Monday November 29 2010

78-year-old woman conquers Margherita

Beryl and Bwambale ascending the mountain.

Beryl and Bwambale ascending the mountain.  

By Thembo Kahungu Misairi and Brenda Banura

Park Beryl promised herself she would climb to the highest peak of Rwenzori mountain.She tells Thembo Kahungu Misairi and Brenda Banura about her achievement, 30 years later.

30 years ago, Park Beryl read a book about the Duke of Abrussi’s expedition to the highest peak of Rwenzori mountain. There and then, she decided that one day she would climb it, and on November 13, her wish became a reality.
“In the book, it sounded so beautiful so I promised myself that I would climb it. I made up my mind in April this year so I could get done with it before I am too old to climb,” said 78 year-old Park.

Led by guides, Enock Bwambale, Bernard Enanga and Sandra Ampaire of the Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS), the Canadian lady spent 10 days trekking in mud, snow and over and beneath rocks to reach the highest peak on Mountain Rwenzori. This achievement makes her the oldest person to reach Margherita peak others having been aged 55, 60 and 65 years.

John Hunwick, the Managing Director of Rwenzori Trekking Services, says 10 days is the average number of days it takes for people to climb the highest peak of Mountains of the Moon but it is phenomenal that Park could do that at her age. Bwambale, the chief guide says, “Park has a breathing problem so we had to keep on resting from time to time. It is amazing that she was still able to trek for 10 days.”

Beryl’s hike of the Rwenzori at such an advanced age has been described as historical by officials of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). While receiving the climber at the RTS campsite in Kilembe, Kasese District, the senior warden in charge of Rwenzori Mountains National park, Mr Fred Kiiza said that Park’s hike of the Rwenzori will remain historical to the Rwenzori. “This old woman has cleared perceptions that have been told about the Rwenzori. People have said it is hard to climb but she managed to reach the peak. Beryl has made us so proud.” Kiiza said.

Beryl says that she stays in a mountainous area and even when she was still a young girl, she used to climb hills and cliffs so she has always been interested in mountain climbing. “While at home, I ski at least five times a week and that is how I manage to stay fit.

To prepare for my trek to Margherita, I hiked many mountains a day all through summer and also went for walks to keep fit. But I don’t work out, I do not like it.”

Apart from the cliffs and mountains in her home area, Park climbed Mountain Kilimajaro twice when she was 36 and 72 together with her 13 year-old-granddaughter.

“Climbing Mountain Rwenzori turned out to be the hardest of all. Whereas the weather on Mountain Kilimanjaro is mostly static, that of Rwenzori varies and that is what made it hard to climb. At some point it would rain a lot and then it snows, becomes dry and so on. It was really difficult and honestly the thought of going back crossed my mind but I told myself I had to get to the top because I had set out to reach there.”

She says that though one would move without watching where they stepped in Kilimanjaro, when it came to Rwenzori, “except for the first and last day, you had to be careful where you stepped and held.”

Bwambale says, “When we started the journey, we thought she couldn’t make it to the top because of her body structure. We reached some stages she would cry but would decide to carry on.”

While sharing her experience about the trekking journey with Uganda Wildlife Authority officials and journalists, a tired looking Beryl said, “I could not believe that there was such a beautiful mountain in the world. There was mist so it was hard to see clearly but it was a beautiful sight.” She added that it was strange to find glaciers on the top of the mountain in a country crossed by the equator. “It felt so great to finally get to the top; I even had my lunch while seated on the glacier.”

She said that she was looking forward to bringing her grand children to climb the Rwenzori or encourage them to come. Beryl, a retired hospital social worker has two sons and six grand children. According to her guide, Bwambale, Park took 19 hours to climb a seven hour journey from Elena hut to Margherita peak. “She was a determined old woman who wanted her dream to come true. And throughout the trek she insisted on carrying her back pack.” Beryl has also gone to see the gorillas in Bwindi National park and the Murchison falls among other sites.

Kiiza said that for more than three decades Rwenzori Mountains have not been trekked by elderly climbers. He handed over a Rwenzori Mountains t-shirt to Ms Beryl as a gift for the courageous trek. At the UWA headquarters she was given an umbrella which has the logo, a map of the mountains and a cake which was made in an image of the mountains.

While giving her these items, Justus Tinigarukayo a representative from the Ministry of Tourism and Trade said, “Ms Beryl has now officially become our Tourism Ambassador in Canada, we hope that she will tell of the beauty of the Mountains of the Moon and encourage other people to come and visit.”

He also challenged everyone to go visit the mountain and climb to the peak. “Margherita will give you an opportunity to see beautiful flowers, birds and snow without having to go out of the country and if a 78 year old could, you too can trek to the top.”

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