The three Muscateers

15 Jun 2016
POSTED BY Y Magazine

A trio of intrepid residents from Muscat, including Merge 104.8’s Chris Fisher, set off next month to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro. Here’s the story of the three Muscateers.

Dominating the landscape of the Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa is an impressive sight. Topped with snow, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro stretches some 5,895 metres into the sky, a tantalising object for man (and woman) to take on. Thousands have tried – not all successfully – to reach the top, Uhuru Peak, since the first recorded ascent was made by Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889.

Next month, three Muscateers will set off from Oman to follow in their footsteps and hopefully make their own personal history in the process. Chris Fisher, program director and presenter at our sister station, Merge 104.8, is joining a charity trek, while friends Heather Duncan, a well-known local lifestyle blogger and mother to a toddler, and Sarah Cook, a qualified personal trainer, are going under their own steam with an organised tour company on a different route.

During the gruelling climb, the three of them will be facing extreme conditions, blisters, fatigue and altitude sickness.

Here, in their own words, the three tell why they’re about to undertake the biggest challenge of their lives.

Heather Duncan

Heather Duncan

Age: 28

Nationality: Scottish

Mother to Spencer, aged two and a half, and lifestyle blogger

Route up Kilimanjaro: Machame Route

Length of Climb: 7 days

Start of Climb: July 3

Climbing mountains may not be a usual life goal for the mum of a young toddler, but it is for me. After taking part in the physical Wadi Adventure Race in Al Ain back in January of this year I found myself searching for a new project to keep my training momentum going and not allow myself to get too complacent and lazy. Brainstorming over coffee with my best friend and training buddy, Sarah, we said to each other: “We should do something crazy, like climb a mountain.” And from there, the idea was born. It turns out that both of us had dreams of climbing Kilimanjaro but had never voiced it to each other.

From there, we began the planning logistics and arranging the preparations for the big trip. My husband, Colin, is supportive of my extravagant dream trip, although he is quite bored of hearing about it now. He even threatened if I mentioned base layers one more time there would be trouble. He will be taking time off work to stay here in Muscat with our son while I am away
so I know that he will be well looked after.

For the fitness side of things, I am really enjoying having a training goal to work towards as it keeps me on the right track and encourages me to live a healthier way of life. Due to the extreme summer heat, it is very hard to get outside and hike, so my training has moved to the comfortable temperature in an air-conditioned gym. I am training four to five sessions a week to prepare my body for this massive task, using a mixture of cardio and strength training for optimum all-round fitness.

The only thing that scares me about the trip ahead is the real risk of altitude sickness as we climb higher. We will be taking medication to try to prevent this, but the big unknown is that you can’t predict how altitude can affect each person – some only have mild symptoms of nausea while others have severe headaches, vomiting, hallucinations and worse, even needing to be removed from the mountain. To try to combat this along with the medication, we will be drinking as much water as possible and walking at a slow pace.

Preparing yourself with good kit is fundamental – this is the difference between a great experience and a miserable trip. We will be trekking through snow and ice and the temperature at the summit can drop to around minus 20 degrees Celsius – very different to the Muscat temperatures we are used to. From your warming base layers to the boots on your feet, everything has to be correct or something like foot blisters can ruin a whole trip as some days you are walking for eight to 12 hours. The advice given to us from the leading adventure shops on hiking boots is to wear them for at least 15 walking hours to break them in properly before you even think about attempting Kilimanjaro – it’s not easy in summer to walk in heavy boots, but it’s something that I have had to persevere with. So far, I have managed around 14 walking hours with a couple of good hikes and wearing them in the evenings when I walk my dogs. The boots have even been round the supermarket a few times and out for a coffee date – not fashionable, but I would rather that than painful feet on the mountain.

So far, the only thing that has made me question if this project is worth it is the financial side. I knew it was going to be expensive, but I didn’t realise just quite how much once you factor in the cost of the items – good-quality equipment, vaccinations, flights to Tanzania, visa. The cost of my kit for seven days on the mountain has already amounted to RO600. The total cost of the trip will end up costing around RO2,500 to RO3,000.

Although the trip is expensive the thought of actually climbing the highest freestanding mountain in the world, and the highest peak in Africa, is hugely exciting to me and I cannot wait for the life experience. And what makes it even better is that I get to bring my best friend with me for the journey!

