North Vancouver quadriplegic Jim Milina has become the first wheelchair-bound hiker to climb over Mount Kilimanjaro.
Mr. Milina and his support team ascended the mountain's north side to the 4,500-metre saddle via the Rongai Route last Wednesday before descending the Marangu Route on the mountain's south side, a route that turned out to be far more difficult than anticipated.
"The trail, at its worst, was narrow and twisty, and wound intricately through huge volcanic boulder fields," Mr. Milina reported in an e-mail to his supporters back home.
His support team of nine friends and family members, known collectively as CORD (Climbing Over Restriction and Disability), had originally intended to propel Mr. Milina and his specially designed Trailrider wheelchair up the mountain themselves. Once they began climbing, they realized that just getting themselves up the route would be a challenge in itself. Their local guides and porters, who were better acclimatized to the thin high-altitude air, stepped in and aided with much of the physical challenge of pushing and pulling Mr. Milina and his chair over the mountain.
"The porters who helped with me and the chair soon became friends and these men were nothing short of superhuman," Mr. Milina wrote.
The ride up was not a joy ride for Mr. Milina, however. Without the use of the muscles in his lower body, just holding on and keeping balanced through the rough terrain, combined with looking ahead for the next obstacle and shouting instructions, became a real challenge.
The crux of the climb came on Day 2, when what was supposed to be a seven-hour day turned into a 13-hour ordeal. Out of food and water, the climbers found themselves in the dark with only two headlamps and hours of climbing still ahead before the next camp. Over the next four hours, they manoeuvred Mr. Milina over a 2½-metre boulder, through a deep trench, and across 100 metres of mud bog. At one point, they slid down a steep 30-metre slope.
"Jim's life was literally in the hands of the porters and guides," Mr. Milina's brother, Tony, wrote in an on-line trip report. "I would not trade one minute of the walking climb that I did for the Trailrider climb that Jim did. It took a ton of courage not to freak out as he went over huge boulders, was sliding sideways and was caught at the last minute."
The climbers eventually stumbled into camp at 10:30 p.m., exhausted but proud of their perseverance. Mr. Milina's original goal was to reach the Kibo hut at 4,700 metres, where he would have set a new world wheelchair altitude record.
But when his girlfriend, Corrine Gailloux, fell ill from the effects of altitude, he decided that getting over the mountain's saddle was high enough.
"I came to Kilimanjaro to climb over it, and myself and the entire CORD team did just that," he explained. "This was never an ego trip for me and safety was paramount."
Three other team members reached Uhuru Peak, the mountain's highest point, while four made it to Gillman's Point on the crater rim.
Mr. Milina and the entire team then set off for a seven-day wildlife safari in the Serengeti. Mr. Milina and Ms. Gailloux will return to Vancouver Friday, after a brief trip to Amsterdam.