Kilimanjaro: We did it!

SUMMARY

I have now been home for a few weeks and so many people have asked me how it was and how I got on, but it is so difficult to actually put the whole Kilimanjaro experience into words.  I have to be honest it still all feels a little like a dream, an out of body experience and completely surreal.
On one side I experienced the most spectacular sights, different landscapes & terrain, temperatures and climates. I started in shorts and t-shirts in 30 degree heat finishing up at the summit in a freezing -20 degrees and wearing every item of clothing I had with me. I looked like the Michelin man!
We walked through farmland, alpine forest, barren land, glaciers, snow capped mountains, moorland and finally the rainforest. It was incredible.

Then the other side..........
Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the hardest and most challenging thing I have ever put myself through. Mentally, physically and emotionally.
Everyday became a little harder, everyday was a little more challenging. 
Altitude does very strange things to your body. The higher we climbed the harder the days became. You are physically pushing your body and it is having to work on 40% less oxygen.
Headaches, struggling to get your breath, vomiting and your body feels like a dead weight. The smallest of tasks become so hard to carry out. Big steps turn to little steps, then little steps turn to a shuffle.
Several times I found myself asking "why am I doing this, why have I chosen to spend my time and my money to feel this way?”
I was delirious on the summit day (this can be quite a common affect from altitude) and I'm pretty sure this is the reason none of it feels real.



I shared the experience with 13 amazing people. From the moment we met there was a sense of camaraderie. We became a team and a family, looking after each other every step of the way.
The age ranged from 20's to 50's with a perfect balance of boys and girls.

For 14 of us taking on this challenge we required 48 guides, assistant guides, chef, porters and assistant porters.
The army of people were amazing and there was no way that we would have made it to the summit without their hard work, support, knowledge and care.

The guides were very knowledgeable and educated me about Kilimanjaro national park. They are such strong positive people and I can't thank them enough for helping and encouraging me to make it to the summit.
Our porters put us to shame, each carrying 20kg from one camp to the next on their heads and then also having to carry all of their own clothes and food for the 6 day trip on their back.
While we were setting off from camp to walk to our next site, the porters would be packing up camp. Within no time at all they had passed us, and by the time we made it to our new home for that night, the porters had put our tents up and were waiting with tea, coffee and cake for us.
The chef did an amazing job, preparing and making 3 meals a day for us. All of the food has to travel with us from day 1. There’s no supermarket or Tesco local on the way!

Breakfast consisted of porridge, omelette, toast and peanut butter, bacon and pancakes. For variety we were sometimes served sausages or fried potatoes with bacon.
Lunch was always soup, followed by sandwiches or chip omelette (a Tanzanian speciality) and then some form of cake or fruit.
Dinner was more soup, followed by anything from stew and rice, fish and potato or some form of pasta, then we would be served up cake and fruit.

DAY 1. Approx 3-4 hours walking.

The first day is only a half-day walk on a small path that winds through farmland and pine plantations. It was a gentle climb through beautiful rainforest. It was an easy day and when we arrived at camp, we then had another walk to acclimatise to the next elevation. We walked up hill for 20 minutes. Waited 20 minutes at that elevation then back to camp.

 

I can remember saying to Stephen, fellow climber and camp comedian, “I hope it gets harder than this". Oh it certainly did.

The highlight of that day and a magical moment of the evening was, after an amazing meal, leaving the mess tent and heading to bed. We were greeted by the most amazing stars and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. Stars brighter than I have ever seen before and the sky was all lit up. We all stood there for a moment in silence staring at the sky and took in the wonder of the mountain by night.

DAY 2. Approx 6-7 hours walking

We left everything green behind and all wildlife seems to stop existing. We enter a barren land. Rachel, my camp buddy, says "I can only imagine this is what it's like on the moon".
It's not beautiful, it's like another planet.
You start seeing your above the cloud line, it's truly another world.

At this altitude I can still talk easily and stride out.

 

DAY 3. Approx 3-4 hours walking. 

We started the day with blue skies and sunshine. But we finished our walk in a white out, only seeing the next step in front of us. Snow and ice showers.

The mountain became eerie and I felt I was on the set of Lord of the Rings.
It was tough underfoot the ground was uneven and steep.

After relaxing and refuelling our bodies that afternoon we walked to a higher elevation to allow our bodies to acclimatise to a new height.

Day 4. Approx 5-6 hours walking

The morning of Day 4

It starts getting really tough.
Altitude starts to affect me.
My head feels like it's going to explode.
The pain was unbearable.