Sarah Cook


Age: 40

Nationality: Welsh

Personal trainer and mother of two

Route up Kilimanjaro: Machame Route

Length of Climb: 7 days

Start of Climb: July 3

I came to Oman in 2008 to continue my career in the automotive industry, but in 2013 after 12 years in the business, I decided to take a career break and reassess what it was I wanted to do. I found myself filling my time with the gym and also taking small hikes in places like Muttrah and Bawshar. I realised that I was suited to this active lifestyle far more than an office job and in 2016,
I qualified as a personal trainer.

The thought of climbing Kilimanjaro has been with me for years; but it was always one of those “oh, I would love to do that” type of thing, but I never really thought that I would do it for a number of reasons – fitness, cost and, lastly, no one ever wanted to do it with me! All that changed one morning in late March over a coffee with Heather, when we discovered it was something we both wanted to achieve.

2016 is the year I turned 40 and I guess I looked back on my life and thought: ‘Ok, what have I done, what do I still want to do and why aren’t I doing it?’  So when Heather and I both said Kilimanjaro, there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity. Choosing July as the time to go meant that we are a little restricted with the outdoor training we can do here in Oman as it is just too hot to be out walking for hours, but July is a good time to climb Kilimanjaro because, although it will be cold, the precipitation levels are medium to low, giving us the best conditions for a successful summit. Heather likes to know everything about our route and watches videos and reads blogs, whereas I would prefer to not know and face it when I get there so I don’t have a worry in my head that on Day 4 there is this obstacle and I am getting nervous about it. I think I perform best when confronted with a situation and I just have to deal with it.

I have been asked “why?” a number of times and I guess I have many reasons for doing it. Firstly, I want to challenge myself; I want to see what I can achieve and how strong I am mentally as I know that this is going to be more about my attitude and resilience than it is about my fitness. I want to know that I can keep going and hopefully stay positive along the way. Secondly,
I want to push my body, test my fitness and my nerve. I want to know that I
can get up and start walking day after day and push through to the end. And lastly,  I want to have an amazing experience. I want to go and see things I haven’t seen before, meet new people and be able to say, “Kilimanjaro?  Oh, I did that”.

Chris Fisher

Chris Fisher

Age: 42

Nationality: English

Program Director & Presenter at Merge 104.8

Route up Kilimanjaro: Marangu Route

Length of Climb:  5 days up and 1 day down

Start of Climb:  July 3

The reason why I decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro is to get my fitness regime back in order. I said to my trainer Sarah, who, incidentally, is also climbing with Heather, that I needed a goal to work towards, something like Kilimanjaro and she said: “Heather and I are climbing Kilimanjaro.” So later that night, I went and researched online and the next thing, I was signing up. The timescale that they said you would need to train was a minimum of three months and it was 13 weeks before their trip was going. So, I thought, “Yes, now is the time, the signs are there”.

It’s a big thing for me because its four years this month since I had my gastric surgery and it was about this time four years ago that I started to have the drastic weight loss. Since the surgery, I managed to lose about 70kg but in the past 12 to 18 months, I’ve put 15kg of that back on just with bad choices, bad lifestyle and bad eating habits again. This is a way to kick out those bad habits, introduce good habits again and work to something a bit more long term.

My preparations to climb the mountain have involved two personal training sessions a week with Sarah, as well as Engine Room sessions at Horizon Fitness Oman, going out for long walks in the evening and doing mountain treks. It’s been great finding new places to see here in Oman while I’ve been doing this training. I’ve also been having cryotherapy sessions at The Wellness Centre in Muscat. Mentally, to be honest, I’m up and down. I’m having good days and bad days. There are days when I’m really excited and really looking forward to it. The support I’ve had has been amazing, really overwhelming, from colleagues, family members, friends and listeners. So in a way I feel that if I don’t summit, I’m letting a lot of people down. It’s a big mental pressure.

Last weekend, I had a really big anxiety attack. It took over my mind and I was really questioning myself and doubting myself. I just had to put it all back into perspective and remember why I’m doing this. I’m doing this for me, as well as for the charities. I’m doing this as mainly something for me to achieve, and something for me to look back on for years to come. I can motivate other people when they go on their journey like people are doing with me now.

