Mountain of greatness

Expedition: Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route

Rolfe Oostra

Mountain of greatness: Kilimanjaro as it’s known by the Muzungus (the white man)
It’s dark and bitterly cold. The wind as we are approaching the volcano’s rim screeches like an express train overhead. My group previously cool calm and collected begin to exchange nervous glances. In a matter of minutes we’ll climb onto the crater rim and be in the full force of Mother Nature’s fury. Once again the objective of standing on Kilimanjaro’s summit is put in doubt as the mountain shows us how miniscule our dreams are compared to the mighty force of nature.

My mind slips back to my previous ascents. I allow myself this privilege as I am about to summit for the 50th time and this experience proves once again to be very exciting. In fact every single ascent of this mountain has in some way proven to be memorable for not only is this mountain the highest peak on the continent of Africa and therefore qualifies as one of the coveted seven summits but it is also the highest free-standing mountain on the planet. And at nearly 6,000m this never is an ascent to take lightly.

My first time on top was with my good mate Dave: I remember him for not remembering him: he was almost transparent as he had puked himself window-pane-clear. A quick high five from a hand popping out of nowhere is what remains as my first memory of this mighty summit.

Next came a succession of summiteers. Team after team stretching out over 100’s of meters as they struggled up those bastard false summits from Stella Point to get that initial glance of that elusive summit sign. People bending over their poles, people being held up by the local crew, people spraying the multi-coloured yawns, people being placed so far outside their comfort zone, people so tired that they couldn’t take another step after having reached the top.

Ah, so much fun! To see my clients give this thing their all, to dig deep and to keep going no matter what: a professional boxer cry his heart out as the experience is so tough; a grandmother of 5 determinedly shuffling to the top, a huge grin on her face as the summit sign gets closer and closer; a hell’s angel biker wanting to hold hands and skip along the summit rim; an 82 year old priest propped up by 2 local crew crying with joy as he reaches the summit sign; and a 16 year old teenager beside herself waving her scarf into the wind never having had the chance to feel so wild and free, on top of a huge mountain the wind howling like a beast.

Yep that is what a summit day is like. The ultimate chance to go beyond every discomfort you have ever felt and to stand and marvel as the sun rises in a huge festival of colours over the endless African plains. And then once back on planet earth to be able to look into the mirror and to say to yourself: I did it! And what a thing to have achieved!

But I am neglecting the most important people on every ascent: the Chagga people who live on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. It is these men and women who formed my crews and without them every ascent would have been very difficult and for many impossible. There’s the cook holding court amongst a troop of helpers chopping veggies creating hugely varied, fresh and filling meals not only for us but for the porter crew who support us. The local guides who despite trudging the slopes as their day job never fail to feel passionate as we approach the top of their volcano. The porters who carry huge loads balanced carefully on their heads and who once in camp begin pitching tents and scouring the hills for water. They go about their jobs not only to provide income for their families but with unceasing enthusiasm. It is these guys that over time have become close friends and allow me to do the job I do with renewed gusto every ascent. Any job is so much better when done with great friends!

But the star of the show is of course the mountain itself. At times the mountain seems malevolent and taunts all comers from her lofty position in the sky, challenging those who dare to reach her summit. Other times she seems friendly and inviting. Sometimes she is shy and hides in the clouds but always it is magnificent. The journey to the summit is one of immense contrast. Not only does the adventurer travel through a huge variety of biologically and geographically diverse landscapes but each day brings about a small surprise that is immensely memorable. A chameleon trying hard to blend in with the vegetation, a troop of Colobus swinging in the forest canopy above you, sometimes a buffalo glaring menacingly from the bushes, and on one occasion a bush-baby peering out from a tree-hollow. Then there are lava tunnels, lava towers and lava boulders to explore and wonder at.

Yep, it has always been a privilege to come back to Kilimanjaro, to meet the crew, to encourage my clients and to be part of such a unique adventure. I hope to be climbing it for a long time to come!
Fun facts!

· I have spent over 365 days actually on the slopes of Kilimanjaro –
· I have taken over 735 people to the top – and by doing so helped raise over £1.8m.
· I can hold my own in Swahili and am known as Kaka Raffi by most of the local boys over there. It sure feels like home from home.

Our next Kilimanjaro expedition heads out on the 17th October. Alternatively if you have already headed out on this peak and wish for some new ideas check out our website – my suggestion is Aconcagua in November (with me leading).  Aco is another fantastic peak which is part of the 7 summits,  or why not try something in the Himalayas such as Mera peak or Island peak teamed with Everest base camp.
So much to do, such little time –
Adios Rolfe.

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