I set off for Tanzania on the 23rd September 2011. Climbing Kili would be my first trip to high altitude, I was keen to see how my body would cope so that I could progress on to higher and more technical peaks.
I booked through a company called Exodus Travels (www.exodus.co.uk) as I had heard very good things about them. On the mountain Exodus used the African Walking Company, who would prove to be absolutely fantastic and got all 12 of my group to the summit through all of the hardships that we encoutered.
I do a lot of hiking and mountaineering in the UK but my expedition specific training consisted of working on all of my main leg muscle groups. Two weeks before my departure I spent a week in the Cairngorms doing big 13 hour days camping along the way with a 20kg rucksack. This was more for the mental preparation which I believe is the most important thing to train for on Kili due to the 'pole, pole' pace.
I was camping and walking in the Peak District for three days, up until the day before I set off. I was quite stupid with my sleeping layer arrangement and unfortunately came back with a cough and cold which proved to be a bit of a problem later on in my trip!
I flew from Heathrow to Nairobi (what a flight!) which took 11 1/2 hours. We got a connecting flight to Kilimanjaro airport, which was delayed for 3 hours. Just as they were going to give us all some breakfast we were all called back into the departure gate!
My first time in Africa was quite a shock as to how basic everything really is. After a 2 hour drive from the airport we arrived at Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort in Marangu where we would be based from. The hotel was clean and comfortable and the staff were friendly.
My group arriving at the hotel
Day 1: Nalemoru Gate (1950m) - Simba Camp (2700m)
Our first day on the mountain was gentle and short, around 4 hours of trekking. We still hadn't caught a glimpse of the summit yet.
The path took us through forest and farmland. Luckily it was quite cool when we are in the forest but it was very hot when in the sun. Two hours into the trek I was hit by deadfall! We stopped for a packed lunch in the forest half way through.
Simba Camp is a very picturesque little camp site which is quiet and surronded by bushes and scrub. Our guides told us not to be scared of any buffalo that were in the camp, the Park Ranger would get rid of them for us (hopefully not with the large rifle he was carrying!)
We went on a short acclimatisation trek for around half an hour where the path steepened slighlty. We could look all the way down to the plains of Kenya below.
Dinner consisted of fried fish and vegetable stew. Over the course of the trek we were understandably fed lots of protein and carboyhdrates with lots of soup as well. Mr Milton, the head chef, done a great job!
There were two people to every three man tent. I was sharing with my uncle and there was loads of space for us. The toilet tent was on everybodys mind! It was a simple box with zip and a bucket inside, it didn't bother me at all being used to wild camping, but the three girls were not to keen.
Day 2: Simba Camp (2700m) - Kikelelwa Camp (3600m)
After watching the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen, we finally caught our first glimpse of the mountain this morning:
African sunrise Our first glimpse
Every morning we were bought a mug of tea to our tent. This morning it went a bit wrong. I was awoken by 'jambo, jambo' and as soon as Francis(one of the guides) opened the tent and I sat up, the blood vessels burst in my nose - blood went everywhere! Francis pulled me and my sleeping mat out of the tent and put me and it onto the floor. They had me down for 20 minutes whilst clinging onto my nose. It kept going all day long with no let up until we got to Kikelelwa Camp.
Anyway...breakfast consisted of porridge, bread and jams and lots of fruit. There was always more than enough and I had been looking forward to my fresh passion fruit for a while. We were also handed our packed lunches for the day. The head guide JT came in with all of the other guides and introduced themselves. I already had a lot of respect for these guys as I found out today they are all very helpful. Water came into conversation and we were told that they treated all of the water for us; none of us had any problems with stomachs during the duration of the trip.
Todays walk would be the second longest day. The path took us through the remainder of the forest and then into the moorland zone. The path was gentle and dry. We stopped every hour or so and had lunch near to the second cave. Along the way we were shown some of the lava tubes which were dotted around the side of the mountain:
Today we found out just how amazing the porters really are A) because of the amount they carry and B) they way in which they carry it. Every evening when we got back to camp our tents would be pitched with our kit bags awaiting us inside. As soon as we emerged into camp they would come running over and take our day sacks off us. If we saw them along the trail during the day they would receive a large handful of sweets from us.
