My name is Will Jennings and I'm rather keen on taking photos. I also write a little and I've included a couple of my articles below.
Please see my contact page to get in touch.
It’s just after dawn. A deathly hush pervades the vehicle and all those contained within are transfixed. A lone zebra has strayed from it’s zeal and is meandering towards us cautiously whilst distractedly pulling at the grass below it. An anthill stands t o it’s left, and beyond that, two femal e lions, looking for breakfast.
We’re deep in the Kenyan Masai Mara, it’s day eight of our eight day safari and our last chance to catch a glimpse of the leopard that has been avoiding us for so long. I’ve come here for one reason: a passion for wildlife photos.
I ease my camera out of it’s bag, fit a suitable lens and run through a few settings to make sure the photo comes out right. The fresh early morning air pours in through our Land Rover’s extendable roof opening making me shiver. “Is this really going to happen?” I ask myself as one lion edges forward, still masked by the towering anthill.
The zebra moves closer and the lion, flat to the ground, edges slowly around the anthill. I ready and steady myself on the roof and frame where I think this might be headed. My digital camera is set to take 6.5 photos per second. Once in a lifetime and I want this shot.
The zebra’s eyes bulge wide and dust is driven away from it’s feet. In a matter of split seconds and almost like the start of an Olympic race both animals are in full sprint. Supremely focused, the first female navigates the curve of the anthill’s base and sets it’s run towards the zebra. Adrenaline surging, I press down my index finger. My camera tracks the scene and fires into life capturing the zebra whilst waiting for the lion to come into view. First a paw, then two, a nose and then, led by those merciless eyes, it’s head tears open the side of my viewfinder. A lion flying through the air is the only thing on my mind.
Wait, what’s going on? My index finger presses harder and then, unable to grasp the situation, presses harder still. Why is my camera not making those lovely clicking noises it was making half a second ago? Now releasing and then pressing harder each time, my mind shifts gear. My camera falls from my eye to reveal my worst nightmare, the word “empty” flashing cruelly back at me. Mentally I crumple and physically I dive back down into the Land Rover clawing for my camera bag.
The offending memory card goes flying across the floor and a new one is slammed into position. I launch myself upright but it’s all over. Too late. The first female has it’s jaws clamped around the zebra’s neck whilst the second stakes it’s own claim.
It’s the photographic equivalent of an own goal and one of the hardest yet surest lessons I’ve learnt about photography. The Masai Mara is incredible but if you are going there for photos, learn from my mistake. It will save you hours of pondering what could have been!
Oxygen and altitude are a hellish combination. Oxygen, nestled comfortably between Nitrogen and Fluorine at spot number 8 on the periodic table of elements, is highly reactive, required for nearly all combustion and crucially, is vital for human respiration. As altitude increases however the amount of oxygen molecules per breath is greatly reduced resulting in the human body to be called upon to adapt and if you’re tasked with climbing a mountain in Tanzania called Kilimanjaro, that's where the fun starts.
It’s day 2, we’ve ascended to 3,700m (12,139 ft) and I’m in a bad way. I’m not sure whether it’s the altitude or adjusting to the food but whatever it is it doesn’t agree with me. I can’t keep anything inside me and spend the entire night pacing a circuit from our 4 person hut to the primitive but amazingly flushing toilet. It’s -2c (28f) outside and much the same inside. I awake the next morning dehydrated, deprived of sleep and drained. Things are dire and we’re only halfway up.
I struggle through the following two days which include a 6 hour “acclimatisation” hike and a 6 hour ascent to base camp Kibo at 4,700m (15,420ft) trying to rehydrate myself at every possible opportunity and then relent into a restless, pensive sleep with th e unfamiliar race of my heart beating in my head. I’m awoken shortly before midnight by our guide Adam. “It’s time to go” he whispers.
Outside Adam is joined by our wily assistant guide Max who smiles into my head torch, points near vertically up into the darkness and chuckles “Last to leave and first to arrive”. We set off and I fall into a comfortably repetitive trudge, zig-zagging up the mountain for what seems like an eternity. There is no wind but the biting cold still attacks me. It’s well below freezing and alpine desert shingle crunches under my feet. Stars vividly blanket the moonless sky and the odd aircraft blinks level but far in the distance. A blue backpack ahead leads me on. Hours merge together and when we reach an area Max dubs “Rock City” I’m thankful for the change in terrain.
We pause for a short rest and Adam wanders into the gloom, doubles over and due to the extreme altitude, vomits beside a supportive rock. Max soon suffers the same fate. “Last to leave and first to arrive indeed” I keep to myself. Soon, the sun peaks over the horizon and we make it to “Gilman’s Point”. At 5,681m (18,638 ft) Gilman’s is the top of the Marangu route we have ascended but is still one and a half hours below the 5,895m (19,341 ft) of Uhuru Peak, the undisputed, highest point in Africa. We exchange congratulations with those who have decided this plenty far enough for them and push on.
Looking far around the gaping snow covered crater I can see our destination in the distance and despite the temperature having plummeted to -10c (14f) the whole mountainside is beginning to awake as the sun streams across the dawn red sky. “Not long to go now!” four and a half days of climbing exclaims.
Aside from my disastrous sickness two days prior and the shock of seeing both my guides succumb to altitude sickness I am feeling quietly confident. Kilimanjaro however, which offers fifty percent less oxygen at that level, sees things differently. I quickly hit the wall. My rubbery legs cease to obey me and my walking poles become my singular focus. A surreal sensation slowly infects me, mentally plays games with me and physically manifests itself as drunkenness. Conversation takes on a buoyant but strangely removed life of it’s own.
The final drive to the top surpasses all else as the hardest thing I’ve attempted but the last few exhausted steps give way to exhilaration. Sunrise surrounds us and as we take in the incredible expanse of glaciers, snow and then clouds far below us the accomplishment burns into my memory. We turn to leave and I catch sight of a climber who had slept in the bunk across from me at base camp. With a crazed look in his eye he shakes off the guide desperately trying to restrain him, unleashes a scream and runs towards the peak. I learned later that he was forcibly taken from the summit and cannot recall a thing. Such are the perils of extreme altitude.
Before we set off on this adventure an experienced climber who had just returned gave me the following advice: “This mountain, will teach you what you want to learn”. Well, if you want to learn a few things about oxygen but more importantly yourself, head for Kilimanjaro. Brutal but brilliant.
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