After fulfilling her 30 year old dream of climbing the Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda, Beryl Park from Canada is not sure of accomplishing a similar feat in future. She needs not anyway. She is already a world record breaker.
The 78-year-old successfully reached Margherita Peak, 5,109 metres above sea level, on November 13, making her the first recorded — by the Guiness Book of World Records — advanced age female climber to successfully reach the highest peak of the Rwenzori.
“I don’t know if I will do a Rwenzori climb again. But I will continue climbing the Rockies three times a week in summer and skiing three or five times a week in winter in Canada,” Park told journalists in Kampala.
“I have always dreamt of climbing the Rwenzori Mountains for the past 30 years because they sounded so lively whenever they were described to me. So I had to come and see it for myself and reach Margherita,” Parke said, adding: “It is a wonderful and lovely feeling.
“The climate and vegetation keeps changing from day to day compared with Kilimanjaro which has the same climate and vegetation throughout the trek.”
“We have had people in their 60s and 70s climb the mountains but none were 78 years old…” said the acting executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Mark Kamanzi, at a function to honour Park on her remarkable achievement in Kampala.
“Therefore we can confidently say that Ms Park set a new record for tourism in Uganda, and we are profoundly grateful to her for choosing to climb the famous Mountains of the Moon. She is now one of the 15,000 tourists from all over the world who have climbed the Rwenzori mountains, but one of just a few thousand who have reached the Margherita Peak,” Kamanzi added.
In April this year, Park contacted the Rwenzori Trekking Services asking if they would allow a 78-year-old woman to climb the mountains as it was her long time dream to do so.
Her April 2010 e-mail read thus: “Dear sir, I am interested in climbing Mt Margherita on the 10-day trek, also doing the trip to see the mountain gorillas. …I live in the Canadian Rockies and ski all winter and hike 2-3 times a week so I am reasonably fit and have a good sense of the conditions that I would encounter. When is the best time to come in regard to the weather? Are you willing to take someone my age?”
The Rwenzori Trekking Services did not hesitate to grant her request. Park opted to book early November so that she could experience the beauty of snow on the Rwenzori.
She arrived in Uganda on November 4. Guided by three recently trained guides, Sandra Ampaire, Enoch Bwabale and Bernard Enaga of Rwenzori Trekking Services, Park started the hike on November 8, 2010, at Mulyambuli gate (1,727 metres) through the Kilembe trail circuit.
“Over the following five days her determination shone through, even during times when she was tired she remained happy and determined to achieve her goal. On the morning of November 13, her final ascent to Margherita Peak, bad weather closed in and by midday it was snowing very heavily. Despite this, she reached the peak at 3pm tired but happy at achieving the goal she had set herself,” the managing director of Rwenzori Trekking Services, John Hunwick reported.
“During the descent the weather worsened and Park had to climb down in complete darkness and heavy fog arriving at camp at 11pm. The next morning, following a good sleep-in and a hearty breakfast, she started her descent arriving back at Kilembe on the afternoon of November 17.”
Hunwick added that, “Beryl showed remarkable strength of character and determination and we congratulate her on a great effort despite the weather conditions. She even had the time and appetite to sit on the glacier and eat lunch which many do not. An incredible effort particularly for a 78-year-old woman.”
According to UWA, tourism on the Rwenzori Mountains was launched at the beginning of the 1990s but suffered a heavy blow between 1998 and 2001 when it had to be suspended during the ADF rebel insurgency. But since 2001 when the mountains were reopened for tourism, there has been a surge in tourist arrivals every year.
This increase became even more evident in 2007 after a new trail — the Kilembe Trail which is being managed by Rwenzori Trekking Services was launched. The number of climbers jumped from 117 in 2001 to nearly 2,000 in 2009. “We expect the numbers to further increase when the planned infrastructure improvements are made,” Kamanzi said.
UWA’s future plans for the Rwenzori Mountains include; construction of a visitor’s information centre at the foot of the mountains, improved visitor accommodation facilities, a canopy walk, and expansion of the trail network within the mountains.
After the Rwenzori, Beryl Park visited the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Lake Bunyonyi, Lake Mburo National Park, and Murchison Falls.
Park, who lives in a small village near Banff National Park, in Calgary, Canada, has already climbed Mount Kilimanjaro twice, the last time being six years ago at the age of 72. She usually spends her winters skiing in the Canadian mountains and her summers hiking across various national parks in Canada.
“I had no idea or even thought of going into the Guinness Book of World Records when I was planning to climb Mountain Rwenzori,” Park told The East African.
In July this year, George Solt, an 82-year-old from the United Kingdom set a new world record for the oldest person to reach the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Solt, a retired chemical engineer, who reached Uhuru peak at 5,896 metres above sea level in memory of his wife, Jen on July 14, 2010, has been recognised by the Guinness World Records.
In 2008, Jeanne Stawiecki, entered the Guinness Book of World Records for two achievements. At 56, Stawiecki was recognised as the oldest woman to complete the “Seven Summits,” the highest mountains on each continent, and achieving the fastest aggregate time for a woman to complete marathons on all seven continents.
On April 20, 2010, Korean mountaineer Oh Eun-Sun, 44, reached the top of the 8,091 metre-high Annapurna in Nepal completing her quest to climb all 14 of the world’s highest peaks and setting the new world record for the First Woman to Scale 14 Highest Peaks.
In January this year, 17-year-old American, Johnny Collinson climbed the seven highest peaks on each of the seven continents of the world, setting the world record for the youngest person to climb the world’s highest peaks. He climbed Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, in July 2009.