I’ve never had a desire to climb anything higher than the three story rock climbing wall at the YMCA, done with a safety harness and a guy holding the rope below who tells you where to put your hands and feet. I’ve watched plenty of people do the wall as I used a treadmill across the gym but I never had the guts to sign up because I didn’t think my old hips joints could make the necessary stretches. I wish they’d had walls like that when I was a kid. Maybe I wouldn’t be afraid of heights now if they did. As a young adult in the 1960s The Empire State Building had me crab-crawling the floor of the observation deck where I had my first, full-blown panic attack and when a group of us was about to get on an elevator in the Sears Tower ten years later, which at the time was the tallest building in the world, I felt another panic attack coming and I refused to get in. So mountain climbing? No way, Jose`. Never in a 100 years. I’d probably panic at the top and stay until my bones bleached in the sun and other climbers started decorating my skeleton up like a snowman.
This week I went to a lecture at the senior hall that was presented by a local university professor who has climbed the Himalayas in India, Ben Nevis in Scotland and other mountains around the globe, and he's over half way to joining the elite mountaineers who have climbed the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. But this lecture focused on climbing Mount Kenya (17,057 feet) and Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet), ancient volcanic mountains and the tallest in Africa. Someone asked him what the appeal of climbing is and at first he joked that he climbs for the views, then he said he does it for the adventure. He started rappelling down the sides of buildings at ten and climbed his first mountain at fourteen. If you watch the History or Discovery Channel you may have seen some of his recorded lectures and heard his delightful Australian accent. Craig Benjamin also lecturers on cruises sponsored by both the New York Times and Scientific American and his bio page on Wikipedia includes a long list of books and articles he’s written. He’s the real deal, an expert on ancient Central Asian history. Mountain climbing is his hobby. A fascinating hobby but I’ll stick to knitting.
One thing I found interesting is he said climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is more like steep walking, except for the glacier on the summit which takes serious ice climbing expertise and equipment which few people do including the lecturer. And all his photographs supported the “steep walk’ observation. You aren’t climbing straight up like I envisioned but rather you’re going on spiraling paths around three volcanic cones to get to the summit. The climb didn’t look at all scary---hard but no places where you could fall off sharp cliffs. His team of six averaged around three miles a day carrying fifteen pound backpacks and they were supported by two dozen porters who carried 40 pound packs, everything from tables and chairs, tents, food and water to a canvas outhouse or as he called it, “The loo.”
The park only allows 200 people on the mountain at any one time and the law requires they weigh everyone’s packs and inspect everyone’s boots and socks before you can go. Kilimanjaro took them 4½ days to climb up to the rapidly shrinking snow cap (global warming) and 1½ days to climb down and it costs $2,000 per person plus airfare. It’s a major source of income for the country. Another interesting fact is every day they’d climb up x-number of feet and the tour guide would make them come back down a fourth of the way to camp for the night. That got their systems acclimated to the high altitude so they were less likely to get sick from the lack of oxygen in the mountains.
I’ve been in the mountains out in Colorado and on roads so narrow we had to fold our truck mirrors in so we could hug the high side or risk falling 100s of feet below and the evidence of tragic accidents like that could be seen if you looked down. I’ve been in mountainous area where we had to use come-alongs and winches to get yourselves out of muddy mountain ruts---my husband’s idea of a fun afternoon, playing in the mud. Don loved the Rocky Mountains and he camped in them for several weeks every year for over 25 years, pretending he was a mountain man. He had a 35 mm camera with telephoto lens that could turn a speck on the horizon into a moose so close up you could count his eyelashes. He was a good photographer and judging by the hundreds of slides he’d come home with, it’s pretty safe to say one of the things he loved about The Rockies was the views. Me? I’d still like to see the view from the top of the rock climbing wall at the YMCA which is pretty funny given the fact that I gave away my six foot step ladder for fear I’d try to use it and fall to my death. And I'm pretty sure I'm still afraid of heights. ©