3 African peaks in 3 weeks for Comic Relief

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A small UK team is set to become the first charity sponsored mountaineering expedition to scale Africa’s three highest peaks for Comic Relief. The teams departs mid-February (2007).

[Story that follows was published in The Herald Magazine 20/1/7. It has a Scottish-friendly intro and finish but these could be easily changed)

3 Peaks Africa Author: Fergal MacErlean (12/01/07)

1320 words. Copy:

Every hill lover knows Glencoe can be inspirational. For Yorkshireman Steve Perry it was where the germ of his idea to climb Africa’s three highest peaks took hold.

“I was in Glencoe when the 3 Peaks Challenge was going on. Load of buses were going past with stickers for various charities. It was just one of those things that happened instantly. I thought you could do the same thing in Africa for Comic Relief. I said to myself ‘I’m going to keep that under my hat ‘till I get a chance to go and do it’”.

3PeaksAfrica, as the Comic Relief fundraising challenge is called, sees a four-strong UK team head south of the equator next month where they’ll attempt to climb the continent’s trio of highest peaks in a time strapped three weeks.

From Nairobi the team will travel to the remote Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda. Several days’ acclimatisation will be necessary before ascending Mount Stanley’s, Margherita Peak (5109m). They can expect plenty of rain and Grade II winter climbing before clambering onto a bus (their chosen method of transport) to the technically challenging Mount Kenya (5199m) with a finish on Africa’s highest point, Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro (5895m).

Steve, a thirty-five-year-old engineer, is no stranger to charity challenges. He previously raised thousands for Cancer Research UK on two major hikes. Four years ago he climbed all of Britain’s 3,000 foot mainland mountains from Land’s End to John o’Groats, spending seven months in the hills and climbing 303 mountains in the process. Last year he became the first person to hike the Munros continuously, and unsupported, in winter where he witnessed the heaviest Highland snows in decades.

He says: “This trip will be different and a challenge, but a different sort of a challenge. I definitely don’t think this trip will be as hard as some of the days I had on my winter Munro round though.”

In total the 3PeaksAfrica team will travel for some two and a half days over more than 2,500km on buses, using express and local services to travel as close as possible to the mountains.

Steve says: “I know it’s meant to be a bit dangerous as far as lunatic drivers are concerned but I’m really looking forward to the drive. Driving from Nairobi right across Uganda to the Rwenzori Mountains past the north end of Lake Victoria and into Kampala will be fantastic.”

Aberdour based team member Dan Bailey (32) and author of the recent critically acclaimed Scotland’s Mountain Ridges, has climbed the world over and is taking the uncertainties of the trip in his stride. His training has involved walking a Munro or two a week as well as running and visiting his local climbing wall, in common with the rest of the team. Dan still expects he’ll be the least fit team member but he has the advantage of having done technical climbs at high altitude before, unlike the others.

However, the immediate difficulties facing the expedition will be the weather on Mount Stanley. Straddling the border with DR Congo this beautiful area of rugged ice-topped mountains, and luxuriant rainforest has an annual rainfall average of 2.5 metres (although the team will be climbing during one of the drier periods). The Rwenzori National Park was the setting for ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ and is home to several species of primates as well as forest elephant and leopards.

Taking a mandatory guide the team is aware that their initial acclimatisation cannot be rushed. They estimate they’ll spend a week on the mountain, trying desperately to stay dry before moving up to freezing level where there will a final 100m section of snow and ice climbing on Margherita Peak.

“I’ve heard from people who’ve been out there that once you get wet it’s impossible to get dry again,” says Steve.

Dan agrees: “We’re pretty used to crap weather in Scotland but of course normally you go out for a day or maybe two and come back to a warm pub or whatever, so spending several days in a row out in the rain will be a bit of test. That’s the big one and the weather could really make or break it. It’s good to go out in Scotland and get a bit of training for that.

“The other peaks should be dry, cold, and sunny and hopefully the weather should be settled. These should take far less time, for various reasons, mostly because the walk-ins are shorter and we’ll be better acclimatized by then.”

The team estimate Mount Kenya will take five or six days, and Kilimanjaro as little as three days to complete.

“We reckon it can be done, though there won’t be much lounging around,” Dan says with no hint of understatement.

