Blind climber targets Mt Kilimanjaro

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 24/04/2014
Neelu Memon
KENT BLECHYNDEN/ Fairfax NZ
MOUNTAINS OF MOTIVATION: After a false start, Wellington mountaineer Neelu Memon is headed for Africa’s highest peak in her bid to be the first blind woman to scale the world’s Seven Summits.

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Blind Wellington mountaineer Neelu Memon takes obstacles in her stride and - despite a recent setback - is keen to get on with her mission to scale some of the world's tallest peaks.

She is already the first legally blind person to complete the Coast to Coast, and wants to become the first blind woman to knock off the Seven Summits - the highest mountains on seven continents.

Last year a guide's snapped ligament thwarted her bid to to climb Argentina's Mt Aconcagua but, with that disappointment behind her and her motivation renewed, she plans in August to climb Africa's highest peak, Mt Kilimanjaro, and has been base-training on Wellington's Mt Kaukau with boyfriend Oliver Jennings.

It will the first time either of them has been "to altitude" - above 3000 metres - where the thin air can put huge strain on the body. "It's going to be testing . . . I have no idea how my body will react to altitude. You can be a really fit, experienced climber below 3000 metres, but when you get above everything can turn to custard."

If her body does not acclimatise, she could suffer potentially fatal altitude sickness. Failure to acclimatise is why fewer than half of climbers get to the top of the 5895m Kilimanjaro.

Things have turned to custard before for Memon - attempting Mt Cook last year, she missed an edge and was plunged into a crevasse, but was saved by being secured to a guide by a rope.

Memon, who was expected to be permanently disabled after a brain injury at 16, is now a disability issues adviser for the Ministry of Social Development, and hopes her endeavours will inspire both the disabled and able-bodied.

"I really want people to believe they can do anything," she says. "I believe any disabled person can do what they want to do when they have support."

Airfares to Kenya have been paid for by the Wellington Paraplegic & Physically Disabled Trust, which means she can help fund provisions for her eight-strong crew, which includes a Swedish couple, a Nelson couple and two Kenyan guides - one for her and one for the group.

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