Every morning and evening we were given a bowl of hot water that was known as 'washy, wash' that we would clean ourselves with. Because it's so dusty up there everything gets really filthy. It took me most of the time to clean the dust out of my nostrils. One of the most important things to bring was hand sanitizer as there isn't any provided, we all shared each others and we all had it to hand during the day.
I found on the mountain that up until summit day, boots weren't really needed because of the gentle paths. I would have been more than happy to take along some approach shoes; one of my team actually used bare-foot shoes up until summit day altough he did suffer a bit with a scramble later on. The evenings do get very cold and I used my down jacket each night.
In the evening before dinner we were provided with a snack of peanuts, popcorn and biscuits in the mess tent. This was very well accepted by all. We were all in our sleeping bags at around 9pm. I used a Marmot sleeping bag rated down to -10c and I had a comfortable nights sleep each night.
During the day we were all wearing trousers and t-shirts, there was no need for any other warmer clothing until summit day.
It was easy to drink around 6 litres of water each day. I bought a lot of electolyte powders as well just to supplement my salts lost through sweating.
We arrived at Kikelelwa Camp late in the afternoon. There was a lot of clag around today but still very warm. The path was a little steeper coming up and down a lot.
Day 3: Kikelelwa Camp (3600m) - Mawenzi Tarn (4330m)
At the Park Gates when you begin your trek there is a big wooden sign with 10 do's and dont's. Number 2 on this sign is 'do not climb above 3,500m if you have a cold or breathing problems' After waking up this morning I realised why they say this.
The chesty cold that I picked up in the Peak District had now turned into a deep cough! I learnt later on when we returned to the hotel after the trip that most of my group didn't think I'd make it to the summit. However it is not within my personality to give up, I was determined to keep going!
It was a rather nice breakfast of sausages, bacon, omellete and toast with the obligatory porridge today. Unfortunately I had no appetite as the altitude had started to take effect the night before.
Today would be a reasonably short day of 3-4 hours walking. We remained in the moorland zone but it became more sparce. If I remember rightly, today's walking was quite uneventful really! It was quite dramatic seeing the vast and majestic Mawenzi Peak for the first time, it was shrouded in cloud making the camp look very insignificant:
The Majestic Mawenzi
During the day I had to put a windproof jacket on as it did start to become a bit chilly on the more exposed parts of the path. Plus I think if I was wearing shoes I would have swapped them for my boots today.
We were going on an acclimatisation walk later on to a nearby ridge at around 4,500m. It was a nice scramble in places with some fantastic views. As soon as I got to the top, AMS hit me and I felt really ill. I had a throbbing headache and nausea. We came down again to the camp and I rested in the tent and missed the afternoon snack. I was reassured by the guides I only had mild AMS. I would hate to know what bad AMS or oedema is like!
I was also really annoyed that I had no appetite as well because tonights dinner was spaghetti bolegnese and bananas and custard. Yum! I was in bed early tonight. Later on during the night my uncle was trying to get out of the tent to the toilet after filling his pee bottle, but the tent door zip got stuck and he couldn't get out for about 10 minutes. It was hilarious!
Day 4: Mawenzi Tarn (4330m) - Kibo Hut (4700m)
I woke up feeling much better this morning but still had no appetite and a slight headache. Today was a fairly long walk of around 5-6 hours leaving the moorland zone behind and entering the alpine desert zone. As soon as we crossed a ridge the moorland vegetation stopped and it became a lot rockier. Before we reached 'the saddle' there were a lot of ridges that we had to go up and down which obviously made the path the steepest it had been so far.
Many games were played along the route today including eye-spy and the alphabet game. We gradually gave up with these! As soon as we reached 'the saddle', which is a large flat space of desert, it became the coldest it has been so far because it is very windy and exposed with virtually no natural cover. Hats, gloves, balaclavas and windproofs all came out. We could see Kibo Hut way ahead of us and it never seemed to get any closer. One thing that I didn't know before we saw it is that there is a plane wreckage on the saddle of a Kenyan Airways light aircraft which crashed a few years ago.
The Saddle Plane Wreckage on the Saddle
Kibo Hut isn't a pleasant place I'm afraid to say. It's cold, rocky, noisy and we all know that we aren't going to get much sleep. We all ate very little and everyone was in their tents for about 5pm. We will be woken at 11pm to set off for the summit at midnight. Fortunately at every campsite we have stayed at, our tents have been located away from the main site.
