The roof of Africa

The highs and lows of climb­ing Kil­i­man­jaro

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - PHILIP KING

The Sound of Mu­sic urged us to climb ev­ery moun­tain and while I sym­pa­thise with that am­bi­tion, my per­sonal list is much smaller. Out is any­thing that re­quires ropes, cling­ing by fin­ger­tips or ham­mer­ing an­chors into rock. On the list is any peak that in­volves noth­ing more than a brac­ing walk, the prospect of a fine view and a lit­tle ex­otic travel.

So the Mat­ter­horn gets a thumbs-down but Mount Kinabalu, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, makes the grade. At 4100m it’s one of South­east Asia’s high­est summits but you can trek up and down in a cou­ple of days. Tan­za­nia’s fa­bled Kil­i­man­jaro def­i­nitely is in.

In fact at 5895m, Kil­i­man­jaro is the crown­ing achieve­ment for any foot-slog sum­mi­teer; it’s as near as you can get to the stars with­out proper moun­taineer­ing skills. Or an air­craft. Per­haps you’re think­ing, why climb at all?

Well, that’s like a wannabe Rolls-Royce buyer won­der­ing about the price … if you have to ask, it’s not for you. Moun­tains cry out to some­thing in the soul and if you deny their pleas, then your spirit is rest­less. At least, that’s the way it is with me. And as No 1 in the moun­tain-lite charts, the iced vol­canic mono­lith of Kil­i­man­jaro tick­les your psy­che un­til the day you de­cide to scratch.

Fe­bru­ary is an ideal time: it avoids the high-sea­son crowds from July to Oc­to­ber but has favourable weather be­fore the rains start in March. De­cid­ing to go turns out to be the easy bit. By Kil­i­man­jaro norms, my run-up is short and I am sud­denly faced with a range of sec­ondary de­ci­sions such as which route to take and which op­er­a­tor to use. The op­tions are be­wil­der­ing. Go­ing with a guide is manda­tory and there are hun­dreds. They vary greatly in scale, ex­pe­ri­ence and cost. Most have web­sites that laud their ap­proach and be­moan that of ri­vals.

There are seven main routes, with variations. Some are eas­ier, oth­ers more scenic. The popular Marangu route in­volves just four nights in huts while Le­mosho means seven or eight nights spent camp­ing. The sheer height of Kil­i­man­jaro is a fac­tor. As oxy­gen thins, headaches and sleep­less­ness can hit, re­gard­less of your fit­ness level. A longer route costs more but means your body has more time to ad­just, which can make a vi­tal dif­fer­ence as al­ti­tude presents dan­gers. High-al­ti­tude cere­bral oedema leaves you con­fused and un­able to walk in a straight line. High-al­ti­tude pul­monary oedema in­volves ex­treme tired­ness and dif­fi­culty breath­ing. Both can be rapidly fa­tal. There’s no op­tion but to de­scend. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced al­ti­tude symp­toms on Mount Kinabalu and in Peru. Even in its milder forms, it isn’t much fun.

Fit­ness is nei­ther nec­es­sary nor suf­fi­cient but it is an as­set; I de­cide to cover two bases at once by mov­ing my usual ex­er­cise regime to a spe­cial­ist gym. Al­ti­tude in Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches sim­u­lates 3700m, where oxy­gen is two-thirds the usual level. At the top of Kil­i­man­jaro, it’s just half.

When it came to choos­ing an op­er­a­tor, al­ti­tude con­cerns are de­ci­sive. The well-re­garded African Walk­ing Com­pany of­fers a unique route called Shira that takes seven nights and has ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion side-trips. It also avoids some of the more con­gested camp­sites. Flights booked and trans­port or­gan­ised to the start point of Arusha, Tan­za­nia’s sa­fari hub, the fi­nal in­gre­di­ent is gear.

I was once told you can climb Mount Kinabalu in thongs, and while I’m glad I didn’t try it’s al­most true. There’s no such am­bi­gu­ity here as Kil­i­man­jaro is so large it cre­ates its own, un­pre­dictable weather. There’s a moun­tain forecast web­site and, ev­ery time I look, it is freez­ing at 4900m with snow show­ers.

So the equip­ment list be­gins with a good pair of boots and ends with top-to-toe wa­ter­proofs, with mul­ti­ple lay­ers in be­tween. I de­cide to hire some of the heav­ier items, such as a sleep­ing bag, when I get there. Ei­ther that, or I will ex­ceed the 15kg checked lug­gage limit on East African in­ter­nal flights.

By the time I reach Arusha I’m a mix­ture of an­tici-

On the sum­mit of Kil­i­man­jaro, top; the peak from Karanga Val­ley and trek leader Mussa, above; Kibo crater rim, be­low

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.