The Canadian baritone Gerald Finley gave up his summer break to ascend unprecedented heights in order to raise funds for Help Musicians UK. Here’s the first extract of his climbing diary.
Woken by muezzin calling at 4 a.m. (!), who continued to bellow til about 6 a.m. The anticipation and anxiety joined to keep me awake. However, it was soon time to get up at 6:45 to organize luggage and boys, valuables, etc. and the chaos was pervasive. It was the sheer number of groups going out, Chinese, Spanish, American and Australian, which generated the hubbub.
It was sunny and warm and there were lots of smiling faces. We finally were piled into a van with Filex, and two porters, Thomas and Johnson, and “jambo!” became part of the talk. Then football, Manchester, Tottenham and Liverpool! Banana trees and maize fields mixed with sunflowers framed the journey to the gate. And there we met the thronging masses – patrons, guides, hawkers, trekkers, drivers, all waiting to sign in, get permits, weighing of luggage and general admin. Trekkers hung about, all with a mix of apprehension and excitement. The variety of gear was astounding, but finally we set off into the forest step by step , very slowly, “Po-le, po-le”.
The initial trek was on a wide road through forest and quite easily managed, but an incline all the same. I had a pack on, which seemed immensely heavy, but when porters would scamper by, certainly not “Pole, Pole”, they seemed to have twice their weight on their heads or backs. But it was long and after a while I began to feel the effects of the trek. The ‘Camelbak’ drink system worked well but we got into the humid rain forest and it became quite hard work. Finally, we arrived at camp and were desperate for food and rest. Happily, both were supplied and we collapsed into a single tent and double for the night. We slept fitfully, with yours truly having a quasi-panic attack about what we were doing with so little fitness preparation. But it was clear that there were all sorts on the trek and that there would be a chance for everyone to acclimatise.
We woke early and since two trips to the private dunny (bucket) had interrupted a good sleep, it was still difficult to get going. Breakfast in our own “mess tent’ was excellent millet porridge and fruit juice with toast and egg. Having packed our gear, we set off on the sunniest of days to do the route. The tough route! We immediately climbed on a lesser path above the cloud layer and suddenly the energy of light, clarity and rhythm began to propel us along. Sunscreen and long sleeves but it was hot going in spite of the cool breeze. We climbed and climbed into the moorland, while vegetation changed and we settled into a good “Pole Pole” rhythm. The pace was good and although we did well, there were the occasional twinge in knee and hip reminding me of what was due ahead on ascent and descent. However, we persisted, and were rewarded by views to Mount Meru and across the Shira Ridge, our destination. Drinking, plodding, sweating and always being overtaken by porters with their remarkable strength and effort. The sun beat down strongly and we were covered by long sleeves and trousers. We reached the Shira camp around early afternoon and were grateful to be able to stop and have lunch. The ridge looks over to Mount Meru and the HD clarity of light was a wonderful inspiration to be at this altitude. All three of us felt ok, if tired, and took the chance to sleep with the warmth of the sun on the tent. After a glorious sunset, the stars and moon were crystal clear, and frost formed on the tent. We ate a good dinner of rice and beef stew and ended the evening with cards. The market-like hubbub of the international camp (some zoo) was reduced to snoring gentleness over the mountain plateau. But the stars! the moon! the strange glow of tents and the mountain bathed in half-light that has been a highlight. Pointing out the only constellation I know in the Equator region of Leo to two porters – funny!