On February 20 1969, a group of seven blind men and four others who were sighted got to the 5,750m (18,865ft) crater summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania after three and a half days of climbing the tallest mountain in Africa.
The men triumphed their handicap and the long hike, despite hazardous weather and temperatures, to get the summit where they observed a circling Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft dipping its wings to salute their achievement.
According to Reuters, the object of the climb was to show how much the training of the blind has advanced in East Africa and to help change the attitude of sighted people towards the potential and ability of the blind.
They had undergone days of camping and mountaineering training before setting out.
The blind climbers consisted of three Ugandans, two Kenyans and two Tanzanians. The Ugandans in the party were John Opiyo, Tofiri Kibuka and Laurence Serwambala; the Kenyans were Moses Mutie and Lubmasen Ardebreti and the Tanzanians, Noel Palour and Mathias Gailanga. 26-year-old blind climber John Kisaka, was left at the hut below Kilimanjaro’s extinct volcano (Kibo) because he was suffering from mountain sickness and couldn’t finish the climb.
The final stages of the climb, up the 3,000 foot (915 metres) dome of kibo were quite tough. The men stopped at Gillman’s point, which is generally regarded as the peak of the mountain at 18,635 feet (5,680 metres) because they were too exhausted from the direct rays of the sun to continue to Kilimanjaro’s true summit — the 19,340 feet (5,895 metres) uhuru (freedom) peak.
Accompanying the blind climbers were Mr. John Dubega, chief instructor at the Loitokitok outward bound mountain school, and Mr. Geoffrey Salisbury, an advisor from the royal commonwealth society for the blind.
A total of GBP700 sterling were raised by Britain’s Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind for the costs of the expedition.
The men were given a hero’s welcome and their trek was spread on front pages of local and International newspapers. You can find three pairs of their worn out boots at the Ugandan National Museum.