Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the highest spot in Africa, at 5 892 metres above sea level. It is the fourth of the world’s seven summits [highest point in each continent], and is commonly known as The Rooftop of Africa.
For the first time, Malawians in a group are set to conquer the peak. Interestingly, 10 of the 18 hikers of the group are women.
Some of the women Weekend Nation has talked to were expected to hike to Sapitwa, Malawi’s highest spot pegged at 3 002 metres above sea level from yesterday [Friday] to tomorrow [Sunday].
Violet Tabu Chisiano is looking forward to the trek with impatient expectation. On September 7 this year she will don the gown and mortar board, as she gets her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Cultural Studies degree at the University of Malawi. The following day, she will be on the plane to Tanzania for the trudge on Kilimanjaro.
“I am super excited for these two events. There is nothing that we can’t do as women that men do. Some think hiking is a man’s world, but I am happy to be part of this history,” she said.
The slog on the Rooftop of Africa is set to raise funds for the establishment of hiking, tourism and conservation clubs in Malawian secondary schools, and that excites her even more.
“We have so many activities in secondary schools to do with sports but there is nothing on adventure and tourism. By embarking on this journey to Africa’s highest point, this is my way to encourage girls and everyone else that we don’t have to look down upon ourselves,” said Chisiano, whose hiking journey dates back to 2014.
Ask her who motivates her, she will tell you it is Ken Lipenga, a writer and former cabinet minister, whose hiking and adventure exploits are documented in his writings on social media.
“Ha-ha-ha! I am an inspiration? Ha-ha-ha. We inspire each other in hiking,” said Lipenga.
For another lady hiker, Carolyne Ngwira, a Lilongwe-based accountant, her inspiration to attempt Uhuru Peak is Sharay Khumalo, the South African who made history by being the first black woman to conquer the highest peak in the world on Mount Everest.
Like Tabu Chisiano, she has also been doing exercises and conquering local peaks to make it to Uhuru.
“The fundraising part of this adventure lays the foundation for our local tourism and conservation drive. I take it that this is a bottom-up approach where learners will take up hiking and tourism seriously that when they go to the university they will engage in the affair more,” she said.
In her view, hiking also presents opportune moments to break the ceiling.
“It is a time to network. When I started out from a simple hike at the Michiru Mountain, I never realised how many people I would get to know from different sectors. I have been to Sapitwa twice, and I will be there again this weekend as part of the training for Kilimanjaro. Khumalo remains an inspiration for being the first and last woman to be at the summit of Everest,” she said.
With a deep love for the outdoors, she says conquering summits proves that the sky is not the limit in life. “When you get to a great peak and you see the clouds below you, you realise that life has no limits if you want to get what you want. It is in the mountains that principles like do not litter come to life. It is here that you learn that you leave no one behind as you seek to attain your goals,” she observed.
Like Ngwira, Agness Mbale is also an accountant. And, she has been doing gym and exercise routines, as well as local hikes to prepare. For that matter, she is on the trek to Sapitwa this weekend in the final stages of the preparations.
“We have not tapped much into the tourism sector and hiking offers a big opportunity. This is an area that can boost our economy. The drive for me to attempt Kilimanjaro roots from my belief in physical fitness and endurance. Getting to the summit roots from my belief that everything in life is possible. No fear,” says Mbale.
The trek to Kilimanjaro is led by Colby Mughogho, a tour operator who runs Adventure with Colby, Kondwani Chamwala of Team Adventure and Austin Mndolo of Hikers Alliance. So far, they are supported by Malawian Airlines who have offered discounted air tickets, Thofu Investment who are providing medical equipment, CAF Mobile Physiotherapy who are assessing the hikers’ physical fitness, Get Fit and Body Project gyms are offering physical fitness services for the hikers.
Chamwala said it was exciting that more ladies than men have so far registered to be part of the team that will raise funds for the establishment of clubs in the country’s secondary schools.
“It is exciting. With the devaluation shocks, we thought the trek would fail to take place. But the journey is on. We are happy that the Ministry of Tourism is joining us on this cause,” he said.
Mughogho said as part of the final trainings, most of the hikers were expected to leave for Sapitwa yesterday, where they would spend two nights on the mountain as part of the team-building.
“Having more ladies is a great thing. It is difficult for ladies to go on such a hike as it involves family issues where some husbands would not have their wives on such an adventure. It is challenging, but the trek to Kilimanjaro will also help us learn more as a group, where issues like setting up a cable car has been proposed for our local Sapitwa trek,” he said.
According to him, spending nights at Chisepo and Chambe huts on Mount Mulanje on the way up and down the Island in the Sky, as Mulanje Mountain is known in tourism circles will help develop the group’s ties.
Another hiker, Keta Mwalwafu, aged over 50, said he is excited to be part of the tourism drive and has been preparing hard for the past three months.
“We have been doing local hikes to mountains like Dedza, Nkhoma and Mulanje. Soon, we will be doing Sapitwa. The cause to establish tourism clubs in secondary schools is worth it,” he said.