We decided it was time for an adventure trip and wanted to do something for a charity we had an affinity with for children born deaf. We became aware of a charity that supports parents and families to get funding for cochlear implants and ongoing support. So, my partner and I thought what could be a big enough challenge that would warrant a worthy fundraiser. well, it turned out to be a Kilimanjaro climb.
Quick fact check, Kilimanjaro is the highest dormant volcanic mountain in Africa, the largest free standing mountain in the world. It is 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) in height above sea level and takes between 5-9 days to reach the peak depending on the route you take. A walk in the park you might say, ha.
So, it was the first day to meet and great our team at Gatwick airport, we had a group of 7 of us in total and all excited for the trip. First stop Kenya before grabbing a connecting flight to Tanzania, which was a bit ropey on a two propeller miniature aircraft, but we survived. It turns out we are on a 6 day climb the more intermediate route called the Machame route, AKA the whiskey route. This is usually done between 6-9 days. It would be 4 days to accent and 2 days back down the whiskey route for us.
There was a full itinerary for us when we arrived at the heart of Tanzania, the south west side of the mountain for the trek to begin. I was looking around and noticed more people at the gate of the mountain. There were lots of people warming up and stretching, now , we both had trained for this and put in some time climbing etc but I started to think to myself is this a race because my partner and I haven’t trained enough to compete in mountain climbing just yet. Lots of fit people and even paragliders who were going to fly straight off the mountain. There was a buzz and a sort of positive energy around, something you would expect and feel at the start of any big event. The air was humid and all you could see for miles was forest and plantation.
We headed over to the cabins to get assigned our porters and get a light refreshment. The heat was hot but bearable (at the moment) we also met with our guide and our camp doctor who would be joining us for the first time too, reassuring aye?
It was approximately 8am and the trek begun in the rain forest. There was a lot of beauty and wildlife to see from the very start. The weather started to turn after a good couple of hours in and I will never forget the hailing rain witch would be on and off for the next hour that kept having us stop and put our wet jackets on. It was said from the start that this would be the longest day and they were right. 8 hours and 7 miles later, oh and drenched, we arrived at our first camp Machame Camp. We were greeted by our porters who were singing and dancing and had already set up our tents. There was a lovely smell of cooking coming from one of the tents, so we went to have a look. The tent was set out with tables and chairs and for dinner it was vegetable soup, chicken and rice, bread, fruit and soft drinks. After dinner and a quick chat about the day we all decided to retire to out tents for a much-needed rest.
We woke to the sound of wild birds, ravens, hornbills, and even colobus monkeys. It was around 7am when everyone surfaced, and we were given a oatmeal style porridge with fruit for breakfast. There were also some nice pastries to get your energy up, or at least that was my reasoning after eating a couple, they were lovely. We leave the glades of the rain forest and continue an ascending path up to a steep, rocky ridge. On the Shira Plateau, this was a point where the climb begun. You have a rock face that needs to be negotiated up and over to the other side where we pass open moorlands, then cross a large river gorge to Shira 2 Camp. It was another 6 hour day and we reached our second camp, Shira camp, we are now at Shira camp 12,000 feet. Again, greeted by our porters with smiles, singing and dancing.
It was a tough night for me that night, I didn’t sleep very well, which I think was due to the winds and being up at altitude. We all made a group effort to clear up camp after breakfast and got ready for another steep climb of around 4,000 feet over 4 miles, up and down for climatization purposes. We continue to the east up a ridge and then head southeast towards the Lava Tower – a 300 ft tall volcanic rock formation. Next, we tackle the Great Barranco wall which is basically a 900ft cliff. We descend to Barranco Camp through the strange but beautiful Senecio Forest to an altitude of 13,000 ft. Although you begin and end the day at the same elevation, the time spent at higher altitude is very beneficial for acclimatization. This time we were arriving the same time as the porters, and we all mucked in to form camp. We are now at Barranko camp. That night we had more time to socialize as we made good progress. We played cards, watched the sun set, and had dinner around the fire.
The next morning we leave Barranko camp and head through the alpine desert to our next camp 5 hours away. We continue up to the rocky section to Barafu Hut. At this point, we have completed the Southern Circuit, which offers views of the summit from many different angles. Here we make camp, rest and enjoy an early dinner again to prepare for the summit day. The two peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo are viewable from where we are and the sites are breath taking. We are now at Barafu camp 15,000 feet and some people are starting to get a bit sicky. The next day is summit day and we all retire early for a midnight start.
Day five – Summit Day.
We all got around a few hours rest that evening and set of into the night with our head torches aiming for Uhuru Peak. This was the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the climb. The wind and cold at this elevation and time of day was extreme. We ascend in the darkness for several hours while taking frequent, but short, breaks. The air was thin, and it was difficult to move very fast.
Now at 18,000 ft we are at base camp, the final stop before summit. The guides had said that it wasn’t that busy and we should be able to get the perfect time to ascend before sunrise. With other camps near by having also quiet chattering, it seemed a bit of an ominous feeling. It soon became apparent after a half an hour or so there were people being carried back down. All that was in my mind was to get up there, but I did worry that not everyone from our newly formed family would make it. At this point there wasn’t one person from the other camps that we spoke to that didn’t have some sort of injury, story of injury from their group. The tiredness didn’t help either everyone was broken.
It was our turn to go, we have 3,000ft to cover, it’s artic conditions and we are starting to see light it’s now around 5am. We all push on.
On the final stretch I looked behind me while pushing my partner up a gigantic boulder to within 50m of the peak and I see the oldest lady on our team at the back, she was being carried along but still pushing with all she had, you could see the determination in her. We finally reached the summit there was a sense of pure emotions everyone from our group had made it. The whole spirit was amazing and there was this huge elevation of togetherness that you would only normally get from a loved one or family member, you know the hugging and kissing bit. We all had a few moments to take in the sunrise on the mountain and over the African savanna. It was a special moment for sure.
Because of the lack of oxygen at the peak you don’t have any more than 20 minutes before oxygen becomes a problem. From the summit we descended straight down to the Mweka Hut camp site, stopping at Barafu for lunch. The trail was very rocky and was quite hard on the knees trekking poles were helpful. We enjoy our last dinner on the mountain and a well-earned sleep.
On our last day, we continued the descent coming back down the south east side through the rain forest and to Mweka Gate where we collected our summit certificates. We popped the bubbly and enjoyed a good hour with our porters. We were so grateful we donated some cloths, I actually gave a young man my boots after seeing him in flip flops going up the mountain. From the mountain we headed to Mweka Village and drove back to the hotel.
On reflection of the whole experience, it fills me with gratitude and humbleness to know there is power in nature that touches the soul, you know when you peak, you feel it.