I’ve always found stories of people engaging in extreme adventures fascinating.
I recall growing up and reading the stories of the great explorers and some of their madcap adventures, and being mentally transported to distant climes and harsh environments. It is for this reason that I’m a big fan of National Geographic.
Today’s children are different though. The privileged ones immerse themselves in a 3D world of video games, some so graphic, they make the journal of an active special forces operative read like a fairy tale. Others embrace television and the escape offered by social media.
Nevertheless, when Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) first announced through Twitter and Facebook that some of its staff would be climbing to the summit of Africa’s highest mountain in June, I felt a shiver go down my spine even though I was in the loop.
I mean, what’s a central banker without a suit? Come on! Those chaps look so serious you can’t imagine them swapping their comfy offices for a 19,341 feet high challenge on their bucket list right? Wrong.
It turns out that some of their cravings are not so different from yours and mine after all…well apart from fighting altitude sickness and freezing temperatures on a mountain. Yes, they do get excited and “catch feelings.” Spending a week without being able to shower or bathe properly is therefore no big deal for them, I discovered.
Such endeavors as hiking up a killer mountain on increasingly limited amounts of oxygen certainly need a powerful anchor, something beyond just the incentive of wanting to test yourself against mortal elements. In this case it was charity. CBK staff fell in love with a bunch of unbelievably sweet children from a Kenyan school for the deaf.
In the process of bonding they discovered that the disadvantaged kids from St. Kizito Litein School were learning under conditions that would be challenging even for pupils with normal hearing in regular schools. So why not raise money to put things right? I mean, it’s a no-brainer!
Scaling Kilimanjaro thus looked like the perfect poster for overcoming life’s challenges and living a healthy lifestyle while doing good for others less privileged than yourself. At least that is how CBK staff felt when they began this journey with preparatory hikes up hills and small mountains in Kenya.
What they were to learn, however, was that when confronted with the real thing, you need to draw on everything you’ve learned, and then some.
The mountain controls you, and not the other way around. With the CBK Governor Dr Patrick Njoroge and the CEO of Bank of Africa Ronald Marambii in tow, they tested the limits of their endurance beyond what they could have imagined – and learned the value of teamwork.
“We were one team with a common objective and we realized the fact that the climb wasn’t a competition,” CBK Governor Dr. Patrick Njoroge told Philip Sambu of Gina Din Communications.
“It was a tough five days. Tanzania is blessed to have this amazing mountain within its territory,” Bank of Africa’s CEO Marambii told Sambu.
“Scaling this mountain takes every ounce of your energy. On the final day, it took us 10 hours to summit thanks to the help from excellent guides and porters,” he noted.
CBK staff Mr. Onesmus Kirimi told Sambu that even the precursor hikes up the Aberdares and other lesser peaks prior to the excursion were not enough to prepare one for the raw power of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Loss of appetite and lack proper toilets, the simple luxuries of life that we take for granted – we had to deal with that,” said Kirimi.
I also found his colleague Mr. Gikuhi Ndegwa’s personal account of the experience quite interesting. Ndegwa loves humor and there’s never a dull moment with him. Here’s a bit of it as narrated to the CBK Communications team:
“My team had Ayub and Omari as the guides together with Steve, a ranger from Kilimanjaro National Park. Omari was the storyteller and quite bubbly. No wonder all the guides going up or down the mountain seemed to know him. His alluring stories and mastery of the many lyrically composed Kilimanjaro songs and jigs made him quite interesting. Ayub on the other hand was a serious guide with a keen eye on health issues. He was our ‘medical guide’.
“I remember one Bank of Tanzania guy slipping only to quip: “Mungu aliumba miamba zake naye binadamu na kiherehere chake kajiambia apande milima kuchungulia miamba zake mwenyezi Mungu!” Kiherehere muache! (Which roughly translates as: “God created his rocks with human beings and his eternity, and he told them to climb the mountains to look at the rocks of God!”) He chuckled! We really missed the chap’s stories when he pulled out on Day Two.
“Kilimanjaro tents seemed to have more zips, probably to retain heat and it required some special ‘mole’ skills to crawl inside and other skills to slip into the sleeping bag. But the biggest challenge was how to turn once your body got numb from sleeping in one position. It required the skills of a crocodile mauling its prey in the Mara River to turn with the whole sleeping bag lest you turned inside only for the hood to cover your face!
“At breakfast when people shared experiences, it appeared turning in a sleeping bag was a common challenge. Another common challenge was the choice between leaving your ‘smelly’ hiking boots inside the tent or leaving them outside the tent where they could freeze over. To my amusement, I learned that some people had opted to use their boots for pillows! Right from Day One, I decided that some needs could be suppressed. I never woke up to use bathroom facilities at night and how I was able to manage this and save myself from uncalled for hypothermia is a miracle.”
I did some research and discovered that the primary reason people fail to reach the summit of Africa’s highest mountain is altitude sickness, rather than strength or fitness.
Altitude sickness can overwhelm you, putting you in a zombie-like state, so the guides kept a close eye on the team all the way. Especially when you consider that the final stretch to the top is roughly 16-18 hours of walking at high altitude.
So these CBK people are tough, really tough. You really don’t want to go messing around with them.
Apparently acute mountain sickness and heart attacks have killed people on the mountain so no one is immune. And that’s why I’m not going “up there”any time soon. I’d rather live the experience via National Geographic. If I find myself on any mountain peak, it will be the result of a kidnapping: trust me.
*Peter Okong’o works in the communications department for the Central Bank of Kenya.