By Derrick Silimina
HIKING to the top of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, has never been a task for the faint-hearted.
Aminata Njai, a 35-year-old accountant from Grizzly Mining Company on the Copperbelt, recently embarked on a mission to climb Tanzania’s snow–capped Mount Kilimanjaro.
Aminata braved the furious winds and freezing temperatures to fulfil the epic expedition in honour of her late brother, Hamidou, and as a way of celebrating her 35th birthday.
According to experts, unlike Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro is considered a non-technical climb. One does not require mountaineering training or equipment such as ropes or crampons, which however does not make it a mere walk in the park!
On April 13, Aminata and other like-minded souls finally landed at the strenuous summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, an expedition that took six days.
“When I lost my Brother Hamidou, also known by others as Eric, I grieved because it was shocking and sudden. I decided to embark on the journey to partially pay tribute to him because at that moment I didn’t care about all the death stories I heard about Kili; little did I even care about dying. I needed to spend time away and it was worth it. I love you Hamidou,” said Aminata who is Payroll Manager at Grizzly Mining Company.
Having been in the gem fields for more than 10 years, Aminata said the stress of being at the mines also prompted her to look out into the adventure world.
“Whenever I have time to myself, all I look forward is to explore what is out there,” she chuckles.
Standing at 19,341 feet or 5,895 metres, Tanzania’s snow-capped Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa and the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.
It is also the world’s tallest walkable mountain. To reach the summit, one must pass through five distinct climates, including rain-forest, alpine desert and eventually glacial Arctic.
According to statistics, while more than 20,000 people attempt to scale Mount Kilimanjaro annually, only half of them reach the summit. This just attests to the severity of the challenge of making the ascent.
For Aminata, trekking Kilimanjaro has been on her bucket list for a very long time.
“I believe life is an opportunity to create meaning, I have travelled the world. I did almost everything from shopping, museums, the beach, heights and thrilling adventures. So, what else is left? So, for my birthday in April this year I planned Kilimanjaro; maybe because I knew I was very fit. What a wonderful experience, awarded with a certificate,” she narrates.
Renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow has argued that self-actualisation is deeply entrenched in the human psyche, but it only surfaces once the more basic needs are fulfilled.
He believes that once the powerful needs for food, security, love and self-esteem are satisfied, a deep desire for creative expression and self-actualisation rises to the surface.
Aminata echoes Maslow’s theory and states, “Once you are self- actualised, you have met your full potential as an individual, also not leaving out the power of our Creator, this place makes you realise how powerful Allah our Creator is, He who has made for you the earth as a dwelling place to enjoy His creation.”
Having succeeded on her mission to reach the peak of one of the wonders of the world, Aminata believes she has learnt something important about life.
“There is so much that I learnt on that mountain. When I came down, I was a different person because I realised so much. You know; in life, do not be too fast. Take one step at a time because when you are climbing the mountain and you are too fast, then you won’t make it to the top. You really must go slow and those are some of the lessons of life that I have actually learnt. It also made me realise that when you take your journey with one step at a time, you will actually reach the end.”
Aminata further believes that team-work is also critical if one had to realise their goal in life.
“I don’t think you can manage to walk alone in that bush for six days. So, I learnt lessons of unity and the importance of doing things as a group. I was in a group of about 12 porters and two guides. We stuck together throughout our journey and it was overwhelming because we pushed each other. Even if one gets sick, you have to be there for them.”
To climb Mount Kilimanjaro is a once in a lifetime opportunity and this is the reason why people travel from all over the world to stand on top of the ‘Roof of Africa’.
Aminata, therefore, believes that being properly prepared to climb Africa’s highest peak is the key to a successful summit attempt.
Since Mount Kilimanjaro is known as a ‘walk-up’ mountain, its routes and their variations take between five and nine days to complete, according to Ultimate Kilimanjaro, one of the companies that offer guide services there.
Although climbing Mount Kilimanjaro does not require one to spend time in the gym, there is no need to underestimate its risks and demands.
“You have to walk for eight hours a day because you can’t walk at night as it’s too cold and windy. It’s not even allowed to walk at night. So, during night-time, you have to sleep in tents as there are a lot of camping sites on the way. You camp at night and early morning around 6AM, somebody will wake you up, they will bring you hot water and some hot coffee, then by 7 o’clock you start off again,” Aminata narrates.
Overall statistics show that since over 20,000 people climb Kilimanjaro every year, tourists’ deaths stand at about 10 per year. This represents 0.03 percent chance of death or one death per 3,333 climbers.
Most die due to acute mountain sickness (AMS), also known as altitude sickness.
Aminata amplifies the official reports:
“It is actually very dangerous and a lot of people have died on that mountain. Even our porters would tell us stories of people who could not make it because at the end of the day, the higher you go, the less oxygen you have. So, some climbers run out of oxygen, you start panting and it’s hard you know. And there is no evacuation, no wonder people pass away whilst on that mountain. If you are lucky enough to pay a good insurance company, at least there is some evacuation up to a certain level.”
Aminata reveals that she too got sick at some point when they reached the apex of the mountain but against all odds, she made it!
“Once you start losing oxygen, your body will get into a certain condition in which either your blood pressure can rise or things like that. No wonder, when one is at the summit, you are only allowed to be at the peak of the mountain for 20 to 30 minutes because it’s risky but despite that, given a chance of trekking up the mountain, I will do it again!” – Feature courtesy of SUMA SYSTEMS.