You can see where you’re going but with every step it does not seem to get any closer.
It's barren desert land.
Breathing got harder, my body felt heavier, I lost the art of communication.

I lost my appetite and even when we were told to stop for breaks and to re energise our bodies, I couldn't seem to eat or drink anything.

When we finally arrived at base camp I was so physically and emotionally drained I just wanted to find my tent and collapse.

I was forced to have a picture and it took every last bit of energy I had to muster up a smile for that photo.

Each day had become a little harder, but you found excitement in what the next day would bring. This day was so hard, I had no enthuiasm for the next day. In fact it filled me with fear.
As soon as I entered my tent and my head hit my pillow I was asleep.

We were woken a few hours later to be fed and briefed. PMA was the one thing we were told to leave the camp with. Positive metal attitude was the only way any of us would make it to the summit.

6pm we went to bed, knowing we had a wake-up call at 11pm to start our journey to the summit.
I couldn't sleep. I couldn't switch the thoughts or the fear off.

Day 5. Approx 15 hours.

We are woken up at 11pm.
For the 1st time our mess tent is silent.
We know we have to eat but no one seems to have an appetite.

It’s -20 degrees outside. We start the final, and by far the steepest and most demanding, part of the climb by torchlight at midnight. We're already at 4,700m and we still have another 1,195m to climb.

We plod very slowly in darkness and cold in single file on a switchback trail.  My body is so heavy and it takes so much effort just to put one foot in front of the other. Every 2 hours I have to take pain relief as my head feels like it's about to explode. I can't seem to get my breath and have to stop every few steps to try and get oxygen into my lungs.

We take breaks every 45 minutes. All we want to know is how far we still have to go. The guides are amazing. They encourage us, sing to us and push us to keep plodding to the next level. I have to constantly tell myself it doesn't hurt, I can make it, I'm not going to be sick, I won't vomit. 

I did vomit.

The guide squeezes my stomach to push all of the vomit out of my body. I want to go back to camp.
I'm told "you have 20 minutes and then you're there".

I finally arrive at Gillman’s point. The sun’s coming up. My group are emotional. I'm surrounded by tears, pictures, and emotions. All I can do is collapse. My thoughts are of fear, not knowing how I will be able to get up the mountain and back to camp.

From Gillman’s point you can see the summit. I'm encouraged to carry on walking even though all I want to do is go back down. I did plod to the summit. And vomit again.

As we walk to the summit the views are incredible. I can't take it in as I'm too exhausted. We are so lucky to have a clear day, blue skies and sunshine. You can see for miles and the contrast of desert, ice, snow, blue sky and sunshine are incredible.


I made it to the summit and I broke down and cried. The emotion is impossible to describe, what you've achieved, why you have done it, what you have done.

We had pictures but were soon rushed off the summit to make our way back down to base camp. With the lack of oxygen you are only allowed 20 minutes at the top. So the guides are very pushy and really do want to hurry you back to base camp.

I became a little delirious at this point. I knew where I needed to get to but I'm not quite sure how I got there. I just did. It took 8.5 hrs to get to the top and only 1.5 hrs to get back down.

I was asleep by 10.45. In the morning.

When I was woken up, I was very unsure of what I had done, what had happened or if it had even happened. It all felt like a dream.

I'm pretty sure the reason they get you to walk at midnight is so you can't see the summit, so you can't see how far you have left to go. If you could, you'd give up before you even got to the half way point. It was torture. It was gruelling. It was the hardest thing I have ever asked myself to do. After food we are asked to leave base camp and head to our next home.

We walked for 5 hours to get to our next home, still delirious, still exhausted, still unsure of what has just happened.

Day 6. Approx 5-6 hours walking.

My favourite day by far.

Not sure if this is because we are going down and every step I take it becomes easier to breath, or if it's because I know I’m heading home, or if I know soon I can have a shower, or I can have a glass of wine or a can of coke. I'm not sure. But it was a beautiful day. Walking through that rainforest seeing the wildlife, monkeys, waterfalls and greenery. The trees were so incredibly beautiful, I loved every step I took and every corner I turned.

What I loved more was when I finally left the park. I had that 1st can of coke. The sugar, the sweetness and the cold tasted amazing. I had a shower. I slept in a bed. They were the best feelings ever.

I made it.  

The porters and guides celebrated us completing our 6 day climb

After we'd finished the Kilimanjaro expedition and had left the park, we headed to Zanzibar for a few days of well earned R&R. It was a time of reflection on what we'd achieved and what the trip had to meant to us. Here's a snapshot of those feelings from the team.

A time for reflection