Well done to young Kili climber

Val King’s photo shows the icy magnificence of one of the glaciers on Kilimanjaro as it was 50 years ago. Ann King is the tiny speck standing at the bottom.
Val King’s photo shows the icy magnificence of one of the glaciers on Kilimanjaro as it was 50 years ago. Ann King is the tiny speck standing at the bottom.

Val King, Lakeside

Congratulations to young Guillaume Olivier, from an old mountaineer, now 84, who has climbed snow-and-ice mountains from the Himalayas to Africa and on to the Andes, including four ascents of Kilimanjaro.

There is a fashion today to break records rather than aim at the out-of-world experience itself. It is an indescribable mix of agony and ecstasy. You are leaving the earth and reaching into space and you gasp for air up there at each step.

My wife, Ann, and I have twice taken a tent up and slept on top of Africa’s highest mountain, but we have never considered it important to slog to the popular rock-and-rubble beacon at Uhuru point. Neither did we ever use porters.

For us, the big attraction has always been the northern ice field which, tragically, is being relentlessly whittled away by the heat of global warming over the decades.

We quickly learnt to spend an extra day just lazing up at about 5 100 metres (17 000 feet) to acclimatise for the top. It was amazing how much energy that gave us.

I will never forget the night we spent high up in a cave where no creatures are supposed to be able to survive.

I sat admiring the last golden rays of sun before the -20°C night crept in. And next to me sat a rather large and remarkably well-fed and tame high altitude mouse. Then came tragedy.

I was curled up in my cosy sleeping bag for the night, but Mr Mouse must have curled up against me for warmth. When I rolled over the poor mouse must have been squashed like in a Disney film – and all that was left was a little slab of ice.

We used Africa’s highest mountains – Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and the Ruwenzori – as training grounds to get acclimatised for the Himalayas and Andes.

Even some very fit members of our expeditions were laid low by lack of oxygen up there.

But the amazing adventure and experience were always worth it.