Four Ugandans scale Mount Kilimanjaro

The friends on a trek to conquer the Mount Kilimanjiro heights. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The heights. Four  friends set out to summit Mt Kilimanjaro, little did they know the challenges they would experience before getting to the top. They recount their adventurous journey to Edgar R. Batte.

Each craved adventure. Peter Ntale, Godwin Kayizzi, Denise Shamim Namuddu, Samuel Mugabi and Scovia Kyarisiima worked out at a health club and challenged themselves to scale Mount Kilimanjaro.

The gym buddies picked inspiration from being part of a 10-hikers’ group of Big Family Health Club in Nansana, who had hiked Mount Muhabura in Southwestern Uganda, last year.

Ntale is a senior research fellow and a deputy director of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, Makerere University Business School, Kayizzi is the chairperson of the health club and a philanthropist, Namuddu, is a career woman, Mugabi is the proprietor of FB Millers and Kyarisiima is the proprietor of Legends Tours & Travel, a company that arranged the trip to Tanzania.

Journey begins
The friends set off from Kampala by Sai-Baba bus on August 20, and reached Moshi, Tanzania at 9pm the next day. They started hiking on August 22 from Marangu gate to Mandara hut, a five-hour trail of eight kilometres at an altitude of 6,045 feet to 8,858ft above sea level. 

They ascended a tropical rainforest. At the upper edge of the forest line, the hikers sighted blue monkeys. The trail  widened to beautiful hillsides, rocky walls, and plains until the hikers reached Mandara hut where they spent a night. 

On day two, they set off to Horombo at 12,205 feet. It covers 12 kilometres which lasted 10 hours until the trail opened into high moorland. Here, they got their first views of Kibo and Mawenzi peaks – two of the three volcanic peaks that make up the summit of Kilimanjaro. 

On Wednesday, they set off from Horombo to Kibo camp at 15,430ft covering 10 kilometres which takes about nine hours of hiking. They climbed gradually, then crossed the lunar desert of the saddle between Mawenzi and Kibo.  Kibo Hut sits at the bottom of the Kibo crater wall where they rested and enjoyed an early dinner to prepare for the summit day. 

Day four started at Kibo camp to Uhuru Peak at 19, 341ft, an eight to 10-hour hike covering six kilometres in an arctic weather condition. 

Pushing higher in sickness
At midnight, the adventure junkies started their aim for the summit. It was the most mentally and physically challenging bit. They ascended in the darkness for several hours while taking frequent, but short breaks. The cold was extreme. Just below Hans Meyer’s point, came the first victim of altitude sickness.  Ntale felt chest heaviness. Twice, he failed to stand and fell on his knees. He had to be descended at a terrific speed to avoid further complications. 

When the porters got him to Kibo hut, a team of porters rode him on a cart, commonly known as, the helicopter to Mawenzi camp where an ambulance was readily waiting to descend him to Marangu gate and, finally to a hospital in Moshi. 

Ntale was diagnosed with High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), a condition that makes the blood vessels in the lungs squeeze together which increases the pressure causing fluids to leak from the blood vessels to the lung tissues and eventually into the air sacs. 

This condition can only be managed by descending the victim to a much lower altitude and managing the condition medically. With one man down, the team got more resilient to conquer the heights. 
Kayizzi led the way past Gilman’s point, Stella Point and finally Uhuru Peak  in a record nine hours. Mugabi and Kyarisiima followed suit. 

As they waited for Kayizzi who had continued to Uhuru peak, the furthest point of the mountain, Namuddu showed up across the three major peaks including Uhuru although she had to be carried back to Kibo unconscious. 

After enjoying the picturesque top of the mountain, the team sloped back to Horombo camp via Kibo, a descent of about 13 hours and later to Marangu gate for another eight hours.  

The friends take a break. PHOTO/COURTESY 

There were many lessons. During the ascent, they kept running away from their guides and walked past so many hikers. At different camps, people struggled to move, yet the four did not feel anything, an indicator of strong leg muscles which had been built over time. 

However, that did not suffice. There is need to improve resilience and conditioned functioning of the lungs, the heart, and the brain to allow easy adaptation to extreme conditions. 

They had the right hiking gear and hired what they lacked from Moshi. Unfortunately, none of them anticipated Altitude Mountain Sickness, they therefore never carried any medication. Along the trails were used tablet strips which they learnt were for prevention and cure of mountain sickness. 

Even when they started experiencing the symptoms, they were hesitant to take medicine thinking it would affect their gusto. When they interacted with other hikers, they were shocked to have put their bodies over 5,000 metres without any prevention or cure of the effects. 

Prior, they had inquired about the medicines from Kampala pharmacies and, they were informed that they are rare since Kampala is not a major hiking city, mountain illnesses are not a threat.

Tourism in Tanzania is serious business and as the hikers observe, the road from Moshi through Marangu villages to the Kinapa entrance is tarmacked and the sides of the road well-kept. 

Inside the Kinapa gate are registration and coordination offices of the activities then resting/reception house with photos of Hans Meyer, Mzee Lauo (a Chagga hunter who guided Hans Meyer during his ascent to the top in 1890s while naked) and several of such early hikers who have attempted to hike the mountain since the 1840s. One cannot miss Chagga culture artifacts and the history of Kilimanjaro. 

To  climb  Kilimanjaro... 

There are seven routes up Kilimanjaro, each of which takes between five and nine days. However, it is vital not to rush the ascent as it could lower your success rate.  You need to ensure time for your body to acclimatise to high altitude.

• Customer care of the  guides and porters was awesome - soft spoken, mindful of the challenges ahead of them, helpful in making them achieve their intended targets, mindful of their health and safety, and satisfaction in their individual assignments is what we saw among the Tanzania porters, guides and the Kinapa officials. 
• The hikers advise that one should choose the hiking route wisely because while they were ignorant of the good and the bad of the different routes; Marangu Route with exceptional accommodation, meals, toilets on the way and shorter hiking days- only five days as compared to other six to nine days. 
• Indeed, it is the most hiked route, with heavy traffic along its trails from Marangu gate to Kibo hut with traffic drastically reducing from Kibo to the peaks.