What doesn’t kill you…
After days of battling altitude sickness, its nausea and headaches, scrambling over steep, rocky terrain in the dark, on the morning of Sept. 1 two Penticton men finally set foot on Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.
For Kevin Thom and Jim Lamond conquering the 19,340-foot summit was an arduous six-day uphill climb in which they had to overcome physical and mental obstacles in their path and defying all the odds to accomplish their goal.
|Penticton’s Jim Lamond with the Penticton and District Search and Rescue badge at the Kilimanjaro summit Sept. 1. He and climbing partner Kevin Thom raised money from their climb for the local organization.
Both are employees of First West Credit Union (Valley First) and it was Thom who got the idea for the climb from his teenage daughter who wanted to climb the mountain after returning from Tanzania.
“But when we looked into doing it and signing up and the training she bailed on me,” recalled Thom, 49, with a laugh. “So then I got wind that this was one of the bucket list items for Jim Lamont and we talked about it decided to do this.”
Added Lamont: “I was frankly getting to the age where I knew I wanted to do something that perhaps a lot of people in the world had done and I needed to do it before I got much older. I was 61 at the time we did the climb.”
Ironically, his daughter had climbed Kilimanjaro 20 years earlier.
“The thing for me, one the reasons it was so emotional because it showed my kids that as adults you can do anything, no matter how old you are,” said Lamont who reached the summit on his oldest son’s birthday. “I know they (two sons) took something away that their old man could do something like that.”
Once their decision was made the pair began a rigorous nine-month training program to prepare themselves for the eight-day round trip to the summit and back.
“Even up until the time we left there was some apprehension on my part; did we do enough, did we not do enough, would we stack up to them (other group members) or would we hold them back?” said Lamond.
While not as technically challenging as some other climbing destinations, the dormant volcano has claimed many lives, 25 in a seven-year-period ending in 2003, the majority, 14, from advanced altitude sickness.
|Hiking through the lush vegetation at the bottom of the mountain.
Fast climbing schedules are one of the biggest causes of AMS and were why the Penticton men chose the guide outfit they did, going at a much slower rate of ascension.
However, even that moderate pace and the medicine used in the treatment of altitude sickness did not prevent Thom from the enduring the symptoms for a lot of the trip.
“Once you get to about 14,000 feet you get these intense headaches which are almost like a freeze burn and although you drink a lot of fluids it’s still there and it’s very, very intense,” he said. “Definitely the toughest part for me was on summit night I felt so nauseated. All I did for those 10 hours was just drink water and take electrolytes I just couldn’t hold anything down.
“While you are going through it you’re thinking why did I do this to myself, you’re disoriented, you’re having trouble breathing but you keep going.”
| Group members negotiate a tricky part of the climb.
Luckily Lamont did not suffer nearly as much from altitude sickness and didn’t even find out until afterwards how bad off his uncomplaining climbing companion was, but admitted the mental challenges for him were just as steep to overcome.
“Starting off (summit night) you knew that you had a seven-hour climb ahead of you, most of it in the dark and your mind could certainly play games with you if you looked up and all you could see were head torches going up and you couldn’t see the end of it, it could be very discouraging,” he recalled. “I just kept focussing on one foot ahead of me and the next climb up and looking at the next rock I had to go over versus trying to look up at the top of the mountain.”
Thom did the same.
“You’re just thinking in your mind, ‘I just going to do this for another hour’ and then reset and then do another hour and reset and, ‘okay I accomplished an hour I just have to do another hour, just do another hour’ and that’s what got me through it,” he said. “My climb was in dedication to my sister who I lost earlier in the year so I focused on that to help me through it.”
Their group consisted of a total of eight climbers from other countries and about 30 “porters” who carried much of the load including, camping gear and even two outhouses.
|Meal time in the mess tent.
Conditions were difficult and Thom said for much of the trek he had very little sleep during the hours in the tent which he shared with Lamond.
“Kevin kept saying that I kept him awake with my snoring, he didn’t believe he snored but I’ve got witnesses,” laughed Lamond.
Thom added that camping on a mountainside he often felt like he was sliding away at night.
Both men agreed with the amount of water they needed to drink each day, trips to the facilities were frequent, especially at night on the difficult terrain.
“So, later on, all of the guys had their empty peanut butter jars with them,” said Lamond.
But on that Sept. 1 morning just before daybreak all the hardships of the last five days disappeared into the thin mountain air.
“I remember Kevin turning back to me about an hour before we got there, it was still dark and there was just a hint of light coming out the east and saying: ‘we’re going to make it, we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it,’” said Lamond. “The last few kilometres you’re moving very, very slowly but the sunlight glistening on the glaciers was unbelievable and you looked below you and seeing the other glaciers and the clouds was awe-inspiring, just awe-inspiring.”
And it was the same for Thom.
|Penticton climbers Kevin Thom (left) and Jim Lamond with another group member on their way to the summit.
“There was very little sound and that view from the top seeing those glaciers and being above the clouds, it was very emotional and we were all very teary,” he said.
Lamond thought for a minute before describing the impact setting foot on the mountaintop had on him.
“Was it life changing? That’s hard to answer. I’m not sure it changed my life but it did make me appreciate life a lot more and what the world has to offer.”
For Thom: “It was such an accomplishment being on top of Kilimanjaro knowing we worked so hard over the last nine months and finally to get there and overcome the challenges we had, it was sheer elation and its only made me stronger.”