Earlier this year I had a brainstorm; I accepted the invitation to join a friend and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Now when I wake up in the early hours of the morning in a state of panic I have to remind myself: your imagination enchanted you with the idea of looking out over the whole of wondrous Africa.
Having committed in a year that started off badly I had to plan how I was to become physically fit. How was I to prepare to climb the highest free-standing mountain on Earth (5895m)? How was I to prepare myself in a country whose original high mountains have been washed away and eroded over thousands of centuries? How was I to prepare when the hills around me are simply pimples on the side of Mount Kilimanjaro? The highest, Mount Buningyong, is 751m. Black Hill, just around the corner, is 402m.
Not being a gym or exercise junky, my usual focus is just to keep reasonably fit and toned; becoming fit enough to climb a mountain was clearly going to demand planning. It was also going require focus, determination and, importantly, discipline. I reasoned that these qualities would help strengthen psychological fitness – if only I can contain the anxiety bordering on panic.
There is no way to train for altitude so any fitness plan had to take advantage of what was to hand. I decided that I would focus on cardiovascular-pulmonary fitness, using the two hills as my gym. After a climb or scrabble up Cathedral Rock (797m) on one day followed the next by a walk along the Boroko Track (a climb of 600m) in the Gariweld Ranges in May I decided I had better build up the quads.
I developed a plan and then told people. Voicing something that requires sustained motivation is one way of committing to the plan and reaching the set goals.
I would be religious about existing floor exercises that keep core muscles in check, keep the neck and shoulders relatively pain free and strengthen the gluteal muscles. Bad weather would not be an impediment to the usual vigorous walk of 8 -10 kms with the local bushwalker’s group every Tuesday. I would also take advantage of any weekend walks billed as hard. I would walk up Black Hill to its summit (good cardiovascular pulmonary exercise) and build up the climb of the 84 built steps to ten consecutive times. This would be done two or three times a week. Mount Buningyong would be tackled once a week, building, as with Black Hill, the 90 steps to the top of the fire tower to ten consecutive climbs.
Life has a way of high jacking the best of plans and a difficult start to the year meant that by mid-March I had not even started the training (apart from the weekly walks) and was feeling exhausted, psychologically vulnerable and sore throughout my body. By mid-April things had settled – I needed to get onto the job. Now determination and focus was of the essence. No excuses – get out there and do it!
By the end of May I had scrambled up Cathedral Rock, walked the Boroka Trail, climbed Mounts Wellington and Nelson and enjoyed the Fluted Cape walk. During May and June I kept to my goals on the outdoor treadmills of Mount Buningyong and Black Hill, regardless of weather, which meant, on one occasion, looking out from the top of the fire tower onto the falling snow. By the end of June, I had met my goals.
My reward – apart from probably being more fit than I have ever been? I have a greater appreciation of Mount Buningyong – its moss and lichen gardens at the base of rocks and trees, the fungi crouched against rotting trunks, the soft sighing of the wind, the screech of white cockatoos and the occasional mad laugh of the kookaburra while the prettier voiced crimson rosella flits from tree to tree and the blue wren hops and dances among the ferns along with the views out onto the graceful slow movements of the wind turbines in the distance.
From the top of Black Hill, past the old rosy slate quarry and slow moving once mighty Yarrowee River now reduced to a stream, I can see the grand Victorian buildings rising from the town below and catch a glimpse of Wendouree Lake. I can also see Mount Buningyong facing off, according to Watherong mythology, his old foe Mount Elephant in the distance. http://sittingwithpsyche.com/reviving-mount-elephant/And of course, I have enjoyed the support and companionship of friends who share the joy of walking.
Now all that is required is to climb a big mountain. Shikamoo babu Kilimanjaro.