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What it feels like to scale a glacier

What it feels like to scale a glacier

Ice climbing in Tanzania

Ice climbing in Tanzania

April/May 2019

I was halfway up the ice, scaling one of the last remaining glaciers on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It was a race against my lungs: would I run out of breath before I got to the top? The base of the ice was at around 18,000ft (5,500 metres), and the air was so thin that I felt as though I were pinned to the ice by my exertion. No gasp gave me enough oxygen to fill my lungs.

To manage the climb, I had to swing my pick into the ice several times, like a lumberjack, to make the hole for every single movement upwards. Unlike climbs I’ve done in the Andes or Himalayas, here I had no time to acclimatise – and I had no idea what I’d find at the top. At home in Canada, I’d looked at maps showing frozen layers at the peak. I’d liked the idea of climbing ice on the physical roof of Africa, but the maps were a few years old. Now there’s very little glacier left, just these last remnants. They looked like waves, sitting in a sea of sand. It was a shocking, physical manifestation of how much our world is changing.

Early in the morning, clouds swirled among the icebergs. Normally ice is attached to rock, which gives it some stability. With this, I thought that the whole thing might fall to bits. I walked round the glacier several times, to make sure it was safe to climb. Break a leg at the top and it’s going to be a long time before any help arrives. But slowly, with my breath running out, I made it. It was worth it, to reach the most unlikely wild place I’ve ever been, and to gaze upon the shadow of the mountain on the plains far below.

Will Gadd, a professional ice climber and guide, was talking to Samantha Weinberg