Darsie Culbeck, Director of Alaska Mountain Guides International Inc., and an experienced East African mountaineer has encouraging words for the expedition: \”My first reaction is that this is entirely possible barring any altitude or other
sickness. The team will gain acclimatisation on each peak which will make each climb that much faster.

“People who are in good shape and acclimatised have climbed Kili in a day,” he adds.

Team Leader Steve knows the most difficult peak will be their second when they approach the equator to climb Mount Kenya. He’s trekked on the mountain, to Point Lenana, and the fourth team member, fellow Yorkshireman Andrew Wilkinson (30) has walked in the area too. This time it’ll be much more serious. To reach the highest point of this ancient volcano, at Batian (5199 m) they will spend a day of technical climbing up to Very Severe (VS ) grade before probably bivvying on the summit. Dawn at the equator should be a memorable experience. Climbing at this level is well within the group’s ability says Steve but he is unsure about the effects of altitude and how much this may slow them down.

The final mountain, the mighty Kilimanjaro (5895m), in Tanzania, which stands at a greater elevation than Everest Base Camp, should prove the easiest. An ascent doesn’t require any climbing and all the team are looking forward to this ‘easy’ finish.

The sole female member of the team hails from Cumbernauld. Lorraine McCall, at 41, is also the most senior of the group but being the canny Scot she doesn’t have to worry. “Apparently females handle altitude quite well and the older you are, the thinner you’re blood. So I’m hoping the two might help,” she adds laughing.

Lorraine is also keen to see what projects Comic Relief are organising in the areas they’ll be visiting after the expedition. “I’ve never been to Africa and it seems a shame to rush up three mountains and not see what’s going on.”

Despite never having been to Africa, Lorraine is all too aware of the unexpected difficulties that crop up when traveling in remoter parts of the continent. “The thing I’m worried about is not the amount of time we spend on the mountain but the time we spend getting there by bus.”

“I’ve wanted to visit Africa all my life really. I’m looking forward to experiencing a whole different culture and of course to see an African sunset.

“Mountaineering wise the altitude is going to test me. But I’m really looking forward to it. There’s going to be quite an incredible mix from the lush jungle up through the huge bogs on Margherita, to the technical climbing on Mount Kenya, to standing on Africa’s highest mountain.”

A freelance personal development trainer, Lorraine draws strength and inspiration from her mountain experiences. She became the first woman to complete an unsupported non-stop round of the Munros in the summer of 2005 and postponed a continuous winter Munro round this year to take part in 3PeaksAfrica.

After all, while Glencoe may be dramatic and inspirational, hiking to the highest points in Africa through rainforest, over glaciers, and past volcanoes, will be sensational.

Donations (all of which go to Comic Relief) can be made at myrednoseday.com/3PeaksAfrica


Africa’s three highest mountains

Mount Stanley (5109m)
Africa’s third highest mountain and the highest of the Rwenzori (meaning ‘rainmaker’) range in western Uganda. Mount Stanley is named after the journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley who was the first European to see these mist-clad mountains in 1889. Stanley’s writings inspired Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, to lead a mountaineering expedition here in 1906. He was the first to climb Mount Stanley’s highest peak, naming it after the Italian queen Margherita.

Mount Kenya (5199m)
Kenya’s highest mountain – an extinct volcano – rises majestically from a broad base 16km from the equator; it can be seen from Nairobi, 180km away. Because of its striated snow-covered top this holy mountain was known as Kiinyaa (the area of the ostrich). Early European visitors pronounced this as ‘Kenya’, after which the country was named.

Kilimanjaro (5895m)
Tanzania’s giant, Kilima Njaro (‘shining mountain’ in Swahili) is the largest of a belt of volcanoes. Currently dormant, it is a triple volcano; the central cone, Kibo, boasts the highest peak known as Uhuru (Swahili for ‘freedom’). The iconic Kilimanjaro is unlikely to remain snow-topped in future decades; it’s summit glaciers, in common with Africa’s other equatorial glaciers, on Mount Kenya and in the Rwenzori Mountains, are in retreat due to global warming.

Britain’s 3 Peaks Challenge
A test of stamina to climb the highest Scottish, English and Welsh mountains in under 24 hours. Most participants raise money for charity and start with Ben Nevis (1344m), aiming to complete in five hours. A drive to the Lake District deposits walkers at Scafell Pike (978m), taking some four hours, and then on to Snowdon (923m) in Wales for a three and a half hour race against the clock.