Day 5 - Summit Day Part 1: Kibo Hut (4700m) - Uhuru Peak (5895) - Kibo Hut (4700m)
Here we go. This is it. We were woken at 11pm. Earlier on I put my summit day base layers on so all I had to do was put the outer layers on and I was ready to go. Some of us tried to have a small bowl of porridge for the hours ahead.
The group were all called to outside the mess tent. We had a 1:2 guide to trekker ratio. JT put us all in order by how much we were suffering, I was fourth unfortunately. He was at the front of the group setting the pace. Head torches donned, away we went. All the way up the trail you could see small lights all in bunches, that was all of the other groups up there.
We walked very slowly. It wasn't that cold (around -10c) but the windchill was incredible; after a couple of hours I could feel my cheeks and eyes stinging which actually lasted for a couple of days after. I got my Buff out but I can't stand the things so I stupidly didn't really use it. I was wearing a windstopper hat which covered my ears, a midweight base layer, a thick fleece, my down jacket, insulated softshell trousers and a liner glove with fibrepile over mitts. Most of the time I didn't need to have my down jacket zipped up because it's such a warm jacket (it's a Rab Neutrino Endurance). I wish I had worn a thicker liner glove because it was only really my hands that got cold, but it was only when we stopped.
Summit day is a bit of a blur if I am honest! Our first stop was William's Point at 5000m. This was just a collection of large rocks; there were plaques along the route but I don't remember what they say. I wasn't suffering from sickness I just had a stinking headache. Two other members of my group were often being sick but with a lot of determination and support they kept going.
Hans Meyer Cave was the next stop and I can't remember anything of it I'm afraid. I was just putting one foot in front of the other watching Tony's feet in front of me illuminated by my head torch. Ocassionaly I would look around and realise how steep it actually is. I was slightly worried at times when someone would break off to throw up if they were going to take a slip because of the steepness and that the mountain side was covered in ice.
Jamaica Rocks were the next stop. We didn't stay for long as the next stop was Gilman's Point. Between these two spots was very rocky and steep, the srambling was very easy - nothing to worry about at all. At 6am when we were just approaching Gilman's the sun appeared. It was an absolutely incredible experience. Just this glow beginning to appear, it certainly geared us all on.
We arrived at Gilman's Point at 6.15am. At this time the sun was starting to come up quicker. We could see the sunrise, the milky way and the curvature of the earth all at the same time. It was mind blowing! All of our guides began to sing to congratulate us getting this far and they gave us some black tea. This actually brought me very close to throwing up. I was feeling dozey and the headache wasn't easing.
Sunrise at Gilman's Point Resting at Gilman's Point
JT said we were all fit enough to continue on the 2 hour trip to Uhuru Peak, the Roof of Africa. From Gilman's Point we were just below the crater rim. We followed a narrow icey ledge with a steep drop with the crater bottom to our right until we reached Stella's Point. From here it goes up-hill until the broad crater rim. I would estimate that there was over 100 people all going for the summit at that time.
I was having to stop every 50m or so. There were 3 of my team a couple of minutes in front me with JT and then the others were all dotted around behind. As the 3 in front of me reached the summit I had to fight back the emotions as the realisation that I was going to make it became apparent. JT came running over to me with about 100 metres to go and tried to take my day pack off me but I refused telling him "thank you, but no thank you. I can do this!" At 8.10am on the 29th September I was standing on top of Africa.
JT managed to get me straight to the front for my summit pics and I think he made a great job with it to! Looking down to the clouds was if I was looking from space.
At the summit with my flag! All 12 of our group on the summit!
As soon as I had my photos JT said that I needed to descend now. I wasn't happy with this because I wanted to wait for the rest of the group. I was ignorant and stupid to ignore his experience and knowledge even though it was only a few minutes I had to wait. As soon as we had the group photo I began to feel fine and the headache went. That wasn't a good thing! I was ordered down straight away. So me and 2 of the other guys raced down with one of the guides. We were literally running at points. The four of us had a short break at Gilman's where I took off my down jacket.
