My first ever blog- created in August 2010 following my Kilimanjaro Trek
Mount Kilimanjaro Trek August 2010
This blog was written on a daily basis, sometimes under great duress, in stupidly cold or hot temperatures, but starting on day 1, 6,000 feet up above Amsterdam on the plane on the way to Tanzania, and culminating on the reverse journey...I will try to entertain, but I can’t make any promises except an honest account of 9 days away from home, with one aim, to get to the top of the highest free standing mountain in the world...and back down again. Alive.
In one of the early months of 2010 (I can’t remember which one, but I do know that today seemed a hell of a long way off at the time), I and 4 other intrepid (read naive) him!mers decided/agreed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania for Kidscan, a children’s Cancer charity.
The build up to this trip has been...well, odd really, as I don’t think that I ever really admitted to myself that it was going to happen. I certainly have done SOME training, upping my usual 3-times-a-week-to-stay-a-size-10 gym routine, to a more fitness and endurance led routine, aiming for 5 times per week. I have also completed a long weekend walking in the peak district, and a preparation weekend in Wales. I have spent the equivalent of a Caribbean holiday on KIT (list coming up for the geeks amongst you). I have learnt that it really isn’t that hard to cajole people that you know, and indeed people that you don’t, into sponsoring you when there is a serious challenge and a worthy charity involved.
So here I am, Day 1, having just taken off from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport, where we changed planes after our starting point of Heathrow airport. Firstly I should introduce my climbing colleagues for ease of reference-
Mike Greene - CEO of him! and general all round motivational, positive chap.
Tara Benjamin - Programmes Director at him! tougher than she looks and a great tent-mate
Lianne Piper - Client Manager at him!, a wicked sense of humour and the ability to see the good in anyone
Andy Brookfield - Client Manager at him! with a great, dry Northern view on life
Nick and Amanda Raphael - Married couple, Nick is a Director for Sony music, and describes himself as an “ambitious little rat”, Amanda is his beautiful wife, who on top of being an ex-model, has just completed a PHD
Steve Fitzmaurice - Steve is a mixing engineer and producer with an eclectic and interesting career history and an outspoken Irish charm about him
Rhian Morgan and Jon Dunbar - Otherwise known as “The Doctors”, Rhian and Jon are such genuinely nice people, both 3 years into their medical training
Patrick and George Hudson - Father and Son, Patrick has a contagious laugh, and a great knowledge of the world, having been bought up in Africa, George his son is surely the kindest 16 year old you will ever meet
Ed and Charlie Hudson - Ed is Patrick’s twin, and Charlie is Ed’s son. Ed has a sensible side to him that can calm any situation down and Charlie is a determined young man, who, like George is extremely mature and kind
We also have a Team Leader, Andy Chapman, but more about him later...
So, I find myself on the plane reading that the route we will take up Kilimanjaro, The Lemosho Glades route is a relatively unspoilt trek which sees fewer climbers than its rival routes, the main one being known as the “Coca-Cola” route. From what I can work out, the trek is 5 days up, 2 days down...maybe, as Ted says, we can “roly-poly” down. The 5 days up is to give us enough time to acclimatise and give us a maximum chance of completion. Funnily enough, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I may not make it...perhaps this would be a good time to start to consider the possibility.
So, for the geeks amongst you, here is my KIT list, or what I can remember packing.
· 4 seasons sleeping bag (thanks Dad!)
· Therma-rest- thin blow up mat to sleep on and insulate your body from the ground
· Yoga mat- more insulation, not for downward dog manoeuvres in the morning
· Thermal underwear
· Walking trousers x1 that zip into shorts
· Boots (kindly bought by boyfriend for my birthday)
· Waterproof trousers
· Trekking socks x2
· Liner socks x2
· Inner gloves, mid gloves and outer ski gloves (thanks Mum)
· T-shirts x3, in my pink and grey colour scheme
· Fleece x2
· Buff for fetching hairstyles and to keep the sun off your neck
· Duvet jacket- vile piece of clothing that does what it says on the tin
· Outer shell jacket
· Thermal hat, sun hat
· Water bottle, purifying and neutralising tablets
· Foot and hand warmers
· Toiletries, miniatures of everything used at home, including make up- no need to let standards slip!
