11:40pm, 10th October 2017
Its – 3 degrees C / 26F and we are eating porridge in our mess tent at Kosovo Camp, 4800m above sea level. We’re about to start the 6 hour walk to the highest peak in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro. This was what we had been working towards for almost a week, just one last push to the top. At this point I had absolutely no idea that the next few hours would be without doubt the most physically & mentally demanding thing I would have done in my life so far.
Six days previous we started our walk from the entrance gate. The Big Journey Company had chosen the Machame route, largely because it boasts the highest percentage of success rate to the summit. It takes seven days in total covering around 38 miles, providing you with a steady acclimatisation to help your body deal with the huge change in pressure as you ascend. Our trek started walking through dense forest which felt very jungle like, surrounded by lush green vegetation with monkeys swinging through the trees above us. The track itself started out as a steady incline turning into pretty steep stairs taking us just over five hours to our first camp.
When we arrived at Machame camp we were met by the self-proclaimed ‘A Team’ who would be supporting us on our climb, there were 28 guys stood in front of me, singing and dancing to welcome us to the incredible camp which they had been busy assembling. After a day of walking in the heat this well and truly put a smile on my face, however the fact that we were to be looked after over the next week by so many people left me feeling a little un-worthy. This was one of those lightbulb moments where it dawned on me that this trip was never just about hopefully getting to the top, it was about all the elements that would have an impact on my journey there, and most importantly the people I would share this with.
Day two’s target was Shira Camp, we set off at 7.30am and headed straight up a steep rocky track, the air felt so much thinner than yesterday but we were pleasantly distracted by the truly epic views and incredible blue sky. Now that we were coming out of the forest we could see just how far above the clouds we were, and our summit was in sight.
Each day the terrain was different, which kept us engaged with the trek, becoming less green and more arid as we got higher. Day three was an acclimatisation day where we walked up to Lava Tower at 4600m and then back down to Barranco Camp. After dinner which often consisted of a delicious soup followed by a hearty carb filled meal we were greeted by the most incredible sight of the Milky Way. Witnessing sights like this made me feel completely removed from all that was going on in the world and truly in awe of my surroundings.
From Barranco we headed to Karanga via the renowned Barranco Wall, a steep wall which was a scramble at times, this was one of my favourite aspects of the mountain as it was really hands on. From Karanga our next stop would be Kosovo, our base camp. As we walked we were completely exposed to the sun,, the heat definitely took its toll on us but thanks to the fantastic support from our guides continually reminding us to hydrate we made it to Kosovo Camp in high spirits in anticipation of our summit.
We slept as best we could through the afternoon, got up for dinner and then headed back to bed for a few more hours until we were woken for porridge and toast. Then it was time to put our head torches on and set off for the summit. After we had been walking for about an hour, despite many thermal layers I could really feel the cold. Our water had almost frozen solid so the A Team frequently offered us hot tea to keep us hydrated. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it honestly took all of my effort to put one foot in front of another. I would take around 4 steps before I had to stop, take a few breaths and then repeat. I had my music on full blast to try and distract me from the thoughts going through my head which largely consisted of, I really hope we make it?
After 5 hours we reached Stella Point, the ridge line which leads up to the summit. Standing here in the pitch black you could see Venus along with lights from countries which were 100’s of miles away. The sun then began to rise and an hour later we reached Uhuru Peak, the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Standing on the roof of Africa I was so thankful for the support of the amazing guides and porters who got us here. I felt proud of myself and my awesome team members, Julie, Michael, Linda, Jago & Adam for pushing through their individual battles during the challenging ascent to get to this point.
The summit was quite hard to comprehend, due to it being the world’s tallest freestanding mountain you can see the curvature of the earth which is just mind blowing. Iv’e never felt cold like the temperatures at the top, it was -10 degrees C / 14F plus windchill which took us to about -14 / 7F which was an experience in itself. I took a quick exit from the top as I had developed a headache was getting worse and our guide became concerned, wanting me to get back to base camp quickly. It took just two hours to get down, when I got there I was greeted with the best tasting glass of fruit juice I've ever had & my headache soon started to ease.
From then on it was all downhill. One the same day we walked 4 hours to Mweka camp for our final night in the tents, totalling just over 12 hours that day, before a final 4 hours the next day to the exit gate. To thank the A Team I wrote a letter on behalf of us all which my good friend & support guide Raymond read out in Swahili. I told them they would all firmly remain in our memory of the trip and that we couldn’t say ‘Asante’ (thank you) enough times. I spent all the time I could along the journey talking to the guides & porters, finding out about their dreams and aspirations which I hope are fulfilled one day. Their enthusiasm & kind nature towards all of us was truly infectious to be around.
I told myself a few years ago I was going to say yes to more things, to try and feel more fulfilled with the life I am living & what I pack into it. I’m so grateful to Sohrab & Sam that I was able to do this trip, its certainly added fuel to the fire for adventure in me. I lost a friend a few years ago who had a serious passion for adventure and living life to the full & its often said that events like this open your eyes to certain aspects of how you live your life and it certainly did for me. He could do a handstand anywhere, so I did my best at doing one for him at Karanga Camp. Where will the next one be?