Kilimanjaro, a risk worth taking – October 2013
Striving to be the top law firm in Lesotho, Webber Newdigate ended up being the top firm in Africa. At least for the short while that Neil Fraser, one of the firm’s partners, was on the summit of Kilimanjaro.
The greatest risk in life is to risk nothing…
The risks and adventure started prematurely for Neil Fraser, a partner at Webber Newdigate, and his best friend: whilst packing for their journey to Kilimanjaro on 7 August 2013 they heard that their transit airport, Nairobi International Airport, was on fire and that all the flights via Nairobi were cancelled! Fortune favoured the adventurers’, and they were re-routed to Kenya a day later amidst the chaos, with the international Airport still languishing in the pain and smoke of the previous day’s fire. Good luck and favourable events followed them further after their taxi to the airport, from which they were to fly to Kilimanjaro International in Tanzania, suffered a flat wheel: hitchhiking and desperate negotiations booked them the last two seats on the flight.
Another disaster was averted when the two managed to borrow some gear from two South African hikers returning home after Neil’s luggage went missing. With the borrowed kit, and such items that his friend could farm out to him, he assembled an eclectic array of gear that he hoped would see him up the mountain.
The following day the object of the journey finally got underway, with the Kilimanjaro trek starting in a rain forest. The first day ascent was to 3300m above sea level which is as high as the highest peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa. At 3300m the hikers were above the clouds. Above 4000m they entered a barren world, with virtually no vegetation to cover the rough surface of sand and rocks.
Neil and his friend tackled Kilimanjaro via the route known as Machame, one of approximately six routes to the summit, which they completed in one day less than the recommended 7 days. On day 4 they reached at 4600m at Barafu hut, the base camp for the final summit to the roof of Africa. After a long day’s hiking to get to Barafu some rest was welcome, but getting to sleep was tough due to the cold weather -approximately -15C to -20C – and due to noisy neighbours in tents gearing up and chatting excitedly in anticipation for the final ascent. At midnight Neil and his friend were summoned to the dining tent for a brew of their daily strong Tanzanian coffee, and for the last briefing before tackling the gruelling ascent to the top.
The hike to the summit from 1 am to sunrise was no joke, with the symptoms of altitude sickness manifesting and becoming more prevalent. The symptoms included headaches, nausea, dizziness and stomach-aches. Some strugglers, mostly suffering from altitude sickness, were met coming down the mountain. These unfortunate mountaineers had not made the summit and were returning to camp. Neil’s party climbed on slowly but steadily. Some of the hikers that made it admitted afterwards that they had been hallucinating on route to the summit, while others confessed to not remembering anything about the summit at all! Neil says that they fell silent during the grind to get up, which is hard to believe if you know them at all!
They reached the summit at Stella Point juts as the sun was rising over the clouds which covered Tanzania, far, far below. It was another 1km hike on the summit ridge and an ascent of a further 150m to reach the highest point in Africa, Uhuru Peak, at 5895m above sea level. At Uhuru Peak photos were taken at the renowned altitude board. Although the headaches got worse in the icy wind, and heart palpitations set in, there were still plenty of smiles, and more photos.
After the jubilation it was time to descend, which is the best medicine for altitude sickness. They knocked back the altimeter, going from 5895m back to 3100m on that same day, and finally finishing the trek the following day.
The spirit of the hikers back at the hotel in Moshi was very high and if that was not enough, Neil and his friend, Nick from Alaska and Paddy from Ireland kept sharing stories over a bottle of Spirit of the Nation local gin until Nick’s shuttle arrived after midnight to whisk him off to the airport.
The return to South Africa was much smoother but was still via Nairobi international airport, a portion thereof now a tent.
After arriving back in South Africa, the risks of altitude sickness, a burning airport, malaria, lost luggage and the snow-capped peaks were weighed up, and found wanting, against the memories of a true adventure that will last a lifetime…