· Baby wipes (for festival showers)
· Walking Poles
· Anti Mosquito stuff, after bite
· Drugs, and not the good ones, just anti-biotics etc
· IPod, with new albums courtesy of Frank and Ted
· Books X2
· A Blackberry which will be of limited use
· Solar powered charger that I got ripped off £66 for in Heathrow airport
· Food- Boiled sweets, cereal bars, cookies and nuts
...all packed into two bags- one for me to carry and one for the Porters to lug up the mountain....generally on their heads.
We arrived at Tanzania airport at around 8.30pm, the airport was basic, with long queues and no air con, but the 14 of us were excited, so through customs we went, ignoring the outstretched hands requesting “tips”, and arriving at The Keys hotel in Moshi at around 9.30pm to a good, but basic meal of soup, pasta, rice and lentils.
Lianne, Tara and I shared a hotel room, complete with mosquito nets, and I think that the girls were only mildly alarmed when halfway through the night I sat bolt upright in bed and asked “Tara, shall I get the snake out from under the bed?”....apparently I sleep-talk through my dreams.
Woke at 7am to have our last shower in 8 days, re-packed bags, carefully separating anything that will be needed for day to day use (sweets, camera, iPod) from my heavy necessities. Good breakfast (hopefully a sign of things to come?) of poached eggs, beans and toast. And then we were ready! 14 slightly nervous trekkers, in box-fresh North Face and Berghaus gear, ready to tackle anything. And tellingly, the first conversation that I had was with Nick and Amanda and focused around Nicks toilet habits...an indication as to where the conversational focus for the days ahead may lie. The journey was to take 3 hours to get us to the base of the mountain, and was slightly surreal. We were driving through what looked like small, poverty-stricken villages based around the dirt tracks which we were driving down, but some of the locals had TV’s in these open-fronted village bars, where all the men were huddled round, supping on a local beer and watching football. I thought of Frank and Ted a lot today- especially when the village children came up to say hello whenever we stopped to use a toilet (we used a local village bar’s toilet and had to tip them for the “pleasure” of squatting to piss as accurately as possible in a hole in the ground), and one came up to me and simply said “give me money”. I told them that he would have to do better than that. It was about this time that AB mentioned how lovely it was that every time we approached the villages, you could hear the strains of traditional African music. He was crestfallen when I pointed out that the music was coming from the jeep radio.
After around 2 hours drive, we checked through the gate at the foot of the mountain, and then had another 1.5 hour drive up and down the roughest terrain I have ever encountered- I thought that the car was bound to roll at any point. We ate a packed lunch that the hotel had provided, chicken sarnies, boiled egg, cake and biscuits etc.
Then the car stopped, and we all piled out, chattering about the journey and ready to start “The Climb”.
Now, those of you who know me well, will be aware that my fear in life is spiders...and lo and behold, I put my bag down on the floor by the car and the first thing I see is a large African spider. Now an EX-spider (thanks for the quick reflexes AB!).
We started trekking on terrain that I could liken to the Peak District, for 3 hours. No real break, but we didn’t seem to need it, adrenalin was kicking in. So off we went, munching our way up the mountain, sharing sweets and cereal bars and starting to get to know each other. I was expecting to see a lot more wildlife than we did, but the monkey’s in the trees were very amusing, calling out to us and waving their white, bushy tails below them. The vegetation is very rich and lush, much like a British woodland really, and the trails are somewhat defined, although slightly overgrown. The main issue for the first day was the thick red dust that seemed to cover everything within minutes of being on the mountain. We chatted all the way, pausing only for a soon to be familiar cry of “porters!” as the Porters steamed past us in their Nike’s and jeans, carrying our bags and supplies on their heads, and not even breaking a sweat.
We heard the camp before we saw it, as a Canadian group had already arrived and their Porters and camp staff were all dancing, singing and clapping in a traditional African welcome ceremony. It was a great way to arrive at the first camp....in fact I think it was only day 3 that it started to grate...!
So, we sorted out our tents- I was with Lianne for the first night- and had a “moment” when AC came over to speak to us girls to let us know that he “had the right to make us sleep in a tent with a man if he was worried about us getting altitude sick” We soon put him straight on that little power-crazed comment, and explained that we were not the type of people who could be “made” to do anything.
