Climbing Kilimanjaro – my story
In September 2018 I decided I wanted to do something to see how far I could push myself both mentally and physically whilst raising money for a great cause. I booked to climb Mount Kilimanjaro through Discover Adventure – located in Tanzania and standing at 5895 meters above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.
The climb would take 4.5 days plus 1.5 day to descent, the steep unpredictable terrain coupled with the altitude would certainly be the challenge I was looking for and very much a change from my web design day job. After roping in two of my friends to join me I began fundraising for Salisbury Hospice – a charity close to my heart which looked after both my Nan and my wife Lucy’s grandfather during their last days. So far, I have managed to raise over £3000 with more donations continuing to come in. Read below to find out more about my adventure…
After flying from Heathrow to Nairobi and then catching an internal flight to Kilimanjaro airport, we finally arrived at our hotel ready for the start of our adventure. After meeting Helen from Discover Adventure and the other group members we set off from Machame Gate at 10am which is already at an elevation of 1800 meters.
At this point we were all full of enthusiasm for the next 7 hours of walking which lay ahead. We set off through the rainforest, the terrain was incredibly steep and therefore we had to go very slowly (poli poli), the weather was hot, so much so, despite applying sun cream, I managed to burn my neck, which is still peeling to this very day.
We carried 5 litres of water each every day which we were advised to drink throughout the day in order to prevent altitude sickness – as you can imagine, there were toilet breaks aplenty! With an elevation of 2835 meters, we arrived at Machame Camp at 5pm for some hot food and an early night.
We were woken at 5.30am, the temperature had dropped to -5 degrees and I found myself with the first signs of altitude sickness – a mild headache which lasted the rest of the trip!
We started walking for 6 hours up boulders - the rainforest was beginning to end, the trees had disappeared and we started to walk on a path through fern... imagine going on the stair master at the gym for 6 hours, and that may give you an insight into how we felt when we arrived (above the clouds) at Shira Cave Camp – with an elevation of 3750 meters above sea level.
During the evening, the porters, who were absolute troopers in carrying our kit along with their own endeavoured to keep our spirits high by singing local songs. Unfortunately, the first member of our group dropped out today due to altitude sickness. We enjoyed another cooked meal and another early night.
We were woken up at 5.30am again after a disturbed night’s sleep – although I was sleeping, the sleep quality wasn’t good, and I was waking up every 45 minutes. My resting heartbeat, when even just laying down was over 100bpm whilst my body was trying to deal with the lack of oxygen.
Today was going to be a big test on altitude – we were climbing up as high as 4600 meters above sea level to Lava Tour before dropping down to 3900 meters to sleep. The reason we climb high and sleep low is purely to adapt the change in oxygen levels.
The terrain was “Mars like” very rocky and unsteady under your feet. During this day we all found it hard and the first signs of some members really struggling were beginning to show – this was the first, and not the last day I cried.
What I didn’t realise after being woken up at the unearthly hour of 4.45am, was that day 4 was not only going to be the hardest day of this trip for me, but in fact, my life. I was force feeding myself as I had no appetite, so was given steroids later in the day in order to help increase my appetite as food was my fuel and I couldn’t run the risk on running on empty.
We started off my climbing the Barraco Wall which was huge, it took 2 hours to climb up it before spending the rest of the day walking up and down hills in very hot weather. We had lunch at 10.30am and arrived at Base Camp at 4pm which stands at 4900 meters above sea level – unfortunately today, two other team members left the trip, one pulled out, but the other, my friend, was advised by the doctor he couldn’t continue. He had high altitude pulmonary edema which is a life-threatening condition where fluid was on his lungs so to continue the trip wouldn’t have been deadly.
I was absolutely exhausted to the point I couldn’t unzip my bag to get my sleep mat out– everything seemed to require so much energy which I just didn’t have. I tried to eat something and went to bed at 5pm knowing we were going to woken at 11pm for summit night.
Day 5; Summit Night
After 6 hours of terrible sleep, we were woken at 11pm to start the summit. I was given porridge (which is more like gruel….) just as we were about to go, another team member dropped out. With some music in one ear and a head torch on we started walking in absolute darkness, uphill and very slowly.
During the 7-hour uphill walk, people were being very sick, suffering from dizziness and becoming delusional, luckily for me, the only thing that remained was the headache which I had on Day 2. The lack of air was hard, and it became almost impossible to breathe.
We arrived at Stella Point just as the sun rose, but we still had 45 minutes to get to Uhuru Peak which at the summit stands 5985 meters above sea level. As we walked to the peak, we were surrounded by other zombie like walkers – some were being carried either to the peak or back down the mountain and people were still vomiting, but I MADE IT!
The overall relief of making it to Uhuru Peak gave me a second wind and after some photographs, I quickly got myself back down to base camp to try and breath easier. The downhill walk was a killer on the knees. When we got back to basecamp, we had a quick lunchbreak and then a 2 hour walk to Millennium Camp (just because we hadn’t walked enough that day….) for a well-deserved sleep.
Day 6 was our last morning at camp and we had to walk for 6 hours through the rainforests back to the exit – it was at the point many people, including me began to get nose bleeds, again, due to the change in altitude.
Once we got down, we had to sign out and we were met by our team members who had to drop out for various reasons. After 6 days of drinking only water I was given a glass of cola which was the best drink I think I’ve ever had.
I managed a very emotional phone call to my wife before getting a minibus back to the hotel for a much-needed shower. During the evening, the hotel put on a celebration meal and entertainment which was some welcome relief.
With a day of respite, I booked into a safari across Uongozi Hif Adhi Yataifa Arusha National Park where I was luckily enough to see giraffes, hippos, warthogs, gazelles, monkeys and flamingos. It was a great end to the trip.
Overall, my trip was varied – huge ups and downs (and not just the hills) it was the hardest, yet most rewarding thing I have ever done. Before the trip, I was planning on trying to conquer Everest base camp for my 40th Birthday in 2 years’ time, however, after Kilimanjaro, I’m going to think on it for a bit longer!
I am extremely grateful for my families support and the generosity of everyone who has donated. There’s still time to donate here