Tag Archives: Kilimanjaro

In peak condition – Image #46

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Everest from Gokyo Ri Image taken from the Adventure Consultants Wikipedia page

Who says romance is dead?  I spent St Valentine’s evening watching the 2015 film Everest.  Hardly a chick flick, but it was enthralling.  (Incidentally, the image above was taken from the Wikipedia page for Rob Hall’s company, Adventure Consultants – he was one of the main characters in the film – I chose it then saw the connection!). It sparked an interesting discussion at home along the following lines.

Is it right for man to climb these massive mountains, at so much risk to themselves and others?  Is it right that they leave behind loved wives, husbands, parents, children, other family and friends, in pursuit of their dreams?  Is it right that they should leave so much litter – ropes, empty oxygen canisters etc – not to mention the bodies of those who perished.  Is it right that humans erode the trails up to the summits of the majestic peaks, that we create traffic jams of climbers because there are so many people vying for limited resources on the way up and down?  Perhaps worst of all, is it right that people are allowed to climb some of the higher peaks with little or no climbing experience, but with a healthy bank balance to indulge their dream?

I’ve done a bit of hill walking and summitted a few hills and mountains, none of which required so much as a rope, let alone crampons, ice axe, oxygen masks or the skills to use them.  All were in essence little more than a steep walk, albeit Kilimanjaro was nearly 6000 metres high and took more than a week.  I enjoy my days on the hills, but am not a risk taker and would much rather walk off the mountain in one piece to try another day (as I did on my first Kilimanjaro attempt) rather than do something which could endanger my life.  My main driver for doing those summits was because I wanted to be as high as possible with my feet still on the ground.  But did I contribute to the erosion and other damage to mountain ecosystems? I always take my litter home with me, but even just by walking the same path as others, have I made the situation worse?  John Muir once said:

Take nothing but photographs

Leave nothing but footprints

Kill nothing but time

I think that for some mountains the middle one also causes problems.  Im not sure what the answer is, because some people just want to climb to these inhospitable places “because they’re there”. But at what cost?  Above 8000 metres our bodies literally start to die, and the only way to survive is to descend.

The recent tragedies like the avalanche at Everest Base Camp last year, even the deaths in 1996 which inspired the film I saw last night, could be seen as a sign that Mother Nature is flexing her muscles, showing us that she’s not happy at being defiled so much.  Maybe we need to start paying her more attention, and stop dreaming of going places where humans are not welcome.

 

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I think I must be part Boov

I have to admit that I’ve taken the phrase in the title image from the file “Home”, where an alien race called the Boov invade Earth.  One of the Boov is called Oh (that’s what everyone says when he appears) and he utters the phrase I’ve “borrowed”.

In many respects I feel that I “fit out”, in terms of what family, friends and  society may expect of me.  Admittedly I also “fit in” or conform to a lot of the norms, such as holding down a job, having a house and mortgage, paying my taxes and bills etc.  But am I “normal”?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  What is “normal”, and who decides what it is?  I don’t have the wife and 2,4 children that Western society expects – though since divorcing my ex I have a new partner and am stepdad to 2 children, so I guess that’s pretty close to conforming?

In the last year I’ve embraced spirituality, and have particularly found peace and purpose in Buddhism.  I’ve started mindful meditation and am trying to practice that every day, along with mindfulness in general. I burn incense every day at home, and can’t seem to pass a shop selling the stuff without buying some.  I guess that the upshot of all that is that I’m trying to slow down, to get off the rollercoaster of life and to enjoy every moment. It strikes me that this is not a “normal” thing to do and that it’s perhaps one way in which I fit out.

I’m also looking to spend some of my spare time volunteering or helping others in some way.  I’ve read somewhere that there are over 20 million volunteers in the UK – that’s about 1 in 7 of the population, so maybe that’s more like fitting in, but in the circles I’ve moved in in the past it’s definitely fitting out.  It’s all a bit daunting, but I’m looking forward to it too.

Again, in the circles I used to move in, with the friends I had with my ex, alcohol played quite a significant part.  Not only have a I cut down drastically on my intake over the last year, I’ve signed up to give up alcohol completely for all of January.  This is definitely not “normal” in my experience, and the last time I had two alcohol free weeks was when climbing Kilimanjaro several years ago.  (It’s going well though, thanks for asking.)

At the ripe old age of nearly 50 I’ve joined a band playing music from the 50s-70s, rock and roll as it should be.  This is a bit of a departure from playing in an originals heavy rock band (which was probably more fitting out than the new band) but it’s still a bit of an odd thing to do for someone my age I think.  Too old to be trendy but too young to be vintage!

Then there’s the type of music I listen to.  I’m still going to see my favourite punk bands from when I was a teenager (I’m so glad they’re still going / still alive) and there’s a real feeling of togetherness at those gigs.  The rest of the crowd are like me, of a similar age (generally) and I’m guessing all enjoying the gig for the same reasons as me.  But when I was in my teens, that style of music was not mainstream, and we were definitely on the outside looking in.

