The blind climbers of Kilimanjaro

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Paul Latham/Sightsavers

On 20 February 1969, seven blind climbers and their 4 sighted companions accomplished the arduous trek to the 5,750m (18,865ft) crater summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania.

The group took 9 hours to climb the final 9,843m (three,000ft), preventing towards excessive winds and freezing temperatures, to the place they noticed a circling Fokker F27 Friendship plane dipping its wings in a salute to their achievement.

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Paul Latham/Sightsavers

The article of the expedition – the brainchild of John Wilson, founding father of the charity Sightsavers – was to “assist create a brand new picture of blindness in Africa” and reveal that “educated blind individuals have the psychological and bodily stamina to attain exacting targets”.

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Paul Latham/Sightsavers

Eight launched into the journey however on the night of 19 February, after sleeping in a cave and making a steep and rocky climb that day, one of many climbers needed to drop out.

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Paul Latham/Sightsavers

“That day we had sore ft and one or two individuals began being sick from the altitude,” stated Geoffrey Salisbury, of the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, as Sightsavers was then recognized.

“By now, we had been all affected by burned faces as a result of direct rays of the Solar.

“We got here throughout our first snow. I climbed the rocks and broke off a large icicle and confirmed it to John Opio, who was affected by a headache

“He was so startled that I believe he forgot the ache.

“It was at this level that John Kisaka, from Tanzania, requested to drop out.

“He had climbed gallantly however was clearly not match to go on.”

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Paul Latham/Sightsavers

The fittest trekkers had been chosen from a whole lot of volunteers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and underwent a two-week coaching programme, which included rope climbing, evening tenting and mastering using mountaineering gear.

Picture copyright
Paul Latham/Sightsavers

Picture copyright
Paul Latham/Sightsavers

Picture copyright
Paul Latham/Sightsavers

The trek was lined on entrance pages of African newspapers and all of the trekkers obtained a hero’s welcome. Three pairs of their worn out boots are displayed within the Ugandan Nationwide Museum.

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