Anyway, dinner, as always, except summit day was served at 6.30- Leek soup, followed by Spaghetti Bolognaise. This is where we really started to get to know our fellow trekkers, taking it in turns to tell stories, including Steve and the electric toothbrush and Andy and the infamous “Vegan” comment....
After a few badly phrased lectures from AC (that man REALLY needs communication training), we headed off to bed, satisfied that the first day was everything that we were expecting. After what is now known as “Spidergate”, the removing of several large spiders from my tent, we fell asleep for our first night on the mountain.
Awoken at 6.30am by a group of Canadians after 2 hours sleep. Not the best start to the day, but up I got, put on my pillow (duvet jacket) and joined the others in the mess tent for breakfast, and a hot water and berrocca, which is to become a saving grace as the vitamin count on this trip doesn’t seem to be that high...
So, a quick wash outside the tent, contorting my body under a towel to avoid giving the porters an eyeful, and then off we rambled. Todays trekking was about 6 hours through some stunning giant heather, and a strong scent of wild sage which grew along the pathways for several hours. One thing that has surprised me is the lack of flowers on the route, I think that it must be something to do with the altitude. The vegetation on the route so far has been lush and interspersed with exotic plants, some small, red spiky ones, some that look like pineapples etc.
And so the walk continued, getting steeper and steeper, and we began to notice the altitude effects. The path became rockier as we went along, and we gained and lost quite a lot of height today, which will help with the acclimatisation. I used my poles today for the first time, and they certainly help, they are great for balance and also mean that you are using your arms to take some of the strain off your legs. We had a couple of breaks today, and had lunch high on a rock overlooking thick, green valleys of vegetation, cucumber sandwiches, how civilised, chicken wings and the ever present boiled egg. The last part of todays trek was pretty hard going, a LOT of uphill work, very steep, like climbing an endless staircase, with a bit of a “don’t look down” feeling. We reached camp by 3pm, filthy, tired and happy that we had done a good day’s work. As we approached camp, we were met with the stunning sight of the peak of Kilimanjaro for the first time. There was some cloud cover, but wow...how humbling to be stood in front of the iconic snow-capped mountain.
The dust over the last two days has been amazing- even things that you think are impenetrable just aren’t- there is a thick red and grey coating over everything. Including me. We were given a small bowl of washing water when we arrived at camp, and with Tara’s help I decided to wash my hair, which was a surprisingly difficult task. The camp is quite barren, with no noticeable wildlife, apart from these huge, evil-looking crows, which come a little too close for comfort.
I have a slight headache now developing, it feels like my head is being slowly squeezed in a vice grip, a couple of paracetemol every few hours is necessary at this altitude to relieve the pain! I listened to my Ipod (Vampire Weekend) for an hour or so whilst I wrote my journal, which was great- two days without music was starting to get to me.
I am writing todays entry from Shira camp. Last night we had a few disastrous attempts at washing some clothes through as everything is so filthy, but we hung our t-shirts and socks out to dry and forgot to take them in, so we awoke this morning to a few frozen solid t-shirts. Dinner last night was meat curry, with the inevitable soup to start, and bed by 8.20pm as after you have eaten there is little to do and it’s so ferociously cold that your sleeping bag is calling. Last night as we all traipsed to bed, we looked up to see an astounding night sky- clear and crisp with copious amounts of stars- no light pollution means that the night skies here are spectacular. The evenings are clear until about 7pm when the fog/mist rolls in, which looks eerie and also makes the temperature drop quite dramatically.
Something I feel that I should mention here is the dirt- I think it’s getting to some people now and I don’t mind admitting that I'm one of them. If I can even begin to describe, I will start at the top and work down. My hair is matted together and to my head with sweat, dust and general grime. My face has permanent black streaks across it and my pores are ingrained with grime...giving the appearance of a severe blackhead issue. I have a constant blurred vision from the dust in my eyes; my mouth tastes less than inviting due to the chlorine purifying tablets that we have to use in the water. My ears are, as everything is, blocked with dirt. My shoulders are covered in blister plasters from the rubbing of my rucksack. My armpits are starting to resemble those of a Mexican wrestler- as are my legs- i.e., hairy and pungent. As we are wearing the same clothes for days at a time, so the dirt never leaves you, you just add to it. Oh, did I mention my nose? No? Oh, well it’s full of dust and the altitude is making it run, so I have a black tar-like substance running down my face most of the time. And then there’s my feet...although actually I think that they are probably one of the best parts of me, and clean as they have been in socks and boots all day every day.