Do you know what though? I like my new life, I like being me, and I like fitting out.  And I’m not the only one.  Check this out on my partner Dee’s site, Helping You Sparkle.  This is what inspired me to write this post.

 

A Scottish Escape

Some years ago, I was preparing for another attempt on Kilimanjaro and had persuaded one of my cousins, Chris, to come with me.  We decided that since there was a big age gap which meant we didn’t really know each other that well, we should try something a little smaller and closer to home to see how well we got on.  We’d be sharing a tent for nearly a fortnight and we figured it better to find out before we got to Africa!

Continue reading A Scottish Escape

A word about other bloggers…

Today I’ve spent some time reaching out to other bloggers and commenting on a number of their posts. That means spending a lot more time reading and less writing, but I think that’s part of the fun of blogging.

The first article I read was this one, https://nihongojapango.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/and-i-still-have-over-half-my-life-to-live/. I was drawn to the description of ageing with friends over decades, and of taking up new challenges, living life to the full. What struck me was that the writer had climbed Kilimanjaro in their 40s, as did I. Hopefully you’ll like the article too.

I then headed over to http://melissaintransition.com/2015/09/11/15-things-that-do-not-define-your-self-worth/. I’ve been going through a number of changes myself over recent months, and the items on the list resonated with me. Saying that, I noticed some gaps in the list – can you think of any others?

Next up was https://sophiasramblings.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/the-scottish-borderlands/. It’s more or less from my neck of the woods from when I was growing up, so it was lovely to hear someone else’s take on countryside I recognise and love. The photos were great too.

Finally I checked out https://dreamingofbigger.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/books/. I’m an avid reader and it was interesting to see that I’m not the only one who struggles to finish some books! Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky took me months, mostly because I initially struggled with the long Russian names, with variants and nicknames, and I found the sentences were very long – sometimes covering more than a page.

It’s interesting to see the various topics people choose to write about, and that’s one of the things I like about the blogosphere – it’s so diverse and you can get lost in it for hours if you wish. There are so many creative writers, thinkers and photographers out there, it’s quite humbling.

Mountains of calm

Think of a mountain. Think of a mountain that stands on its own. Think of a mountain that stands on its own and can be seen for miles all around. Chances are you’re thinking of Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world, with its snow capped, flat looking summit and perhaps elephant or giraffe on the savannah below. I don’t know whether it’s that image, or the fact that I spent the first four years of my life not too far away in the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon (properly called the Ruwenzori), but when my friend Andy and I were talking about doing something significant to mark turning 40, there was only one possible choice for me. We had to climb Kilimanjaro, one of the Seven Summits (to be frank, probably the only one I’ll ever climb).

I’m sure that if you’re interested, you’ll find plenty of accounts of the climb, of the vegetation and landscape: this isn’t one of them. To cut a long story short, I failed to summit when I went with Andy, due to altitude sickness: I went back three years later and was probably the last tourist to reach the summit on the day (my cousin Chris had been to the summit and was on his way back down when I got there).

What I found fascinating was that when Andy got back down, he said “never again”; Chris came home and signed up to go to Everest Base Camp (after that trip he said it would be a long time before he went high altitude trekking again); and me? A month after I got home it was announced that my work were looking for people who wanted to climb Kili (I’ve been told you can only use the abbreviated term if you’ve been to the summit) the following year, for charity. I was sorely tempted, and would still love to go back.

The mountain is huge. Once up out of the savannah, rainforest and moorland (on my trips that took the best part of a couple of days), you leave most of the vegetation behind and arrive on a moonscape. Black volcanic rock and dust everywhere, with lighter coloured well worn paths crossing the landscape, and giant lobelia, mosses and lichen for company. And this is the bit I still remember most, which permeates my thoughts and dreams. Walking around the main summit cone of Kibo for several days as part of acclimatisation. Walking up and down the valleys which run down the sides, some of which are dry, some have a little water – that’s when it hits you.

You are tiny compared to the bulk of the mountain. You are flesh and blood, it is rock. It’s been here for thousands of years, you will be on earth (comparatively speaking) for hardly any time at all. I hesitate to use the word spiritual, but the realisation of how insignificant I was in terms of size and presence was a revelation, and brought about a massive feeling of respect, awe, and humility. It also brought a huge rush of calmness, of acceptance, of peace.

And yet, humans are doing untold damage to the mountain, its glaciers, its animals and its vegetation. And there’s a real conundrum at play too. The local people rely on tourism to provide money and jobs, and in order to get there the tourists tend to fly. But the glaciers on the summit have shrunk, which means the streams lower down have less water, which makes life for those who live around the foot of the mountain much more difficult, which means they need to rely more on jobs from tourism related businesses. And the cycle continues.

A final point. Would I go again? Yes! And again? Yes! If only to recapture that feeling of my true place in the grand scheme of Mother Nature i.e. a mere speck on the surface of our planet, but I’d like to find a way of doing it which didn’t contribute to the damage being done.