To The Mountains of the Moon

Part 05. The Kilimanjaro

Bob was chosen over Bill to climb the Kibo, one of the three volcano-craters of the Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Not all competitors did reach the African summit at almost 20,000 feet.

The Climb

One of the main targets of the Expeditions was climbing the Kilimanjaro. While climbing the highest mountain of Africa, there would be made special radio- experiments. All QSOs, made from the mountain, would be confirmed by a special QSL-card, probably the first double-size QSL card ever printed. However NO QSOs at all with the outside world were made during the climb. February 25, 1948, the caravan made it to main-camp 2, Kilima, at the floor of the Kilimanjaro, 6,000 feet up. Bill had been the driver for a while, Bob was able to rest the eye that was hit by the pliers. Again lots of toubles with the truck, but they fixed it, ran out of gas, but finally made it to the camp. Along the "road" they stopped at Voi to take more water. It was steep and the trucks hardly made it. The camp near the mountain provided beautiful views as the peaks would break throug the clouds. The only W6 heard was W6PBV !! Camp Kilima was of the size of a football field, all trucks were lined up, and the three Higgins camp trailers were lined up side by side. They were nice places to sleep as they had awnings on the front, but you could only stand right in the middle. The rhombic was along one side of the field, and needed all that length. The antenna pointed to the highest peak of the Kilimanjaro, but was no obstacle for QSOing the States. There was a little creek down the hill, the crew used that creek to take a bath every day. On the other side of the plot, a brook was running, good for drinking, after filtering of course. The camp was located near some Catholic missions. Almost every day the camp got visited by lots of young priests and nun's, and even the Bishop showed up once in a while. For them, the radio-gear had one big advantage, they could speak to their folks back home. The catholics paid off this with with a Sunday-service in Swahili. The Bishop was an old Irish gentlemen, you could cut his accent with a knife. The expeditioners where learning more Swahili day by day, a limited talk with the boys was possible now. Bob visited a native school, and saw the kids studying and marching along proudly. Camplife was busy of course doing all kind of Gatti-jobs. The ham-world had been waiting for any Tanganyika QSOs, the first on was made with W4KUV on February 20. The phone frequency was still 28.36 Mc, and cw was done on 14120-14150 Kc and 28100 Kc. From the crew, five men were chosen to climb the mountain, one of the main targets on this expedition. Those five were Bob, Jim, Errol, Weldon and Norman. On February 26 the climbers started their climb from the Kibo- hotel in Marangu. Bill had to stay in the camp to continue radio-operator business. The Gatti's and Edwards stayed also behind. It was no technical climb, but more a trek, lasting 7 days. Gatti had hired 2 guides, 15 porters and a cook, according the guide-lines of the MOUNTAIN CLUB OF EAST AFRICA (Kilimanjaro section). The porters carried everything on their heads, and sure they did walk fast. The first day was a magnificent day of climbing. They passed beautiful farms and homes of the natives, dense forest (while it was raining), and meadow land. The native homes were made from bamboo and palm leaves, with thatched roofs. Finally they reached Bismark Hut at 6 pm, exhausted. The Hut had 3 rooms, one being the kitchen and dining room, and the other two bunk rooms. That first day they climbed from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. From Bismark Hut they could look all over the valley below. That night Bob talked to the base camp with the portable radio sets they had taken with them. Bob did also use a blinker light after it was dark, to "talk" with his buddy Bill. It was Bill's idea, and perhaps this was the only experiment ever made during this expedition to "The Mountains of the Moon". Peters Hut Weird looking tree, like a banana tree Next day they went through meadow lands, decorated by some forest. It was hard work for Errol, lots of 16 mm film was taken while on the slopes of the Kilimanjaro, using Kodachrome on the Bell and Howell cameras. These cameras use 100 feet of film at a time, and could bring things up very close, using the 6" lens. From this location high above the valley, there were wonderful views - the valley far below and the two mountain peaks, Mawenzi and Kibo. Errol got a lot of pictures too of groves of weird looking trees - something like in Arizona deserts - only more like a banana tree on top. That night they slept in Peters Hut at 12,500 feet. This place had two huts, one was large, tin outside and wood inside and had 4 bunks. The small one, the cook-hut had two bunks and a stove. Bob and Errol slept in the cook hut, very well. Day 3 they climbed steadily from Peters Hut and they reached the Saddle near the base of the Mawenzi. The Saddle is a flat desolate plain, connecting the base of the Mawenzi and the Kibo. Bob wrote in a letter to his sister; "The saddle is saddle shaped, very large and prehistoric looking, like you are walking on the moon. There are all sizes of boulders strewn over it, just as though the volcano had just erupted." Finally the party reached Kibo Hut about 5 pm, 16,000 feet up (4735 meter). Small headaches came one, caused by the high altitude. Kibo Hut was very small, with 4 bunks, and the cook had to do his job in the same room. Bob slept like a log on the floor. Day 4 they stayed in the Kibo Hut, getting used to the high altitude. They had mush and eggs for breakfast; raisins, cheese, chocolate and sandwiches for lunch; and potatoes and meat for dinner. Jim and Bob hiked a bit around, to be in good shape. The second night-rest in the Kibo Hut was very short. The top of the African world was waiting for them, they got up at 1 am, and left about 3 am for the final ascent. The climbers where well dressed, it was moonlight, and there was 4" of snow on the ground. The guide, Johanna, Jim and Bob were in the lead. Soon Jim got dizzy, and had to stay behind in a cave. After a few miles the guide and Bob reached the scree, loose gravel and about 45 to 50 degrees in steepness. It was long and slow going, taking few steps, going out of breath, and sliding back all the time. Finally, on March 1, 1948, after a climb of about 5 hours, Bob was the first who reached Gillman's Point at 19.400 feet (5781 meter). Just on the rim of the volcano crater, and all around was ice and glaciers. Sightseeing from the top of Africa was breathtaking (so to speak). The actual peak of the Kibo however is some 3 mile away, and is called Uhuru Peak at 5895 meter. To get there would take another strenuous hike along the edge of the crater. Bob couldn't see much point in going that far, just to go a few feet higher. Jim arrived about 9:30 am, Errol about 10:30, and Norman about noon. Bob made a QSO with Bill, using the Motorola FM portables. Down in main-camp 2, the QSO went off very loud and clear. Bill was so exited that he forgot to warn Gatti. Weldon didn't make it, for him the top of Africa was just some steps too far away. After taking pictures the party left Gillman's Point about 1 pm. They came down in a snow storm and had to shelter for an hour or so. At 4 pm they got back in Kibo Hut, quite tired. Bob slept, except for dinner, until the next morning 8 am. Going down took 2 days, and took a lot of pictures. Bob's boots were swell, the best of the lot, he put hobs in before the climb. Back at the Kibo hotel, they learned Gatti was sick, and that Mrs Gatti was in charge. Norman wrote a note to Bill, asking him to send some shaving-kit if he could find any. Bob did send a note to Mrs Gatti, kindly asking her, to give Bill permission to join the successful climbing party. This was the answer from the commander-woman: Snyder is broadcasting, and I do not want to be left alone in the camp with a sick husband. I had given All instructions to remain at the hotel and bring you back when you were through with dinner - together with Kombo who will come from Moshi in the station wagon to fetch you. There is nothing to do for me than send Ali back now. But I cannot understand why you give him instructions, contrary to mine. E.Gatti ©W7LR and PA0ABM
Climbing the Kilimanjaro
Weird looking tree, like a banana tree Peters Hut The backsite of the permission-note The permission note, and the answer (partly)