Kilimanjaro: One Rover’s Impression -1956

“BATIAN” – Scouting Magazine (Kenya), page 15, February, 1957

KILIMANJARO: One Rover’s Impression -1956

By Naginder S. Sehmi

THE Wood Badge Course at Rowallan Camp, as strenuous as any course well could be in a Scout’s normal career, concluded on August 25th, 1956. Only two days later, in a well-washed uniform and laden with a heavy Bergen, I was bound for Kilimanjaro and a trek more strenuous than even the longest Wood Badge hike. With twenty other adult Scouts and Guides, most of them warranted officers, and a quartet of highly qualified naturalists, we commenced our adventure at Loitokitok on the evening of Monday, the 27th.

Kilimanjaro_tent
Sunrise view from my rent

On the 1st of September two years ago Mr. Loadman and Mr. McNeil (My professors in Central Teachers’ Training College, Nairobi) had experienced near-perfect weather on the upper slopes of the mountain, and for that reason the same period of the year had again been chosen: alas, on this occasion the weather was less than kindly, snow fairly plentiful and visibility frequently poor. Nevertheless we did at times enjoy splendid views; my tent door faced Kibo, and when I opened my eyes early on Tuesday, I saw the complete outline of the mountain, capped with golden snow in the light of dawn. It was the first time I had seen an ice cap. We were in a world very different from that of Nairobi, with no hooting cars or Suez surmises to disturb us. Most of that day was spent in camp activity and in going out into the surrounding forest with the naturalist, who had much to tell us of the plant life, the insects and the birds. On Wednesday all our effective climbers were divided into two patrols of eleven, mainly because the limited size of the accommodation higher up would have made larger parties impracticable. I was to be in the first party, appropriately named “Express Train”; we were followed by “Stopping Train”, which was “usually separated from us by a distance of one cave, a matter of two or three hours’ walking. Through the forest we plodded, over clear, cold rivulets, steadily up and up, cheerfully singing and calling our companions. Though the track was long and the sun grew hot at times, our melody echoed all day long down the valleys. So bounding was I with enthusiasm that I did not mind tramping four times between second and third cave, ferrying provisions. On the third day of our ascent we made our way through mist and snow into Kibo Hut, an unpretentious but welcome piece of corrugated architecture, at an altitude of 15,324 feet (which is about the height of the highest point in Europe, though I admit it is somewhat modest when compared with Everest.)

About four the next morning we set off in the bitter cold. In the faint starlight we could just discern the fresh snow sprinkling the steep slopes of Kibo, steeper by far than anything we had experienced earlier, and eventually becoming loose scree on which for every five steps forwards we only made about three paces headway. Yet when the sun penetrated the fleecy clouds behind Mawenzi, we almost felt as though weariness had never existed in the universe. Within ten minutes the heavens were suffused with an ever-changing variety of colours, such as no human artist could put on paper or canvas. Then again the weary climb recommenced. Snow was falling and the cold was extreme. There was scarcely any feeling left in my feet. I struggled on, encouraging the others and helping where I could, until we stopped at about 18000 feet, to give a pause, to one of our party who had mountain sickness. Only a few steps further on I came in sight of gigantic masses of ice which shone faintly blue through the mist. This was Nature’s beauty in a guise I had never seen it before. Ten minutes further on I discovered that I was at Gilman’s Point, on the lip of the vast crater; three others soon joined me and between half past ten and eleven we rested there admiring the loveliness.

Coming down again was almost a recreational exercise, for I had only to slide on the soft new snow. When I tried to walk with long strides, in a moment I was moving at full speed. With a big rock a few yards in front I found myself unable to stop; just in time I swung aside and dropped where I shouldn’t be hurt, so averting a dangerous collision. When we got down to Kibo Hut, with its four long bunks and planked floor, “Stopping Train” was already in occupation. We packed and made a speedy descent to the second cave, where we slept on Sunday night. During Monday’s long trek down to the first cave and then through the forest belt we were confronted by a solitary huge elephant. While we stood there scarcely daring to blink the animal turned indifferently away from the track and lumbered into the bush.

Two days later we were back again in Nairobi, reflecting on an unforgettable experience shared by both sexes and all the three main races of the Colony. Scouting and Guiding brought them together, we hope not for the last time.

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