Natchez man trains at Roth Hill before climbing Kilimanjaro

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 1, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Climbing the world&8217;s largest free-standing mountain is something most people wouldn&8217;t even consider attempting.

That is not the case for Bill Passman.

Passman, a Natchez resident, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (19,340 ft.) in Africa after having no climbing experience &8212; just because he saw it on top of a list of things for ordinary people to do in a lifetime, he said.

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&8220;When I told my brother and his wife my plans to climb the mountain, my sister-in-law asked me if he had seen the newspaper,&8221; Passman said. &8220;When she showed me the paper, it said that two guys and a woman got killed in a rockslide on that mountain.&8221;

Although the news from his sister-in-law weighed on his mind, it wasn&8217;t enough weight to change his &8220;committed decision.&8221; He just labeled it as a

&8220;freak accident&8221; and said since the deaths, that route had been closed.

The mountain, which is mostly composed of dirt, volcanic rock, snow and ice, has five different routes that can be taken, Passman said.

&8220;I hadn&8217;t decided on a route, but I had already sent my money in, so I began to research the mountain,&8221;

Passman said. &8220;What I found was that on average 10 people die a year there, most from altitude sickness.&8221;

Passman said he experienced the altitude sickness even though he was taking the recommended Tiamox (altitude sickness medicine), a day or two prior to his climb.

Passman arrived at the mountain a day or two early to attempt to adapt to the extreme condtions he would encounter on the equator situated mountain.

&8220;You are supposed to be in pretty good shape before climbing the mountain, which I wasn&8217;t,&8221; Passman said. &8220;So before I went I began climbing Roth Hill a few hours a day &8212; Roth Hill became my Mount Kilimanjaro.&8221;

When his training first began, he said he was able to climb Roth Hill just an hour or two a day. By the time he was preparing to leave the country, he was up to five or six hours a day, admitting &8220;that was half of what I should have done.&8221;

After climbing Roth Hill and preparing as much as time

allowed, he hopped on the 22-hour flight to Africa.

&8220;We started the 45-mile climb in the rainforest,&8221; Passman said. &8220;From there, we went through five different arctic zones where the temperature ranges went from 80 degrees to 10 degrees below zero.&8221;

The six-day hike including some 45 miles of terrain from top to bottom, included

people whose ages ranged all the way up to the record of oldest climber at 80 years old, Passman said.

The food hikers ate &8212; a supply he labeled as &8220;not very appetizing&8221; &8212; usually consisted of &8220;porridge and mystery sausage for breakfast, some sort of baked chicken that had been baked too long for lunch and potato soup for supper,&8221; Passman said. Sometimes a carrot would even be added to the soup creating a new meal called carrot soup, he said.

The baggage of the hikers, with the exception of a personal bag including warmer clothes, water, snacks and rain gear, were carried up the mountain by Africa natives. He said the men (porters) usually passed the hikers with ease carrying 30-40 pound bags on their heads.

All of the cooking was done by the porters and guides on the hiking trip, which costed roughly $1,250 for the climb and $1,600 for the airfare.

&8220;The biggest problem was not being able to get any oxygen &8212; up there each breath

you take is really associated with each step you take,&8221; Passman said. &8220;It&8217;s a combination of exhilaration, fatigue and lack of oxygen where you can&8217;t really comprehend anything.&8221;

The hike was timed by Passman so that he would reach the the top as the sun was coming up.

Just before his hike reached the peak, Passman encountered a small


&8220;My eyes began freezing up right before I reached the top, which was really painful,&8221; he said. &8220;The guide just told me to put my sunglasses on.&8221;

With sunglasses on at 4 a.m., his headlamp was now also a necessity. Once at the top and his goal reached, Passman said the significance is not truly realized.

&8220;All you can do is take a few pictures and get back down,&8221; Passman said.

&8220;I took three pictures and my camera froze.&8221;

Trekking poles had to be used to help with stability, he said.

&8220;The climb down may have been more difficult than the climb up,&8221; Passman said. &8220;You have to use different muscles than you have used all week.&8221;

The climb he described as &8220;quite an experience&8221; is one that 15,000 to 20,000 people a year attempt, where only 40 percent reach their intended destination.

As for anyone wanting to attempt this, Passman said &8220;try it.&8221;

&8220;You don&8217;t have to have any technical climbing experience, you just need to be in good shape,&8221;

he said.

&8220;You don&8217;t conquer Mount Kilimanjaro, you conquer yourself.&8221;