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Climbers Toast 2000 Atop Africa Peak

January 1, 2000

MOUNT KILIMANJARO, Tanzania (AP) _ A bright orange sun broke through the clouds Saturday as 100 climbers from around the world toasted the arrival of the 21st century with champagne on the highest mountain in Africa.

``The dawn of the new millennium brought tears to my eyes,″ said Simone Kayser, 44, of Luxembourg, who made the climb to Gilman’s Point with her husband, Marc, three daughters and 23 friends.

At 18,747 feet, Gilman’s Point is on Kibo summit, the craggy rim of one of three extinct volcanoes that form Mount Kilimanjaro. Uhuru Peak, at 19,443 feet, is the highest point on Kibo summit, but most climbers do not make it there because of the lack of oxygen.

Mirja Kahialainen, 73, of Helsinki, Finland, wasn’t going to let age or shortage of breath rob her of the moment as she stamped her feet in the snow and below-zero temperature.

``It is a very special feeling to be here at this time,″ Kahialainen said. ``I wanted to do it as a challenge because I’m so old.″

The group left Kibo Hut in the inky darkness at 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to begin the single-file trek to Gilman’s Point. About 200 other climbers were taking other routes to reduce congestion.

Far below and 185 miles away, the lights of Kenya’s Indian Ocean port of Mombasa twinkled as midnight approached. With a bright moon in a sky full of stars, climbers waved flashlights, cheered and set off fireworks even as they clambered upward.

At the launch of the Dec. 20-Jan. 5 millennium expedition, Tourism and Natural Resources Minister Zakia Meghji said about 1,000 people would make the climb up the mountain made famous by Ernest Hemingway in his 1939 short story, ``The Snows of Kilimanjaro.″

She appealed to the international community to assist Tanzania in fighting environmental degradation on the mountain. Kilimanjaro’s forests are being destroyed by livestock grazing and a booming population.

Although known for ages to the Chagga, Pare, Kahe, Mbugu and Maasai peoples below, who call it ``the House of God,″ the perennially snowcapped mountain was first sighted by non-Africans _ German missionaries _ in 1848.

Joseph Mallya has been guiding climbers up the mountain for more than a decade. He said the average number of people who usually make it each day to Gilman’s Point during the November-to-January climbing season is between 10 and 20.

``When there is a boom like this, it means good income for the guides because when I get back down, there will be another group waiting,″ he said.

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