REMEMBERING A MOUNTAIN CLIMB, 20 YEARS ON
PA women celebrate, reminisce climbing Kilimanjaro 20 years ago
MOST people are content to go for long walks, jog or compete in marathons for exercise, but climbing high mountains would be considered something of an overkill.
However, the daunting undertaking of conquering Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, did not phase a group of 17 enthusiasts from Port Alfred and surrounding area 20 years ago.
They started their epic climb on July 5 1998, and held a reunion of this mammoth achievement in Port Alfred last weekend.
The dream of this adventure of a lifetime started way back in 1996 when well-known local personality and estate agent, Heather Tyson, completed a four-day camel-riding and canoeing trail. This involved riding a camel for two days across the semi-desert area of the Northern Cape and canoeing down the Orange River for the remaining two.
Also on this unusual journey was Ruth Bishop, who farmed in the Albany area, and the two women started searching for their next adventure. As luck would have it, one of the men in their party was wearing a Kilimanjaro T-shirt and so the idea was born.
Arrangements were soon put in motion and the following people from the area committed themselves to undertaking this adventure: Tony Gulliford, Yvonne Surtees, Heather and Fred Tyson, Dee and Cecil Jones-Phillipson Natalie Christie, Kevin Christie, Coreen Timm, Jonathan Timm, Leonie Yendall, Yvonne Yendall, Richard Legg, Leon de Bruyn, Leon Siecker and Evette Webster. The date for the climb to start was set for July 5 1998. But like all huge undertakings preparations had to be done and special boots had to be bought and “walked in”. Sufficient suitable clothing to withstand the sub-zero temperatures also had to be purchased. The group then organised training hikes to get fit and these included trails into the Cockscomb, Hogsback and Amatola mountain ranges as well climbing up and down sand dunes.
The day for the mammoth climb eventually arrived and the group set out from Moshi. They chose the more difficult Machame route (more commonly known among climbers as the “Whisky Route”) to enable them to acclimatise better. This involved a nine-hour climb of 3,100m through beautiful rainforests, vines, huge trees, monkeys and ferns.
Day two was an easier one with a six-hour climb of 3,658m which took them out the forests into a grassland area covered in heath, low shrub and bush. The group slept in tents carried by porters along with their food and all the utensils needed to serve them excellent three-course meals.
The third day took them above the clouds into an Alpine desert region where Everlastings grew in profusion but little else. After ascending to 4,600m to Arrow Glacier and Lava Tower they descended, crossing frozen streams and waterfalls to their campsite at Barranco after 10 hours, following the “climb high, sleep low” policy which helped minimise altitude sickness.
The next day the group climbed up paths in a sheer rock face called the Barranco Wall and crossed several dry dusty rocky plains and glacier beds, climbing again to 4,600m in 11 hours to reach the Barafu campsite. They had now reached the most exciting part of their epic climb, the summit.
Their guide allowed them only two hours sleep before they set off at midnight and after a seven-hour climb of around 5,745m arrived at Stella Point. But the exhausted group had still not reached the summit and a further hour of painstaking climbing got them to Uhuru Peak, the highest peak on the African continent at 5,895m.
The reason why the group climbed this last part at night was to eliminate the danger of the sun melting the ice and making it dangerously slippery. They were, however, fortunate that there was a full moon and no torches were required. The day dawned a beautiful morning with sunshine and no wind, resulting in the temperature being only - 10°C.
With accompanying winds, this can drop to -25°C..
The heaviest snowfall in 100 years had fallen on the mountain in March and the sign to Uhuru Peak and the register for climbers to sign were buried under metres of snow. Sadly, the group from the Eastern Cape were unable to leave their names on the mountain.
In an interview with TotT, Surtees, Heather Tyson and Yvonne Yendall all agreed that the views of the snow-filled crater and glacier walls were quite superb and well worth the effort of getting there.
Due to the danger of melting snow and ice, the group was forced to start descending the mountain after a few hours. After reaching Barafu hut, they had to walk for another four hours to reach Maweka Hut at 3,100m. The climbers were exhausted, but well satisfied having completed their longest day of their adventure. They had walked for 17 hours, but had seen some incredible sights.
The following day was almost a stroll down the remainder of the mountain where they were collected by a bus and transported to their hotel in Mushi. Tyson, Yendall and Surtees all agreed that the experience was one of the highlights of their lives and gave them a feeling of tremendous achievement.
KILIMANJARO CONQUERORS: Three Port Alfred women, from left, Heather Tyson, Yvonne Surtees and Yvonne Yendall were part of a group to summit Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, almost 20 years ago. They celebrated this mammoth undertaking with a...