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THE KILIMANJARO PROJECT
Posted by Jon Hicken on
Kilimanjaro is a mountain located in northeastern Tanzania and composed of three volcanoes: Shira in the west, rising to an altitude of 3,962m, Mawenzi in the east, rising to an altitude of 5,149m, and Kibo, the most recent geologically, located between the other two and whose Uhuru peak at 5,891.8 meters is the highest point in Africa.
The challenge of this Kili Project was to achieve the best time ever between Kilema Gate and Uhuru Peak at 5,891.8m in one shot. So from the foot of Kilimanjaro to its highest point. The challenge would be done by bike for me and by foot for Perrine Fages, in trail running mode. Such a hard challenge because the first part is almost all hike-a-bike, so the heart rate stays high from the foot of the ascent to its summit.
The Kilema gate has the particularity to be accessible by bike, motorcycle and 4x4 for a good part of the beginning of the route. In total, about 33km and 4000m of climbing separate the start from the finish including 2000m ascent on these first 15km alone, it's a rather rolling route (let's say rather "rideable") in its first part up to camp 1: Horombo at 3800m.
There are a few rocky parts (in the steepest passages at more than 25/26%), otherwise most of the time it's wide 4x4 tracks up to Camp 1. We had chosen to recon the whole route in acclimatization mode for 4 days before the attempt.
This allowed me to see that it would be impossible to drive after Camp number 2 in Kibo (4750m) and to calibrate approximate times on the whole track.
The acclimatization went well despite our rapid ascent to 3700m and then 4700m. The sensations are strange as often on this kind of project, the acclimatization just before the project implies a slight physical and mental fatigue the day before and the day of the project.
This is the big day. Up at 3:30 a.m. for Perrine and me this Friday, December 11, 2020. Leaving before the opening of the park at 6am required 4 days of negotiation with the park rangers.
The weather conditions are not very hot: 5 degrees at 5am until the sun arrives around 7am. The legs turn, Perrine seems to be really in her project too, I stop regularly to wait for Perrine and the car for security reasons. I will have time to let the horses go all day long.
I reach the Horombo camp (3800m) after 3h05 of effort, that is to say with 5 minutes of delay on my walking plan of 3 hours, nothing alarming. The sensations are good, the climate is perfect, the light is magnificent, it allows me to appreciate the volcanic landscape but quite rich of vegetation in its first part. I'm all alone since kilometer 10, nobody on the horizon, for Perrine it's normal, except for the guide who had to accompany me by bike to Kibo.
I'll be alone until Kibo camp where I'll meet Perrine and the climbing guide Peter who will finally give up his bike for the last part.
In Kibo (4750m), I'm between 45 minutes to 1 hour ahead of Perrine who is in her forecast, it's very little to be able to compete with her on the last part. We both like to race each other but we know that this game has neither sense nor really interest at this altitude.
Perrine leaves even before me from Kibo. I take my rhythm, Perrine too, a bit faster from the beginning. The climbing guide is further away, Perrine has lost hers from the start, he won't go to the top despite his courage and desire. That's the game on this kind of fast project.
Why have guides? Climbing guides are mandatory on Kilimandjaro, I carried my equipment, my water and my food on the whole route but we can't move or at least climb without a guide and even more on bikes. Especially since usually it is the guides who carry the equipment and the bikes of the clients on the Kili.
We meet with Perrine at Gilman's Point, 5750m, she is cold, so I give her my expedition clothes, and my guide gives her some clothes too. The last part is snowy (up to 1m deep at the approach of the summit), bad weather for the bicycle pushers, storms are omnipresent, there is nobody up there anymore. It is now below zero degrees and it will go down to -10 at the summit with the wind.
My guide is hit by lightning and falls twice. It's a recurring phenomenon on the Kili and very dangerous and deadly up there. I bring him back behind a barrier of rocks, ask him to stay in the shelter during our summiting and ask Perrine to continue, she hesitates but finally comes with me.
We are also affected by lightning, it is disturbing, a kind of electrostatic wave goes through both of us. We feel that it's borderline, but I feel that it's going to do it. I carry, push the bike in the rocks and thick snow up to 1.2m deep in some places, Perrine clings, tears in the eyes but rage in the belly. Peter, my guide, comes back a few meters from the summit and apologizes. No problem Peter, the mountain is dangerous.
I finish the ascent hand in hand with Perrine and the bike in the other hand in 11 hours 40 minutes and 27 seconds.
The emotion is immense, so proud of Perrine and once again quite proud of me and to have achieved a new whim that is not obsessive but totally sensible for me: to put my bike everywhere, all the time and without anybody's help.
However, we don't have time to enjoy the weather conditions at the summit. We rush to go back down, together until a little bit lower than Gilman's Point and then I rush on the bike to Kibo, a kid's pleasure invades me, I realize it's done, I went with a bike up Kilimanjaro.
To my knowledge it's the first time that someone goes so fast up Kilimanjaro in one go on a bike. Do I have to call Guinness for that? Possibly, one day the desire will take me but the real purpose is elsewhere.
I'm not doing this to accumulate records or to gargle about my cycling prowess but because that's where I'm happiest, on the high roads, the mountainous, desert and volcanic absolutes. I do this for me, I do this for all the cyclists of the World and for all the young people who dream of making their dreams come true. I do this to tell them that everything is possible in life.
Stéven Le Hyaric