So, back to last night, and another side effect of altitude is the flatulence. So not only, as you snake your way up the mountain do you often get a faceful of someone’s fart, but ones tent is becoming unbearable after dark. You pray that you fall asleep quickly, if only to avoid a face full of methane. But no such luck- last night it took 3 hours before I fell asleep, another side effect of altitude is the inability to sleep well- although it doesn’t seem to be bothering Mike, who has had 8-10 hours a night since we arrived! It probably doesn’t help that every time I lie down, I need to wee, so have to begin the rigmarole of re-dressing, putting boots on and clambering out of the tent into the dark and the cold to pee in a chemical toilet in a tent some distance away.
I slept until 6.28am, and then the usual morning routine of a strip wash, Tara and I giggling away behind a rock at our ingenious private washing positions, followed by breakfast and then packing up your tent and heading off.
Todays walk was relatively short, just 3 hours at a slight gradient to help with acclimatisation. The best part of todays trip was that the peak was in sight at all points, so it was satisfying (and a little daunting) to be stumbling towards our challenge as it stood there so gracefully. I listened to my IPod for some of the walk as I felt a bit sad today, so a bit of Prince was drafted in to cheer me up. We arrived in camp and Tara and I set up our tent- we are like an old married couple now, I always sleep to her left, and we set out our bags and sleeping stuff with military precision. Then it was lunchtime, chicken, pancakes and, of course, soup.
I am writing this entry sitting on a rock, looking out over the desert-like terrain of Kilimanjaro whilst listening to Mumford and Sons, and pinching myself to make sure that it’s not all a dream. Steve is wondering around taking photos, Mike is asleep on a rock, and the rest of the team are pottering around, trying to fill the time before dinner. Tara and I decide to set up a beauty salon in our tent and spend the next few hours talking, plucking, moisturising and putting on make-up. Very girly I know.
As we sit down to dinner the most spectacular sunset begins, it was so beautiful it was almost hypnotic, every colour you could imagine, just what you think an African sunset SHOULD look like. And because we are camping so high, the colours reflect off the clouds, shooting shafts of light through the air. George, Steve, Andy and I play a round of music quiz questions out of a book, and then head off to bed.
This day has been marked out to be the hardest day on the mountain bar the summit day, so beginning with only a few hours sleep and in a lot of pain from constantly hunching my shoulders up in the night in a (failed) attempt to get warm. Still, piling out of my tent at 6.08am in my thermals and duvet jacket to the sight of the sun rising over Mount Kilimanjaro’s snow-capped peak was unbelievable. Being above the clouds makes you feel as though you could throw yourself onto them and simply bounce back. I wouldn’t recommend it, mind. Washing in minus degrees out of a small, dirty bowl in front of your Chief Exec, colleagues, 9 strangers and 45 porters and camp staff, although not my favourite pastime, is now the norm, and after breakfast, we head off into the morning sun, slowly (Pole Pole as the guides say) but surely. We breaked regularly, but I found the first couple of hours hard going. The altitude means that one is constantly gasping for breath, and it takes a while to get your breathing into a rhythm. At this point I did wonder whether I was capable of completing this challenge, but soon snapped out of that mindset- you have to really- and the next 4 hours I really enjoyed. We went to the highest altitude of the trip so far today- 4,500M. Charlie vomited at the top, and there were a lot of headaches, nausea and dizziness. A lot of the team struggled with today, but we all pulled together and supported each other throughout the day. The terrain today was scree, stone and sand and I slipped over several times, which unfortunately knocked my confidence a bit. The views were stunning- especially the old glacier, which I found slightly emotional as it is no longer snow-capped...global warming in obvious action. The weather was cold but sunny and my burnt nose will look particularly attractive later in the day! Getting to Barranca camp was hard- it was as if someone kept moving the camp further away every time we got near. But eventually we arrived, and Tara, Lianne and I had another successful hair wash, and also managed to use the water to clean some knickers- bonus. Every night we take water bottles to bed with hot water in (its boiled to sterilise it), which also serves a purpose of keeping us warm...and if you wrap damp clothes around them then they dry...this was the night that I dried my pants on Andy’s water bottle....sorry Andy. Dinner was pasta and sauce (preceded by cucumber soup), and after dinner, Lianne and I retired to our boudoir to read. And fart.
