January 7, 2011

Towards the summit of Kilimanjaro

Prologue – Adventures in Tanzania

Thomas Kieller

The Tanzanian scenery.

Beyond Mount Kilimanjaro, the cities of Tanzania such as Arusha, Dar es Salaam and Stone Town, the vast red-orange fields and the recurrent periods of drought, there is the strong desire to live of the Tanzanian people.

The idea of climbing the emblematic Kilimanjaro came to me a few years ago in order to get the pleasure of surpassing myself in a physical event while discovering a different culture right in the heart of Africa.

This stratovolcano of approximately 6,000 meters of altitude will surely give me the challenge I'm seeking for. To live completely the cultural difference, I chose to undergo this adventure in October which represents the end of the dry period in Tanzania where the sun hits hard, the land is red-orange and where many trees are stripped of their leaves. I knew that I will discover fully the exoticism of the old continent.

Tanzania as well as Africa is a part of the world which is for many quite obscure on the cultural level. With this journey, I have the possibility to comprehend a little bit more the Tanzanian lifestyle. One month of immersion will surely bring its share of surprises, but how much? Believe me, I will tell you.

For me, there was only one thing to do, to establish an itinerary. Not easy when you are not native of this faraway country. The choice of roads on the geographical maps are numerous and they don't tell much about safety (a non inconsiderable aspect to neglect). When one knows a local who can give advice everything changes. After several weeks of pinpointing roads and paths, a route emerged. I decided to climb Kilimanjaro in seven days by taking the Lemosho route and by passing through the Londorossi Gate in order to arrive at the Uhuru peak, commonly called by the Tanzanians. As for the return, two days of going down are enough to arrive at Mweka Gate. In brief, 65 km in nine days.

To be assured that the challenge of climbing this mountain will overwhelm me completely, I gave myself one more difficulty, which was that before the ascent I would walk an additional 60 km in two days. In this way, I will be fatigued before I do even one step on the mountain. I like this idea. Ha ha ha!

All said and done, I will cover 125 km in 11 days combining a walk in the countryside and the ascent. Oh yeah, this is pleasure!

To give a touch of originality to this story, I asked the participation of six athletes who come from different sports and countries in order to discuss with them about determination. The six athletes involved are:

  • Alona Bondarenko: Ukrainian tennis player, two times winner in singles and four times champion in doubles of which one at the Australian Open
  • François Legrand: French rock climber, three times winner of the world rock climbing championship and five times world champion in the overall ranking of climbers
  • Simon Mtuy: Tanzanian ultra distance runner, record holder of the fastest ascent and descent of Kilimanjaro
  • Henri Richard: Canadian hockey player, eleven times champion of the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens
  • Carlos Sastre: Spanish cyclist, champion of the 2008 Tour de France edition
  • Steve Young: American football player, three times champion of the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers

Through one year, I gathered their experiences and their opinions on determination and on their sport life. With enthusiasm, they shared their knowledge without holding back.

Moreover, to put a spicy touch in the expedition, I told myself why not do an interview at the summit of Kilimanjaro. It's where Simon Mtuy comes in. He is the record holder of the fastest ascent and descent of Kilimanjaro without assistance. He realized this achievement in February 22, 2006 in 9 hours 21 minutes 47 seconds. He is also the ex-record holder of the fastest ascent and descent of Kilimanjaro with assistance in 8 hours 27 minutes. I say ex-record holder because his time was beaten in September 2010. Simon helped the man who beat his mark, but I will tell you more on this subject in another chapter.

In brief, I decided to realize a 15 minute interview at the summit, at 5,895 meters of altitude, where there are 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath than at sea level. Strange you may say! Well, Simon found the idea interesting. Besides, he told me it is quite unusual. You will see...

I knew that I was giving myself a good objective. I really wanted to taste the challenge and to feel the sensation of an adventure in altitude. I think I chose well.