On the descent to Kibo there is a long scree path that we surfed down, it made everything a lot, lot quicker. What took us 8 hours to get up, only took us 1 1/2 hours to get down. The symptons of the AMS began to go when I reached Kibo camp. Everybody was absolutely exhausted, it would turn out to be a 13 hour day including the descent to Horombo. We got back into our sleeping bags for a little while (our porters had been staying in our tents protecting our belongings since we'd been gone) until lunch time. Well we would have been. My uncle had got back to camp around 5-10 minutes before me. When I got back I got straight into my sleeping bag and he seemed fine. I began to doze off and when I opened my eyes he was lying next to me shaking uncontrolably and his speech was slurred. I immediately went to get JT who came to check on him. JT forced him up and literally pulled him down to a lower altitude as he was suffering from one of the oedemas. Altough my uncle still blames it on me because I was so out of it and left the tent door open! It took them 1 1/2 hours to get to Horombo and took me and one of the other guys 4 hours at a very fast pace.
I had still only seen 5 members of the team, the others were still descending from the summit.
Day 5 - Summit Day Part 2: Kibo Hut (4700m) - Horombo Hut (3720m)
Instead of coming back down the Rongai Route we came down the Marangu Route. I left Kibo with one guide and one of the other guys in the team. Just after leaving, a snowstorm picked up on the saddle. My down jacket came back out and I wish I had my snow goggles!
We went at a 'Haraka' (Swahili for fast) pace. We were really tired and just wanted to get to our sleeping bags. The descent path was much busier than it was coming up the Rongai route, we saw three people getting brought down on stretchers by the porters. They were basically running using glorified wheel barrows but my hat goes off to them as they done a fantastic job in evacuating people quickly.
The path seemed very straight with some hills and ridges along the way, it was just very long. Alpine desert and rocky terrain eventually turned to moorland again. We arrived in Horombo, probably the biggest camp we had seen so far because it is all huts and not tents. Again, luckily we were situated away from the main camp. I still couldn't eat tonight, it was just reassuring to know we were getting to thicker air. It wasn't until another hour or so that the entire group was reunited at the camp. I was definetly looking forward to washy, wash today because we didn't have one the day before.
Sunrise at Horombo
Day 6: Horombo Hut (3720m) - Marangu Gate
Everyone was dreading today with an 8 hour trek ahead of us all downhill. And it did turn out to be a very long day. It took us 4 hours to get to Mandara Hut for lunch. Up to that point it was a moorland path gradually entering the jungle. It was a busy trail again with lots of groups descending.
After Mandara Huts we entered the jungle. This was my first time in such an environment and I cannot wait to return. It was beautiful! We saw some Colobus monkeys and also some African Blue monkeys. There was a small group of us, ahead of the main group, as we were going at a fast pace. The only people we saw today really were porters and Japanese tourists on guided day hikes. It was the sounds of the jungle which I thought was one of the best things; all of the beautiful birds and animals making as much noise as they could! The path was very uneven with tree roots and random rocks and there were several close falls.
An African Blue Monkey Coming through the jungle
Eventually we got to Marangu Gate after a very long tiring few days. All of us were exhausted. Our bags were thrown down and everyone bought a coke at the small shop and felt queezy soon after as we weren't used to it!
But we had done it! All 12 of us! Our certificates were signed and we had a small presentation where JT handed them out and then all pile on to the bus or open backed truck in my case!
As soon as we got back to the hotel we either headed straight for the bar or for the bath to relax. One moment that stands out for me is during dinner that night (I finally got my appetite back by the way so I piled it on) where the generator at the hotel stopped and the lights went out. All of us didn't care and just kept on eating and talking as nothing happened!
The following morning we all said our goodbyes and went our seperate ways. 5 of us were all getting the same local transfers and three of us were getting the same flight back to the UK. My uncle, Derrick and I had a 7 hour wait at Nairobi airport. We grabbed some food in the restaurant at Gate 14 (which was very nice) and before we knew it were on our way back home.
Due to my stupidity, within an hour of being back home I was on my way to hospital. Because of the lack of oxygen my cold had not been able to fix itself so therefore I found out that it had developed into mild pneumonia. That will teach me!
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was an absolutely amazing experience where I met some amazing new people. Would I do it again?..... Yes. I am actually considering going again!
Kili has got a rapid ascent profile. It doesn't follow the mantra of 'climb high, sleep low' in any way. I would love to know how I would have got on without starting with a cold. But I summitted and that has filled me with lots, lots more confidence to do more technical peaks at a similar or higher altitude. So watch this space!
If anybody has any questions or would like some advice on anything that I haven't covered here then please PM me! Here is my album with more photos: Kili album