Driven purely by a dream, a young Motswana woman has achieved her goal of scaling the treacherous and unforgiving trek up the highest peak in Africa.
Leone Michaels – a Motswana and Francistown local – has always had a life ambition of climbing the great international ‘draw card’ to Africa and also its highest point, Mount Kilimanjaro. So strong was this desire that at a ‘workshop listing’ when asked to list her goals, she without hesitation wrote “to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro,” whilst some of her peers were listing materialistic goals like to “own a car”, “live in a big house” or “have lots of money.”
Upon committing this dream to scale Mt. Kilimanjaro deep in her sub-conscious psyche, Michaels started putting aside periodically, the money that would make her dream come to fruition. Once things were starting to look good financially, in the sense that her savings would allow her to finally afford the excursion to Tanzania and then on to Mt. Kilimanjaro, did she start doing the gruelling physical preparation for the climb. Leone Michaels incorporated a regimen that involved jogging, scaling and climbing Nyangabgwe hill, Francistown’s highest Kopje, several times a week, to get into peak physical fitness condition.
She adopted a ‘New life, Fit life’ mental mind-set and attitude, which gave her the edge and an extra impetus to push herself whilst in training for the climb up Kilimanjaro. On the 15th of August this year, Michaels’ unforgettable experience to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro began as she flew to Tanzania. Due to flight delays she touched down in Tanzania on the day the climb was scheduled. There was no time for Michaels to get over her ‘jet lag’ or recoup from it; with only two hours of sleep, upon waking up, Michaels ascent up Tanzania was scheduled to commence. The climb consists of five zones, according to Michaels.
They were driven to the second zone, after bypassing zone 1 and not starting their trek from this point. Michaels was part of a team that consisted two South African ladies and a troop of guides and porters whose other duties involved pitching tents and cooking, but most importantly navigational expertise from the guides. The real climbing began at Zone 2. As they began their climb Michaels, found herself in a rich rain forest terrain that is luscious and very green. Hardly any creatures are visible in this forest, except for the odd monkey or two, according to Michaels.
As the climb had fully begun and Michaels and her team found themselves trekking through the contrasting terrains, the higher in altitude they got, it sunk into Michaels mind that she was ‘really doing this’ and could not turn back or renege on her decision to fulfil her dream.
The route Michaels and her team had chosen was the ‘Machame’ route, which is supposed to be a six to seven day climb. There are several routes that can be taken up Mt. Kilimanjaro, one being the ‘Shira’ route, which is Kilimanjaro’s longest approach. Another of the several routes is the ‘Marangu’ (or tourist) route, which, however is not as an aesthetic experience as the others and is littered and polluted. Michaels says, “The guides would repeatedly chant “Pole, pole”, which in the Swahili dialect means “slowly, slowly.”
This was to emphasize the crucial importance of being steadfast and taking it easy up the brutal ascent so as to preserve ones energy and breath, and also avoid taking missteps on the slippery slopes; slipping on the steep rocks at 18 000 feet could easily culminate in one plummeting to their instant death. As various zones were ‘conquered’, Michaels and her team faced gruelling challenges. Harsh conditions of the cold, barren and windswept environs were not kind to them. At unusually low temperatures at night, coupled with the ‘deadly’ combination of the altitude, Michaels had to remember that half the battle in high altitude climbing is mental. As the climb continued and the party approached ‘Stellars point’, about 10 metres from it, Leone Michaels experienced extreme fatigue, ebb in morale and mental exhaustion. She says of this: “At this point I felt I could not go on …I knew it was a ‘mind game’ and that I really needed to push myself; I took a short break to catch my breath and get myself together, and then got up and kept on moving keeping in mind the Swahili chant of “Pole, pole”. My porter encouraged me and was very supportive, assisting me to persevere.” Upon reaching ‘Stellars’ point, Michaels was reinvigorated; determined to reach the finish line. Finally ‘Uhuru peak’ was reached by Michaels and her team. ‘Uhuru peak’ is the true top of Mount Kilimanjaro and the most difficult part of the ascent. Having gotten to this point, Michaels had sustained some injuries, a sore knee and badly burnt skin which was peeling, the adverse effects of sun burn. It had taken six days for Leone and her party to reach the summit. The weather was good on this day, and the party were able to catch a beautiful sunrise and a picturesque and breath-taking view atop the highest mountain in Africa. Michaels describes her feelings, upon reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro as “Surreal”, extreme sense of gratitude and an overwhelming euphoria coupled with exhaustion from the climb. Without wasting too much time, it was ‘back to business’. After taking a few snap shots to capture this moment for life, Michaels and her team start their journey back to civilization. Moving with the easy momentum of descent, the way down is not as torturous as the ascent. Finally after having surrendered themselves to the ‘heart’ of Kilimanjaro for almost a week, Leone Michaels and her crew emerge from the bush and are ‘back on the grid’. There is a ‘cherry on the cake’ for Leone Michaels after executing her ambition of conquering Africa’s highest mountain; she has also made history also by being the first Motswana residing in Francistown to successfully climb Mount Kilimanjaro.