Thank god, a good night’s sleep- 9pm-1am and 2am-5.30am. 7.5 hours. Nice. Waking up to a wet sleeping bag (frost!) not nice. Funny things happening because of the altitude now, Lianne’s eyes puffing up, and this odd thing that we are calling word substitution- where one seems to say the wrong word as your brain just seems to be frozen! For example, Mike wondered off today to pack his cat. My eyes are constantly weeping, which I thought was the dust, but AC seems to think that people who have had laser eye surgery (as I did 4 years ago) sometimes suffer at altitude. Today was, in my view, the hardest day so far. We left camp at 8.30am to being the climb over the fabled Barranco Wall. This is a hardcore rock face that takes 1.5-2 hours to climb and involves some scramble climbing (exactly what it sounds) Up until this point I have been more than happy with my personal progress, and so proud of our team, but this day was so challenging for me mentally that I struggled. The physical exertion side was fine, but climbing the wall was petrifying. You had to balance across rocks with sheer drops down and at one point (the point where I started hyperventilating through sheer terror), there was a part where you had to cling to the rock face and work your way around. It was one of the most terrifying things I have done and I'm not even scared of heights. I just hung there, thinking that I couldn’t get round...and then the lovely Rhian came to my rescue, a trainee doctor, she dropped back behind Jon, her boyfriend to coax me round, and then for the next half an hour or so, stuck with me, showing me every hand and foothold and eventually got me to the next water break, where embarrassingly I burst into tears. But my teammates were so lovely and supportive that it didn’t last long, and scoffing a whole bar of chocolate soon made me feel better. I found getting to the top of the wall pretty emotional, but I'm sure that I was just physically drained. I spoke to my Dad, sobbing down the phone to him about my achievement, who proceeded to tell me that he had managed to climb the stairs on his own that day and that my 9 week old brother had done a poo. Helpful. So, we carried on up the damn hill. One recommendation if anyone reading this ever attempts Kili is to eat a fair bit on the way up- you really do need the energy- cereal bars, nuts, cookies and sweets are perfect, and I got through them like there was no tomorrow (there was always a chance that there might not be!). It’s said that you burn 3,000-5,000 calories per day because of the temperature and exercise.
Arriving at camp, it began to rain- for the first time since we left the UK, so we spent a fair bit of time in the mess tent, playing cards. I'm sleeping on my own tonight.
We had our briefing for summit day before dinner, so that we could work out what to wear/what to carry and what to expect. We will do 3-5 hours walking in the morning, spend the afternoon at camp tomorrow, try to get some sleep before we get woken up at 11pm to start our summit attempt at midnight....and then we have to get back down (approx 3 hours) to the camp and then trek 3-5 hours to the next camp. Sounds horrid. But exciting!
So breakfast is getting a little boring now, my own fault as I am a creature of habit and tend to have the same thing each day. One benefit if being in a tent on your own as I was last night- I had space, and could wash in it. Nice. So off we went, a merry band of trekkers, excited but apprehensive of the 30 odd hours in front of us. The first hour of today everyone seemed to struggle with, but the dulcet sounds of Nick’s belching were a strange comfort, and I am getting very familiar with the shape and size of all of my fellow trekkers backsides, as it tends to be where you look a fair amount of the time! We got to Barafu camp, and I am with Tara tonight, well, I say tonight, but we aren’t really sleeping for the reasons mentioned earlier.
Woken up at 11pm by Moses, our local guide, we layer up- 3 layers all over, plus foot warmers, hand warmers, a buff, scarf, 2 hats, and then congregate in the mess tent for porridge and lots of water. And then, with our head torches on, looking like some strange giant glow-worm, we head to the start of the summit.
I am not sure that I will ever be able to do justice to the sheer hell that some of the team (and myself) went through on summit night, but I will try to give an honest account without my usual over dramatisation!
