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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Kilimanjaro Trek 2006

‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take
but by the places and moments that take your breath away ’Anon

The fundraising Kilimanjaro trek which took place in October was a tremendous success. Eleven participants, all novices to high altitude trekking, embraced the challenge with great aplomb spending eight days and seven nights on Africa’s highest mountain and one of the world’s highest volcanoes (5896m).

Taking the Lemosho route, commencing on the western slope, the group traversed through equatorial to arctic conditions and the different ecosystems associated with each zone, witnessing new terrains, flora and forna with each days trek. Kilimanjaro has many plants exclusive to the mountain such as the beautiful Impatiens Kilimanjari and the evocative Senecio Kilimanjari. Days one and two were accompanied part way by Blue and Colobus monkeys, the latter’s barking ensured we were all awake before dawn! The terrain ranged from lush forest and regions with every tree and plant draped with lichen, giving the forest a bewitched feeling. Followed by zones dominated by heather and finally, rocky ash covered lunar landscapes. We also encountered two misty gorges with plants evocative of the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The journey was stimulating and exhilarating enhanced by the developing camaraderie within the team.

By supper on day four, it was a very subdued affair, at 4,000 feet one of our party had been forced to turn back due to altitude sickness and two others too unwell t
o attend. Our support crew were exceptional, taking great care of us, always with a smile and frequently with a song. On arrival at each new camp they welcomed us with traditional dance and song, a wonderful tonic for tired bodies and cherished memories for the group.

At high altitude, observing the clouds float by below you is a unique and enchanting experience, we all felt compelled, privileged and humbled to witness this. Total cloud inversion is a spectacular sight, especially on Kilimanjaro with nothing to interrupt its splendour above the vast plains of east Africa.

On the night before our summit attempt a strong gale kept everyone awake. Above the noise of the wind we could hear the shouts of people desperately trying to re-erect their fallen tents and worried ours would be next. Our tents remained upright but we all emerged the next morning covered in volcanic ash.

We embarked on the final summit ascent from Barafu camp (4600m) at 11.30pm on day six. Encountering an unusually severe blizzard, the climb was extremely arduous. Facing into the wind literally took your breath away! “Pole, pole” (slowly, slowly) hour upon hour we ascended, layers of ice building up on our clothes and walking poles and water supplies freezing. Occasionally looking up, in the hope of seeing the summit, one only saw darkness and the head torches of climbers ahead of you. The weather did not abate and many people turned back. Perhaps it was the wonderful support from our friends and colleagues back home that gave the Wilderness Foundation team the determination needed to keep going and all but one reached the top. It was the toughest physical challenge any of us had ever endured. We learnt a lot about ourselves on that night…

There was muted celebration in camp that night, we were all exhausted and somewhat shell shocked by the experience. The euphoria derived from our achievement came the next day though we were all a little sad that the expedition was nearing its end and we would be returning to everyday life!

Tanzania is a beautiful country - almost 40% of the land is protected to some degree therefore sustaining a healthy wildlife population. Its people are wonderful too. In 2007 the Wilderness Foundation hope to introduce wilderness trails in Tanzania to its trail programme.

The Kilimanjaro Trek team would like to express their grateful thanks to all who sponsored and supported our expedition. Particular praise goes to the Tanzanian support team without whom our goal would not have been reached. Congratulations also to Sharon Oliver for her magnificent fundraising achievements.

Jackie Cheng

We are organising a 2007 fundraiser along similar lines - if you'd like to get involved or learn more, get in touch with our office: +441245443073 or info (at) wildernessfoundation.org.uk

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