If my mum could climb it 50 years ago….

So my mum climbed Kilimanjaro 50 years ago, when there was only one route, she had never even seen snow before, and they had nothing like the equipment we have now. A certain nameless person read the blog post about her trip and said “I can’t see how that could possibly inspire you to climb it. But good luck.” I beg to differ. The fact that they succeeded back then makes me all the more determined to succeed now. If they could do it then, I certainly can now!

Over 20 years ago, I did a bungy jump off Kawaru Bridge in New Zealand. I hadn’t intended to do it at all. I’d heard about bungy jumping and thought that while it sounded incredible, it was a totally ridiculous idea and I’d never be brave enough to do it. After all, I’m not particularly fond of heights. But I was travelling with a group of people, some of whom planned to do it, and I heard that if you were over 70, you could do it for free. And what’s more, quite a few 70 year olds, and even an 80-year old, had done it. Well, I thought, if they can do it at that age, what possible excuse can I have when I’m only 19 and fit and healthy? So I did it. And yes it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life. I thought I was going to die as I hurtled through the air. And I tore all my stomach muscles bouncing around on the rope after I hit the river. I could barely walk for a week. Would I do another one? Probably not, I have nothing more to prove. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. But I digress….

The post about my mum’s trip got me thinking about the differences between then and now. The toughest thing about climbing Kili, without a shadow of a doubt, is the altitude. My mum and her friends lived in Molo, Kenya at an altitude of 2,500m, so this was an enormous help. And indeed, despite the quick ascent, none of them appeared to suffer from any kind of altitude sickness, which seems to be pretty rare. On the other hand, they weren’t experienced at climbing mountains, they had never experienced anything like such cold (my mum owned the grand total of 2 woolly jumpers, both of which she was wearing for the climb) and they certainly didn’t have merino baselayers, wicking tops, fleeces, proper waterproofs, down jackets,  ski gloves, 4 season sleeping bags, Smartwool socks or anything else, just cotton shirts, woolly jumpers and socks, a rubber non-breathable jacket, and a borrowed balaclava, woolly gloves, and borrowed boots which were something like a cross between wellies and riding boots. They also didn’t have proper rucksacks, blister plasters, head torches, hydration bladders, muesli bars, mobile phones, or a myriad of other things which I plan to take! I’m not entirely sure what they ate, but I doubt it was particularly appetising. At times I wonder how on earth they managed without all these things. But even now the porters have very few of these things, though they do have slightly better clothes, sleeping bags and food at least. In 50 years’ time I expect my nieces and nephews will look back in amazement at the equipment we used in 2012.

On balance, while they had the advantage of altitude training, the conditions were still incredibly tough. They also didn’t have the benefit of knowledge, which may have been a good or bad thing. No books on climbing Kili, no internet to look at pictures and read other people’s blogs, no emails from others who had done it, no kit lists or trips to outdoor adventure shops, just a guide who assured them they’d be able to borrow whatever they needed from the hotel, and to bring some warm clothes. They actually had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. I can’t even imagine attempting a trip like that without that kind of knowledge first. But then again, I’m sure my mum can’t either now!

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