The walk was immediately taxing due to the altitude- we started out at 4,600M, so every step was laboured, if only because of the breathing. We were walking “pole pole” and it felt like we were making very little progress. The temperature got down to about -10 degrees, so fingers, toes and noses were frozen from the start. Its pitch black, so you are relying on your head torch and watching the person in front of you. You use your poles and also your hands to scramble over rock and flint and people barely talk (unlike the previous days!) as you simply can’t. You can’t use an iPod unless you have had it next to your body as it will have frozen (as will your drinking water), and when you stop for about 5 minutes in every 45 minutes, you wonder if you will ever be able to get going again. I was unable to go to the toilet, as there is nowhere private to go, so if you DID need to, it was squat and go whilst the boys turned their backs like gentlemen- if that’s not enough to give you stage fright, I don’t know what is! Passing other groups on the way up, you soon become aware of the people who are suffering as you hear the odd wretch as someone empties out the cereal bars and porridge from breakfast, but seeing someone stretchered down is definitely not good for the old motivation! So we set out at 12.08am and walked out of the camp into the night, following Moses to begin a very slow ascent up from Barafu camp. The first thing to note is that I wasn’t cold, which surprised me, but I had obviously kitted myself out well- I have a fear of being cold, so had bought EVERYTHING I could in order to avoid that- including self-heating hand and feet warmers! It was amazing to see the snaking line of head torches behind and above us- the ones above us looking like they are floating in mid air because of the steep incline that they were slowly crawling up.
After an hour, we stopped, having covered about 120M, we were climbing some easy rock faces...but it isn’t that easy when you have so many layers, a backpack and the air is so thin. Each break saw the guides checking each one of us over, making us drink water/eat food etc. After 3 hours, my nose was running and the snot had frozen to my face. I like to think that this was one of my most beautiful moments. My fingers and toes had no feeling left, despite the “toasties”, although part of this was rectified once Nick realised I was wearing my liner gloves, not my proper ones! By now, I was counting every step, one per pound that someone had sponsored me (I began to curse those of you who sponsored me more than £20). After 4 hours, we were all exhausted but spirits were high. It was the biggest boost to stop for water and see your teammates urging each other on. Amanda was really suffering now, with altitude sickness, but she put a brave face on it and soldiered on. Tara had hypothermia, Lianne had pretty bad altitude sickness, Patrick was cursing like a trooper, Steve had a terrible headache and nausea, only The Doctors and the boys, George and Charlie seemed to be flying up. By now, every time we took a break, I had the urge to have a “lie down”, all I wanted to do was sleep. By now I had Steve behind me, and George in front of me, both giving words of encouragement and urging me on...I don’t think that I was much use to them, but Steve did say afterwards that it took his mind off what he was doing when he was helping me! By hour 5, I decided that the IPod was the only way forward; I had a motivational playlist all set up and ready to go. One problem. After 4 hours of walking up a hill in minus 10 temperatures, my IPod had frozen. I think at this point I contemplated hurling myself back down the damn mountain. We had been told that the sun would rise at around 5.30, and then we would have some warmth and light, so I was now on countdown, with “Here comes the Sun” going round on a loop on my internal jukebox. Thinking that the sun would lift the unbearable cold and utter miserable-ness of the situation, it became my focus- what could be better than a beautiful sunrise near the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro? Liars. The sun took an age to rise, eventually showing through at past 6am. By now I felt like I was in a lot of trouble- physically I could have bounded up the mountain, but the air was so thin, that every step I was trying to catch my breath.
I still had George in front of me and Steve behind me, my personal cheerleaders, and the three of us were stopping whenever we could to load up with more water and glucose tablets. As the sun came up, I knew that we were about 1.5 hours away from the summit, and we had been climbing for 6 hours. I really struggled to find the strength at this point to carry on, I had to dig pretty deep to keep going, but seeing Ed and Charlie laughing at the absurdity of it all, seeing Nick urging Amanda on, watching Andy Brookfield listening to his IPod (how come his worked and mine didn’t!!???) and still smiling was enough to keep me going.
We were now at Stella Point, just an hour away from the summit. We couldn’t NOT make it- all 14 of us were determined to summit, and I have never seen support like it- everyone was helping each other, encouraging each other and pushing on up the mountain. By now, George was walking BACKWARDS up the hill, urging me on with every step- like some kind of motivational preacher, and Steve was telling me that, despite my insistence that they go on ahead, that we would all get there together.I kept trying to walk, feeling physically able, but it was impossible to breathe properly- 5 steps, break, 5 steps, break etc...
