© Made by PA0ABM (all rights reserved)
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.
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
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.
©W7LR and PA0ABM
The first QSOs
Bamboo Flats, Arusha
Uganda at last
The last QSOs