put on myski gloves, and covered my face the best I could. For some time it felt as if myhands were going numb. Suddenly I feltas if I was wrong to advise not to weartoo many clothes, and a wave of fearcrossed my mind that the cold wouldaffect my hands with frostbite or similaraffliction. But the extreme cold did notlast for that long.I started to feel the effects of fatigue.There was no pain in the legs, but itappeared as if the mind had stoppedworking. The body felt as if it had lost itsdriver and navigator, and began to loseits balance. I had to resort a few times to my walking sticks to steady myself. Iasked the guide if we could rest for a little while, and he nodded his disapprovaland denial in very certain terms by the look of his gaze. The last hour or more waswalking in zigzag pattern across the very steep final ascent on the mountain face.I wanted to stop, but my mind and my heart wanted to finish the walk. I kepttelling myself that I could do it and there was not much more to go. After reallystruggling for the last few hundred steps, I reached the top of the mountain namedStella point. At that very moment the sun rose from the horizon, and I took somelovely photos. It appeared as if the struggle of the last hour was worth for just seeing this lovely sun rise. I just wanted to sit and rest my legs and my body. But the guide persuaded me to keep going. He kept telling me it is not too far now and that I can do it. On top of the mountain peak, another peak protruded and rising up to a height, called Uhuru peak which is the highest point on this mountain, and about two hundred metres higher then Stella point. My body was refusing to move, but the mind could not say no to the guide,
  7. 7. and goaded the body to keep moving. By about eight I was there with a great sigh of relief. There were huge crowds and all jostling to take photos near the sign post declaring that as the highest point in Africa (5895 metres or 19650 feet). I managed to get a photo taken, though I was in no mood to remove my gloves and take photo on my own camera. While we had achieved what we had set out to do, and most of us did that, I could not savour the moment. There was noscream of joy telling the world that we had reached the highest point on the greatcontinent of Africa. We were here on top of Africa, and we could not celebrate it.Hardly the photos were shot and the guide goaded us to start moving down themountain without wasting time. Our pleas for rest were rejected, and we wereadvised that it was no good staying at such heights for long.We were coming down a different route,and the route had scree on the groundwhich made walking very difficult. Theyounger and fitter ones literally randown those slippery slopes but for theveterans the fear of breaking a limbwas upper most on mind, and wewalked slowly and with care. In spite ofthe extreme care, I slipped quite a fewtimes; mostly I managed to controlmyself with help of the walking sticks,but I fell on the ground three times,though no damage was done to the body except a few scratches and bruises. Ikept taking lot of rest every now and then. The body was too tired with all thewalking and sleepless night. Few had gone much faster while few were comingvery slowly behind us. It was noon by the time we reached the camp site. The lasthour was a struggle. The body could not take such long hours of walking withoutany sleep. I had walked for thirteen hours in the Himalayas, but then good sleeprested my body. Here, I had bad sleep on Thursday night, no sleep during Fridayday time, no sleep Friday night, and in a period of about thirty four hours, wewalked almost twenty two hours. There is a limit how much the body could take, and especially with aged body like mine. On reaching my tent, I crashed into my sleeping bag, not even bothering to remove my boots or removing my clothes. An hour of lying there helped to recover from the torment of twelve hours of walking. But I knew that after lunch we had to do more walking. We had our lunch, and then we packed our bags. Soon after two we started our descent to the
  8. 8. next camp. The walk was all downhill,and we could cope with that at this stage.Rain had made the path slippery andagain I slipped and fell three times, andthe last time was a hard fall. Luckily, nodamage was done to the body. Wereached the camp site when it was dark.Others came much later. After a quickdinner, I crashed into my sleeping bagand had good deep sleep for the night.Next morning everyone was in a cheerfulmood. The porters danced and sang forus. Lots of photos were taken. Each porter was given a generous tip whichpleased them a lot. It took us about three hours to reach Machami Gate, where abuffet lunch was laid out for us. Certificates were collected for each one of us. Outof our group, seventeen managed to walk up to Uhuru peak, while other four didmanage to walk to the top up to Stella point. This was a great achievement, as itwas a hundred percent success for the group. Even those who felt very doubtful if they will make it, did ultimately make it and felt so proud about it. We reached the lodge in the afternoon. Later each one of was presented with the certificate that stated that we had reached either Stella point or Uhuru peak. The guides were given their tips. Everyone was in a very jovial mood, and very happy that they had successfully completed the trek. For me this was another feather in my cap. After trekking for eighteen or nineteen days in the Himalayas, and at timeswalking for twelve or thirteen hours in a day, this should have been a piece ofcake for me. It was exactly that, except the last two days which really were taxingon the body. A fit body can undertake any amount of walking, but a fit bodycannot last if it does not get enough sleep, and that is what was lacking on thelast two days of our short trek to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
  9. 9. Compared to my Himalaya treks, this one was very short in duration and did notfeel like a trek. Compared to Himalayas, this trek overall is much easier, thoughthe last day is a killer. But being with such a large group was a wonderfulexperience particularly when I hardly knew any one and yet they gave me somuch respect and affection. I fulfilled my ambition and desire to climb this highestmountain in Africa, and at the same time I had a wonderful time with so manypeople who became friends and gave me so much to remember.If you wish to see the photos then email to: jubhai@aol.comSanakra Eye Foundation website for further information: www.sankaraeye.com

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