The journey to Africa
This was a very long day which saw us leave Bristol at 11.45am for Heathrow Airport. We were flying on Kenya Airways to Nairobi, and then catching another flight to Kilimanjaro Airport. I always find it difficult to sleep on a plane and I don’t think I was alone in this, as the glassy expressions of the others in Team Kili matched my own!
On arrival to Kilimanjaro Airport I faced my usual initial panic over whether my bags had made the journey with me. This time it seemed even more important as everything I needed for the trek (bar my hiking boots) was in that bag! My bags always seem to be one of the last to arrive, and after watching the same bags go round for what seemed like forever I finally spotted mine, thanks to the coloured ribbons I had cleverly tied to the handles!
One of the most exciting/scary things about the second flight was that we spotted Kilimanjaro from the plane. You couldn’t miss it! The excited squeals then turned quieter as we all took in the fact that we would soon be climbing a mountain that you could see from a plane!
Once all our bags had been collected we got onto a bus for the final stage of our journey, to Weru Weru Lodge. This place was beautiful! It consisted of wooden lodges with thatched roofs all placed around the pool. I even spotted a giant tortoise roaming happily around! The fact that the sun was shining and it was hot was an added bonus.
We all spent Sunday afternoon catching up on sleep and relaxing around the pool. That evening we had a kit inspection, medical briefing, and dinner, before an early night ready for our big adventure!
Day One – Machame Gate to Machame Camp.
We started off at Machame Gate, and after a bit of a delay while permits were being sorted out we were off. This day saw us hike along forest trails, with some steep inclines. On Kilimanjaro you are told to go Pole Pole, which means slow slow. On this first day it was quite hard to walk so slow, but we all knew that we had to, in order to cope with the altitude.
On this day I almost got lost in the forest, when I wandered away from the group to have a wee. I’m not very good at nature wees, and so wanted to make sure I wasn’t being overlooked. The only problem was that everything looked the same and I couldn’t find my way back to the path! After tentaivily calling “Hello” Balthazar (one of our guides) came to my rescue by waving my hiking poles at me through the bush so I could folow them to safety!
Even though this was not a really strenuous route it was a long day, and we were all relieved to see camp waiting for us.All our tents had been set up by our team of porters, and our dinner was cooking. The porters are some of the most amazing people I have ever met! They carry all our kit and tents on their heads and backs up the mountain. They leave camp after us, as they are taking tents down, and then run past us on their way to the next site. When we finally arrived they have already put up the tents, and our bags are in there!
I’m not a big camper, and so sleeping in the tent was a challenge in itself. I was sharing with Emma, and on the first night it was very amusing watching her trying to get into her sleeping bag! Thre was not a lot of room in the tent, and the sleeping bags were very snug.
Day Two – Machame Camp to Shira Camp.
We were woken at 6.30am and there was a mad rush to get everything packed away in time to have breakfast and set off at 8am. It is really difficult to pack things away in the dark in a small tent! Emma and I spent arund 15 minutes searching for her hiking trousers, only to discover that I was wearing them, and had packed my own!
As we left camp the porters sang us a song, and clapped and danced. This was such a lovely way to start the morning, it really built our spirits up!
This was a tough day for me. It included a lot of climbing, and about halfway through I fell, spraining my wrist (the one I had carpal tunnel in). Our doctor Helen, and Matt fashioned a splint using a bandage, twig and tape, but it really hurt and I had to do the rest of that days trek one handed. Not easy when it involved scrambling around rocks, but Matt was amazing, helping me and letting me lean on his shoulder for big drops.
On arrival to camp we did an aclimatisation trek, which involved us climbing a few hundred metres and then going back down to sleep. This was to help us get ued to the altitude. During this things got even worse for me as I developed altitude sickness. I was really nautious, with a splitting headache and felt really dizzy. No matter how much I tried I could get any food down me, not even plain rice. There were a lot of tears from me that night, and I just really wanted to go home. Helen gave me an anti sickness tablet, and told me to up my dosage of diamox (which we were taking to help cope with the effects of alitiude sickness). She told me to get an early night and then I would aclimatise and be fine. I wasn’t so sure. I was gutted that I was ill this soon into the trek, and thought that my chances of making the summit were gone.
Day Three – Shira Camp to Barranco Camp.
I woke up feeling 100% better! This was the boost I needed and my determination cam back!
We were woken at 6am with a hot drink delivered by the porters. It was so cold that there was ice on the outside of al the tents.
Bruno, our head guide, asked me how I was feeling, and when I said fine he said “good – no more tears from you now Laura, you can do it!” He is such a lovely guy! He worked as a porter for 2 years, before becoming a guide, which he has done for 6 years now. Bruno has climbed Kilimanjaro hundreds of times so I felt very safe with him around! In peak tourist seasons he only gets 1 day off in between taking groups up.
