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Jebel Bouferaj – my own personal Kili

June 19, 2010
Group pic

With the children in Shatila

It’s over a month since I returned from Lebanon and my life has changed and, at the same time, stayed the same.  The changes include the mind-expansion that always comes from travel.  Any preconceived ideas I had about Lebanon and its people were slowly picked apart during our trip.  The privilege of visiting the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut and the SOS Children’s Village and talking with the people there, affected my view of life in general and my perspective on world events,  for instance the recent stand-off between the ships sending aid to Gaza and the Israeli blockade. From the TV and press coverage of the Emirati group that followed us two weeks later, I know that the charities visit had an enormous impact.

On the fitness front however, I slipped right back into my old ways of sitting at my computer for hours.  The summer heat means my dogs are on strike so we’ve just pottered round the streets.  I managed to do a couple of stair climbs including the vertical marathon for MSF but I felt I was clutching onto the straws of my hard-won fitness and trimmer shape. When Gulf for Good proposed climbing up a jebel (mountain) it seemed like a good idea.  I missed a couple (one due to a small tornado whose effects killed 8 people in Oman) but signed up to hike up Jebel Bouferaj.

Hatta by Paul Wadsworth

Hatta landscape by Paul Wadsworth

It was tough getting up at 3.30am especially as we’d had a Lebanon trek reunion the night (actually a few hours) before.  There weren’t enough hours in the evening to catch up with everyone’s news although we all nattered like mad.  It was a pot-luck supper and the table groaned under the delicious feast.  I crept out of the house in the dark next morning and met the Gulf for Gooders at the petrol station near Dragon Mart, completing the Vaseline foot-coating ritual and tying on my boots in the car park.  I was a bit apprehensive as everyone looked really fit and energetic – most are on the last stages of training with two weeks to go until they climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  Would I slow the group down?   As we headed out on the road to Hatta, the desert started to appear in the early morning light.  I always forget how bleakly beautiful the Hatta mountains are until I get there.  A Paul Wadsworth painting I have on my wall really captures the misty light and the stunted trees.

After a bit of cross-country driving we reached the base of Jebel Bouferaj and set off – it was 6.05 am.  I knew a few of the hikers from previous training and it was really nice to see them again.  The terrain was rough and covered with boulders.  From quite early on we climbed rather than hiked – it was like stairs but doing two at a time with wobbly steps!  I was at the back of the group but not the last – my worries abated that I would not keep up.  The only annoyance were the lazy golden hornets that seemed to follow us up the whole way.  The formidable peak towered above us but we made good progress and finally reached the top in less than two hours.  There was a lovely fresh breeze and we were all cheerful as we posed for summit photos.

At the top

Me and fellow climbers at the summit

Some of the group surged on ahead and seemed to descend with relative ease.  I hopped from rock to rock feeling like Sam Gamgee on the Cirith Ungol pass (in Lord of the Rings).  It was a lot more difficult to get down the steep crags, many of the rocks were loose and posed a real hazard to the people below.  Triptta, who had done a lot of climbing before, was brilliant at giving us tips on how to descend and the best route to take.  It was slow progress though and as the sun climbed higher in the sky we were in the full glare.  Eventually we started to see the cars parked in the distance but it looked an awfully long way. The boulders meant that you had to concentrate with every step and the constant jumping down started to make my knees ache and clinging onto rocks made my wrists sore.

We caught up with P who had waited for us – the last straggler group.  Poor Nirvana had put her hand straight onto one of the spiny plants that clung onto the crevices and Vaughan had picked them out and applied a bandage. We rested on the rocks which had now reached the heat of an iron on cool setting.  P and I compared notes as we had both had a less serious encounter with these thorns with a more fleshy part of our anatomy.


Craggy points of the jebel

In common with most of the remaining group, I was starting to tire and was eager to finish the climb.  The Kili challengers all asked me why I was doing this voluntarily!  My knees were feeling the stress, but that was manageable with some positive thinking.  I gave myself some small goals, “only a few more steps to that pointy rock, now get to that spiky plant.” Gary the group leader was waiting for us in the distance.  I focussed on getting there as quickly as possible.  The temperature had risen dramatically and there was no shade in the barren landscape.  My arms felt like they were being slowly baked and I felt I was doing a good impression of my Le Cruset casserole.   I was worried by the nausea that was creeping up on me, the jelly like feeling in my legs, the spinning feeling in my head and that I had started to shiver, goose-bumps rising and falling on my flesh.  “Just a few more steps” became my mantra but when I reached Gary I realised that the heat was affecting me badly as I blubbed a pathetic reply, tears falling unbidden, in response to his innocuous question “all ok?”!  Nirvana and Vaughan came level with me and took charge – I’m not good at accepting help but I had no energy to resist.  They fed me some gel, took my backpack from me and were exceptionally kind.  Nirvana walked with me and I asked her if she was able to talk to me.  I got through childbirth with distraction techniques and I suddenly realised this would help.  Her account of her life got me down the final section and it was with immense relief we reached the cars.

the base

At the bottom looking back through the shimmering heat

Someone – sorry I can’t remember who – let us sit in their car with the a/c running.  The human body is very resilient and as soon as I was in the shade I started to recover, but it’s also vulnerable and it was a sharp realisation of how extremes can quickly have a very negative effect (looking back, I know I was slightly delirious).  I had worn a hat all the time, worn high factor sunscreen, drank water and eaten dried fruit but the high temperature (43 C) was too much.   One by one the last climbers appeared and we were soon all chatting away on our drive back to Dubai.  We all stopped at a tiny shop for drinks.  Our group of sweaty, tired, dust-covered group crammed into the space which was the size of a large cupboard gratefully raiding the fridge overlooked by the smiling shop-keeper.

I really admire the two groups that are doing the Mount Kilimanjaro trip – I don’t envy the challenge they face.  The Jebel Bouferaj experience was enough for me, without the effects of altitude.  I’m glad I joined the Gulf for Good team for the climb for the group camaraderie, mutual support and the sense of achievement.  My fitness regime will be given a boost as in two weeks time I’ll be immersed in the English countryside for some glorious hiking – my favourite terrain.  Mountains are rather nice viewed from a distance.

Click on an image to view the images in the gallery larger.

  1. Michelle permalink
    June 19, 2010 9:14 pm

    Another fantastic piece Sally well done,

  2. June 20, 2010 7:32 am

    Thanks Michelle. Finding walking down the stairs rather painful today!

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