Altitude sickness is probably one of my biggest fears as well. That is something that you read on every single blog of everybody who has been there and it’s something that no individual can plan for. You can have the fittest person in the world, who could be out running marathons, and in the gym for hours a day, and athletes who don’t’ manage to summit because they’re used to taking in a lot of oxygen with their training.

I’m trying not to think about not completing it but it is in my mind. You’re having sleepless nights or you’re waking up and the first thing that you’re thinking about is Tanzania and Kilimanjaro. It really has taken over my mind for the past two months. But I have no regrets, none whatsoever. I’m very happy that I managed to sign up with a company that I’ve known from the time I lived in Dubai, a company called Gulf for Good (a Dubai-based charity under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al Maktoum), which has just celebrated 15 years and they’ve raised over US$3.2 million (RO1.2m) for various causes around the world.

There are two organisations here in Oman that I’ll be raising funds for as well.

I met our climbing team in Dubai a couple of weeks ago. There are 11 of us in total and they’re a great bunch and I’m really looking forward to climbing up the mountain with them.  I will be assigned a climbing buddy from the team when I get there.

It’s going to be good, it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be difficult but it’s going to be a great journey to remember.

I’m most looking forward to reaching the top. I’ll take a cake up to the top of the mountain and a copy of Y Magazine, too, of course!

You only stay at the top for about 15 to 20 minutes because of the altitude.

The final day of the trek is the hardest because you’re trekking for about 14 hours on that final day alone. It’s really difficult. It starts from about 1am on Summit Day.

This is certainly not going to be the last mountain trek that I do. I’m going to do more of these. I’m hooked.

Previous Climbers

As one of the most popular mountains in the world, roughly 35,000 trekkers try to reach the summit Mount Kilimanjaro each year. A few celebrities are among those:

  • Actress Jessica Biel
  • Musician Kenna
  • Actor Emile Hirsch
  • Singer Cheryl Fernandez-Versini (then Cole)
  • Singer Gary Barlow
  • Singer Ronan Keating

In June 2015, 10 Omanis, part of an Outward Bound Oman organised trek, summited Kilimanjaro. The group included environmentalist, entrepreneur and former Merge 104.8 presenter Rumaitha al Busaidi.

And those who didn’t:

  • Former tennis player Martina Navratilova (fell ill 4,000 feet shy of the summit)
  • Russian billionaire and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich (collapsed at 15,000ft)
  • Former American football linebacker Ray Lewis (retired with injured foot and illness)

Kilimanjaro Facts:

The three Muscateers

  • Both Everest Base Camps – South and North – are below the summit of Kilimanjaro
  • The mountain is a dormant volcano comprised of three volcanic cones, Shira, Kibo (on which the Uhuru summit stands) and Mawenzi
  • There are six official Kilimanjaro routes and three summit assault passages
  • Only 45 per cent of climbers who attempt to summit on all routes make it to the top
  • There are an estimated three to seven deaths on the mountain each year
  • The record for the fastest ascent and descent is held by Swiss mountain runner Karl Egloff, who ran to the top and back in six hours and 42 minutes in August 2014
  • The youngest person to reach the summit is Keats Boyd, aged seven, from Los Angeles (he managed to dodge the minimum age rule of 10 years)
  • The oldest person to summit is Angela Vorobeva from Russia, who reached the top aged 86 years and 267 days in 2015
  • In May 2016, Pizza Hut set an official Guinness World Record by delivering the highest-altitude pizza to the top of Kilimanjaro

The Kit:

Climbing a mountain requires a lot of equipment. Here’s just a selection of some of the gear that Heather Duncan is taking. (Sarah and Chris will be packing the same). The climbers carry a day pack weighing 7-11 kilograms while the rest of the kit is taken by the local porters.

The Kit

  • They will also require hiking boots, gloves, a hydration bladder, sun hats, trekking poles, a water bottle and a fabric Buff, which can be used as a sun guard, scarf or hat. The large duffel bag is to hold everything.
  • On the left, the two dark bundles are base layers –  one for day and one for night while sleeping in the tent. They are thermal and heat reflective.
  • The blue jumper is a large fleece top for nighttime in the camp once theystop walking and their bodies start to cool down.
  • There are two jackets – one is lightweight and fitted close to the body and synthetic down for heat. The second jacket is heavier with built-in fleece and the outer layer is wind and waterproof.

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