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Postcard from Mount Kilimanjaro

2 months ago

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Andrew Frankel | Ti co-founder


4 March 2024

What, then, is it like to stand almost six vertical kilometres above the surface of the earth? And to have walked there yourself? A place where there is less than half the oxygen in the air than at sea level, 19,341ft below, a place where fewer than half who try are able to reach. A place of magnificent desolation and terrible beauty. For as long as I can remember, I have wondered. The answer, because now I can provide it, I’ll get to presently.

Why did I decide to climb Kilimanjaro? Largely because I thought that, just maybe, I could. I am large and, in most environments that don’t involve a steering wheel and pedals, somewhat clumsy. I am not the sort of person to whom you should issue an ice axe, a set of crampons and a length of rope and tell to shimmy up a vertical wall of frozen water. I would find a way to fall off. And you’d be surprised how many mountains that rules out, including plenty in Europe. But to get up Kilimanjaro all you need to be able to do is walk. And clamber a bit. And scramble. But in the climbing community it is classified as a non-technical climb, which means that any old – really quite old in my case – idiot equipped with the kind of gear you’ll find on most decent high streets can have a shot at it.

Succeed and you’ll add quite a few entries to your list of claims to fame. The tallest of Kilimanjaro’s three summits is the highest point you can reach on the African continent, which makes it one of the Seven Summits. Moreover, of those seven summits only Everest (Asia), Denali (North America) and Aconcagua (South America) are higher. It is also the highest free standing mountain in the world, because it’s not really a mountain at all, but three volcanoes in one. The two lower peaks, Mawenzi and Shira, are very definitely extinct, but Kibo, the one we’re climbing, is rather excitingly merely snoozing – or dormant as it is known. Which means it could blow up at any time, though given it hasn’t for at least the last 150,000 years, you could count yourself quite unlucky if it chose to do so on the day you toddled to the top.

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