If there is one sport that combines thrill, excitement and beauty at the same time, it is mountaineering. Along with the exhilarating adventure of climbing high peaks, it offers us a chance to immerse ourselves in the scenic beauty of nature. While mountain climbing initially began as an attempt to scale some of the highest mountains in the world, today it is a full-fledged sport with expertise depending on the different properties of the mountain like rock, snow or ice.
Recently, I had an opportunity to participate in an expedition to Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Measuring 19341 ft (5895 m), it is the tallest peak on the African continent and has always attracted mountaineers from across the world. It lies near Moshi, a small village in Tanzania, which can be reached in an hour’s flight from Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. There are five different routes to Kilimanjaro peak from Moshi village: Machame, Umbule, MWeka, Nalemori and Marango. We chose Marango.
The first stage of the climb from Moshi to Kilimanjaro is at the Marango Gate at 1800 m. The second stage is up to Mandara Hut at 2700 m and third is Horombo Gate at 3700 m. You have to halt at Horombo Gate for two days to acclimatise. In these two days, several practice climbs are made, before embarking on the fourth leg of the expedition to the Kibo Hut Camp which is at 4700 m. After resting for a few hours at the Camp, you set out for the final climb of about 1200 m. By this time the oxygen levels in the air drop considerably, so breathing becomes difficult. However, about 50-60 of us managed to continue ahead and successfully set our feet on the top.
It was an ecstatic feeling and I experienced one of the most liberating moments of my life! After the unfortunate death of my friend and fellow mountaineer Subhash Takle a few months ago during an expedition, this success was sweeter because it helped me regain my confidence. It also reassured me that if you prepare well, you can avoid fatal mishaps. After about 10 minutes on the top, we all came down happily and safely to celebrate our success.
After the expedition, one thing that remains with me till date is the impeccable management and facilities I experienced in Tanzania. On your way to Kilimanjaro when you reach the first halt at Marango Gate, the first thing they do is check your passport and make a detailed note of your name, address, in-time and out-time. Therefore, at any moment, they have a clear information about which mountaineer has proceeded to the advance post from there. There are independent huts for stay. The toilets are clean and well maintained. There are separate arrangements for male and female mountaineers and an attendant available all the time.
The huts are well-equipped and self contained. Not only are they clean and hygienic, they also have a well stocked kitchen wherein you can cook your own food. Also, there are proper dining tables and benches to sit. The place has cell phone network as well as satellite phones, so you are never ‘out of range’ for the world. In emergency situations, as a safety measure, there is a helicopter service available at short notice. Besides, at each camp site, stretchers and tow carts fitted with springs are available. In case someone needs to be shifted back to the base, s/he can be transported on them with minimum jolts. And above all, every night, the blood oxygen level, sugar and heart beats of every member of the expedition are checked. In case of any abnormal readings, the said member is detained there.
At all times, there’s a trained guide, his assistant, a porter to carry your luggage (like the sherpas in the Himalayan expeditions) and a cook with you. They take great care of you and good medical facilities are available at every camp.
One cannot but feel that if the Indian government takes lead in creating such an infrastructure for mountaineering expeditions in our country, it could get help from the numerous mountaineering institutes and individuals who arrange expeditions regularly. And this will encourage more people to go for the adrenaline-charged experience, along with an opportunity to explore nature.