Conquering the Heights

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Last summer, I took on the daunting challenge of climbing the world’s tallest freestanding mountain; Mount Kilimanjaro!  Although at the time of signing up I saw it as a fun venture to take part in alongside my uni mates, I was not prepared for what was coming.

The first obstacle each of us as a team, but also individually, had to overcome was the daunting £2750 per person fundraising target.  At first, we brainstormed a load of ideas which we thought would help us get sponsorship not just from family and friends, but businesses, small and large.  However, when the “we love your idea, but sorry” letters and emails began flooding back in, and the random tweets to celebs were unsuccessful, the team was naturally disheartened.  We just could not understand why no one would want their logo on our kite when we broke the Guinness World Record for ‘Highest Altitude Kite Flight’! But nevertheless we soldiered on with our pub quizzes and charity bake sales; selling baked goods to drunken students at 2am was not the highlight of my charity exploits.

I would like to take a moment here to send out a massive THANK YOU to all those who donated to my Giving page, enabling me to go on and achieve this once in a lifetime (for me anyway) accomplishment!  Monies raised went to the FutureSense Foundation, our university’s chosen charity for all abroad fundraising enterprises, supporting community development in some of the poorest regions of the world.

In the end, with a few being forced to back out of the endeavour, we ended up with a team of 10 who were to go on and fly that kite!  All the money was raised and in the bag (so to speak), and before we knew it we were getting ready to board a plane.

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Although, what the team perhaps hadn’t realised, was the preparation for the trek was far more substantial than expected.  Nerves really began to set in when the doctor administering the Yellow Fever jab was required to inform us that the injection would be potentially fatal…Luckily for us, this did turn out to be a mere formality with actual deaths from receiving the injection being incredibly rare – thank God!

Having not really believed it would happen, and with minimal training being done, we were all finally standing together in Heathrow Terminal 5 with all our gear and plenty of Diamox to get us through.

The plane journey to Tanzania’s International Airport via Doha was straight forward thanks to the free onboard wine and pretzels.  Yet our welcome to Tanzania was somewhat of a culture shock, with several people on hand to forcefully grab our bags to then carry them the 50m across the carpark to our bus in order to demand “tips! Tips!”  Needless to say, we won’t be making that mistake again.

When, after much “African time”, had passed we finally arrived at our hotel which came complete with cold showers, broken lights and less than hygienic looking bedsheets.  Our gear was checked by our trekking guides from Nyange Adventures – the best out there – and we were cleared for departure!

Beginning at Machame Gate the next day, we began our ascent.  On the first day of trekking we were surrounded by an abundance of wildlife as we made our way through a tropical rainforest landscape and, without too much hassle, made it to Machame Camp – 3000 metres up!  We were greeted by warm bowls of water and soap before entering the mess tent for popcorn, hot chocolate and a three-course meal fit for Kings!  After a very warm and sticky start to our day, as the sun went down the temperature plummeted and the down jacket I thought wouldn’t be needed until summit night was forced to make an early appearance.  All-in-all things were going well – until we needed the toilet.  The bathrooms consisted of a hole in the ground in a small public bathroom-esque building. This we were expecting, the smell we were not.

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After our first back-breaking night in tents, it was an early start for us as we began day 2 towards Shira Camp.  Less than an hour into the climb we were already above the clouds! Although, to my disappointment they were more soggy and wet than light and fluffy.  As we trudged on, the summit was already in our sights – teasingly close in fact. Unfortunately, we were already out of the interesting wildlife zone, and into the expanse of bleak moorlands which were to be our scenery for the duration of the climb.  But with the morale of the team high and our delight at being taught the ‘Jambo Bwana’ song (a well loved and hated tune for all climbers), we made it to camp.

By that evening, the effects of altitude were, unexpectedly, already starting to kick in. Appetites disappeared, headaches raged and the world and his wife were coming out of both ends, and the Diamox seemed to be doing nothing except giving the effect of pins and needles in our extremities.  This was to make the remainder of the trek 100 times harder, with constant need to find a large enough boulder along the way to go for “wild wees” and other added bonuses which I’m sure you’ll have guessed.  With the effects from the heat, long days and sickness, I was ready to give up.  However, a need to not disappoint the group willed me to go on.

The next couple of days that ensued were hard for all with many ups and downs.  They also included trekking up one of the lava towers in a bid to acclimatise, and the infamous Barranco Wall – a 200m ‘scramble’ in constant fear of toppling off the side of Kilimanjaro altogether.  The porters made it look easy as they practically ran up the mountain past us with everything from camp on their backs or balanced on their heads – this included the fresh pumpkins needed for our soup! But, after all this – blisters and all – it was summit night.

After a total of 2 hours sleep and an eventful night, which unfortunately resulted in one of our team having to be escorted off the mountain due to HACE, we were stood in a line, high on Diamox, freezing our tits off and not at all ready to finish the climb.  After what seemed like a lifetime of walking, with forever being told that we were nearly there and to go “polé, polé” (“slowly, slowly”) we reached the crater at Stella Point.

Snowy topped glaciers and epic views surrounded us, but it was still not over! By this point it was about 10am, and after a much needed rest in the shade and a few photo opportunities we made our way up the final leg to Uhuru Peak and our 5895m goal.

On reaching the summit of the mountain the overwhelming feeling was of RELIEF when realising you could go no higher.  After a couple sips on champers (all anyone could handle), a sudden sense of impending doom takes over when you realise you now have to get down what you just climbed up.

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With a lack of wind our ‘Highest Altitude Kite Flight’ wasn’t much of a success but the team still gave it their best shot before our descent, back into the clouds.  With the help of a friendly porter or two the team made it down the slippery unstable midday surface of the mountain towards the camp where our tents were still set up and a refreshing glass of mango juice awaited us.  Unfortunately for us, this was not our final resting place for the day.  Instead we headed on down for a further 6 hour trek to our camp for the night; High Camp.  Already we could glimpse the leafy green rooftops of the rainforest which greeted our fresh and unsuspecting faces on our first day – a day which seemed like years ago.

On waking up for our last day on Kilimanjaro, my knees were shot.  Every step was agony as I paid the price for my super speedy descent from the peak.  My trekking poles weren’t enough to help me now and without knee supports the guides had to bandage up my knees in an attempt to get me to the bottom.  After one very long and bendy road, the sight of the buses waiting to transport us back into Arusha was bliss!  After all that, it was over.  We celebrated with Fanta Lemonade and a well-deserved shower.

Although my own personal Kili experience is certainly one I would not like to repeat, I am extremely proud of the team’s, and my own, achievement.  A big thank you is due to the guides and porters, without whom we would most certainly have never made it.  Their tips were well deserved so if you’re planning a climb in the future make sure you bring enough, because by the end you’ll be wanting to give them the contents of your current account.

And a final thank you to the rest of my teammates who kept me going when times were tough with many words of encouragement and plenty of “hakuna matata’s”.

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So, final tips for any potential future climbers out there: ibuprofen, wet wipes (beware of freezing at the summit!) and lip balm – our surprise saviour.

But most of all remember – “Polé! Polé!”

With Love From,

Uhuru Peak

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