RE­MEM­BER­ING A MOUN­TAIN CLIMB, 20 YEARS ON

PA women cel­e­brate, rem­i­nisce climb­ing Kil­i­man­jaro 20 years ago

Talk of the Town - - Front Page - BOB FORD

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.

Pic­ture: BOB FORD

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...

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