Every turn after Stella Point was SUPPOSED to be the summit, but it became a bit of a joke, because every time we thought we were there, there was further to go. Then, finally at 7am, we could see the summit and sign informing us that we had reached Uhuru Peak. \Only problem was that it was 100 yards away...which took exactly 22 minutes. We arrived just after Rhian and Jon and Amanda and Nick had summitted, making us the 5/6/7th people from the group to summit. We were followed by Andy and Mike, and then the rest in an order I can’t remember!
It was a strange feeling getting to the top, not really a sense of euphoria, just relief, a few hugs, photos and then a creeping realisation that what goes up, must come down. After about 20 minutes at the summit, you can’t stay up there for much more; we began the descent, me crying on Ed’s shoulder through the sheer exhaustion of it all. We met Lianne and Tara coming up, and they summated shortly after, following some hopefully encouraging words. The scree run down was horrendous, with Rhian, Nick and Steve and I fantasising about helicopters and plush hotels.
3 hours later and nearly 11 hours since I left it, we arrived back in the camp, battered, bruised, emotional and relieved. I collapsed onto my sleeping mat, one of the camp staff, Charles bought me an ice cold glass of pineapple juice, took my boots off and I promptly fell asleep. Ten minutes later, I woke to hear other team members arriving back in camp and heard that all 14 of us had made it. Brilliant.
The hitch was that after lunch, we still had to walk to the next camp- further than originally thought as there was contaminated water at the camp we had planned to stay at. There wasn’t an option not to as it would have been dangerous to spend another night at that altitude. However, there was a positive...a rumour spread like wildfire that the camp sold beer. So off we trotted. 4.5 hours later, having been up for 36 hours, walked for 16 of them and feeling like I had nothing left to give, we arrived at our final camp, for a final festival shower (baby wipes!), a beer, and......some soup. Again. However, this time it was followed by chicken and chips. Bonus. A few of us stayed up chatting, and re-living the experience and then I collapsed, exhausted into my bed for a well deserved sleep...and some fantastic dreams....
A non-freezing awakening at 6.50am was a luxury, I guess we were all so tired that we slept through the usual camp morning noises. After deciding to skip a wash, we had breakfast and began what was being referred to as “The Long Walk to Freedom”- the 3.5 hour trek through the jungle to Moshi Gate, at the bottom of Kilimanjaro. The walk was awkward, a lot of mud and tree roots, just waiting to trip you up- I was convinced one of us would end up breaking a leg! But we managed to avoid the boulders that were lying in wait for our tired legs, and there was a cheer when the gate came into view. So, 9 days later, The summit at 5985M achieved, and around 70KM trekked, we signed out of the gate (Katy Moses, 29, Cheerleader) and jumped on the buses back to the Keys hotel, salivating at the thought of a glass of wine and a shower. The journey back was fascinating, and hour through Tanzanian villages, where a lot of the locals were in their Sunday best on the way to church. We had already given out all of the tips to the porters and camp staff at the gate, but Moses, Dennis and Emmanuel were joining us back at the hotel for lunch. My shower was...well, I don’t think I can describe it...and slipping on a clean sundress, and sitting on the veranda with a cold glass of wine was long awaited...but worth the wait! We had an emotionally charged lunch, a lovely speech from Ed, and then certificates given out by Moses. We all thought this might be a bit twee, but it wasn’t- the celebration of what we had achieved was well deserved. We took a team photo, and then spent another hour or so chatting and relaxing before we boarded the buses for the journey to the airport.
And there you have it, my trip to Tanzania to climb the highest free standing mountain in the world, in all its gory detail. I apologise to my team mates if I have forgotten anything or misinformed, it would have been impossible to really do justice the relationships and bonds that we all formed, or to describe what tremendous human beings I think you all are. I enjoyed every second (yes, even summit night!) that I spent with you all and hope that we all remain friends- I am proud of us all for what we have achieved, and know that it was the support that we all gave each other that enabled us to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. Now, I had best go, before I cry, and besides, I need to start my training for Cho Oyu....