1. Tell us abit about yourself

Hello! My name is Dr. Mutie Dorothy, an ophthalmologist with interests in public health, training, research and ethics. I have practised ophthalmology for twelve years now.

2. You have recently achieved a landmark. Climbing a high-altitude peak is an unquantifiable privilege that only very few people in the population experience. What did you like most about this experience?

What I liked most was being able to fulfil a longing I have had for a quite a while. Mount Kilimanjaro peak is sometimes visible from my parents’ home in Makueni County; I longed to conquer it, just like Mount Kenya in my younger days. And it did not disappoint-The scenery was incredible: from the truly rain forest where we were welcomed by a 3-hour long rainy session- to moorland and eventual bare rock and snow.

The cascading waterfalls, the clear streams of water, occasional flowering blooms, towering rocks-one even looked like Noah’s Ark-and the shimmering snow at the top were a feast for the eyes. But the most remarkable scene was the changing face of the mountain top with each passing day.

3. Did you get any new inspiration as an ophthalmologist while you were on this expedition?

Climbing that mountain was a lesson in life by itself. It reminded me of my residency days: new concepts every day, procedures I had never seen before. Just as our experienced guides led us along the sometimes treacherous paths up the mountain, our lecturers had held our hands, showing the way and how to avoid pitfalls. The importance of teamwork was admirably demonstrated as we trudged upwards each day: every member of the ophthalmic team is valuable. As we helped one another get over steep rocks and to cross rivers, I was reminded of those who had given me a helping hand in my ophthalmology practice and was deeply grateful. We took time to make photographic memories along the way and the sum of these experiences made the summit and entire journey most satisfying. So, it is definitely great to aim to be the top in your area of expertise, but take time to smell the coffee as you move along.

4. What are the benefits of hiking?

At a personal level, it is an opportunity to explore our country’s vast beauty, to breath in fresh, unpolluted air! Preparing for hikes keeps my body fit and I find myself more productive and motivated to do my daily tasks. Hiking has aided my approach to seemingly challenging tasks: appreciate the magnitude of the task, take the first step, keep going, maintain focus on the end goal, take breathers here and there, and savour the journey. Hiking relieves stress, aids bonding with those close to you and provides networking opportunities.

5. I have never hiked before but I am interested. Where should I start?

Start with your mind: be resolute so that when the going gets tough, the mind can ‘command’ the body to keep moving! Begin with easy hikes and slowly make your way to more challenging terrains.

6. What sort of gear would you recommend for hiking and high attitude climbing?

For normal hiking, wear comfortable breathable top (preferably long sleeved) and pants, snug hiking shoes, and where you can, get waterproof ones. This ensures you can still enjoy your hike even when it is dripping wet; trust me, walking with wet shoes and socks is utterly unpleasant. Invest in a 2-3 litre hydration pack, that is, a drinking system that allows you to drink on the go, without having to get a water bottle from your bag. Ensure you carry rain wear to keep off the rain. Finally, a sturdy backpack to store all these items including a snack for the way is an essential. High altitude climbing equals cold weather; so in addition, carry clothes designed to keep you warm yet light in weight.

7. Did your glasses get foggy during the mountaineering and how can one cope with that?

The only time they got foggy was during the summit attempt day as I had used a scarf to cover most of my face (I was told a balaclava is a better option!)

8. How extreme is the weather?

‘The mountain is like a chameleon’, said one of the guides. And indeed it was-from moderate rain, to warm sunshine to fog to brazenly cold, especially during the nights. No matter what we tried, our feet generally felt cold through the nights. At the summit we experienced sleet accompanied by harsh winds.

9. What is acclimatization and how challenging is it?

Acclimatization is the process by which one’s body adapts to the high mountain altitude due to the reduced oxygen in the air. One way is to ascend slowly over several days-we took six days to get to the 5,895 meters above sea level (masl) peak. The second thing is to do what the mountaineers call ‘climb-high, sleep-low’. We experienced this on our third day: we climbed from a height of 3750 masl to 4600 masl then spent the night at an altitude of 3900 masl. All the while, the guides urged us to keep drinking water. I experienced some nausea and a slight headache and was unable to enjoy my supper that night. By the following morning, however, I was quite okay and the guides were pleased. There was hope I would make it to the top!

10. Would you do this again?

I’m still savouring the victory and telling myself it is done for a lifetime! However, I just have this sneaking feeling that a year or two down the line, the bug might strike again. I hope I can convince colleagues and friends to come along!

Raymond Greene: Physician, Mountaineer, and Raconteur is an interesting read about a physician’s passionate interest in mountaineering. He formed the Oxford University Mountaineering Club. What do you think about a hike or an expedition for ophthalmologists?

Absolutely! Long overdue.

I would love to know about your experience with hiking or mountain climbing. You can email me on dotmwende@gmail.com