Today was a slightly easier day, as it didn’t involve a lot of climbing over rocks to get up. However there was one slog to Lava Tower (where we were having lunch) that ws really tough. You could see the camp of the top of a steep hill, but it seemed to take forever to get there. We were approaching 4,600m, and it was getting a lot harder to breathe.
When we reached Lava Tower we were all exhausted, and a few people were suffering the effects of altitude. To boost our spirits the chefs served us chicken and chips, which earnt them a huge cheer from us! They even came out to take a bow!
After dinner we descended to camp. This meant heading down over big rocks. You all know how accident prone I am, so won’t be surprised to hear that I fell over a few times, and hurt my wrist again! (yes the same one!) I managed to break my splint and bend the safety pin! When we arrived at camp Matt splinted it again.
On a lighter note we found out the answer to a question that had been bugging us for ages. On day one we were talking about Disney, and for ome reason (that I really can’t remember) we became fixated on the snake from the Jungle Book, but we couldn’t remember his name. Finally when we had a bit of signal Lynn text hr friend saying “I’m ok. By the way what is the name of the snake in the Jungle Book?” Luckily her friend didn’t assume she had gone mad, but sent back the answer, which if anyone is interested is Karr. Oh the relief!
I havn’t mentioned much about the camp system yet. It is all very organised! There is a camp manager, and each tent is numbered. You have to remembe your number, and when you get to camp each day you stuff is in your tent ready for you.There is one small problem though – all the tents look the same and when it gets dark it is very difficult to see the number! Tonight I practically landed on Jo’s lap as I mistook her tent for mine! I then went next door and open the tent, narrowly missing Stu putting his trousers on! My new plan is to stand in the middle of the tents and shout Emma’s name, then follow the sound of her voice to the correct tent!
Day Four – Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp.
Our day started in a very unusal way today. Every morning the porters and guides sing to us, and so last night we decided to sing them a song before our morning trek. There followed a lot of debate about fun songs that we all knew. In the end two won out. So I found myself and the rest of the group rapping the theme tune to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to a group of bemused looking porters!This then nicely moved into the chorus of Hey Jude, and ended with us and the porters in a cirles singing. They gave us a round of applause, so they either enjoyed it, or were just being polite!! They then sang to us, and we all danced. This was absoluelty exhausting, ue to the high altitude, which left me breathless after even the simplist movements. It as a lot of fun though, and briefly took my mind off what was coming!
This was Barranco Wall day, which involved scrambling up massive rocks and along a narrow path, with a long drop to the ground below. Thankfully my wrist was feeling much better, so I could use it gently. I was also thankful to the guides for helping us, especially Balthazar (the guide who saved me when I got lost in the forest on day one). He pullked and pushed me over the rocks, holding my hand when I felt so nervous that my legs shook. When I thanked him he said “You are not dying on my watch, I am your security!” Legend!
We then faced a hard slog down and then up to camp. Everyone was absolutely shattered! For lunch we had chicken and chips again – I think they were trying the cheer us up, and it worked!
Day Five – Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp.
Todays trek didn’t have as many rocks as the other days, and on the way we got a clear view of the top of Kilimanjaro. The mood was pretty quiet at this point, as we were all thinking about what was to come.
We arrived at Barafu Camp around lunchtime. There was just enough time for a short sit down and food before we went for a short aclimatisation walk. We were staying at Barafu Camp, but the guides wanted to walk us up and back a bit to help with the altitude. They also wanted us to see a difficult bit of the path, as we would be doing it tomorrow in the dark.
After this walk we went back to camp for some food, before going to our tents at 7pm to try and get some sleep for the next few hours before the big day tomorrow.
Day Six – Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak.
We were wken at 11pm. It was pitch black, freezing cold, and was snowing. I had only managed abut 3 hours sleep.We would be making our way to the summit – this was going to be a tough day!
After a quick breakfast we were ready, leaving camp at midnight. I was wearing about 8 layers of clothes, so wasn’t really cold. But it was so dark! All I could see with my headtorch was the ground in front of me.
This day passed in a bit of a blur. What I remeber feeling is utter exhaustion as we trudged on. The guides were fantastic – one of them took my day pack off me, and they helped us to eat and drink when our hands were too cold to be of much use! You couldn’t stop for more than 10 minutes or you would freeze!
The path up to Stella Point was an absolute killer. It was long and winding and seemed to go on forever. There is nothing more soul destroying than turning a corner thinking you are near the top, only to see a line of lights from people’s headtorches high above you.I felt like crying at this point, but I was too exhausted to even manage that! I just focused on putting one foot in front of another.
We reached Stella Point just as the sun came up, and it was such a relief! The tears came then. However we had some bad news here that two of our group had been forced to turn around, and we were all gutted for them.
At Stella Point the guides gave us a hot drink, and I finally had the chance to look around at the incredible view. When you are climbing you don’t see much as it is dark and you are just focusing on the ground in front of you.
From Stella Point it was about a 40 minute walk to Uhuru Peak, the roof of Africa. This is a flat walk around the crator. Reaching the top of Kilimanjaro was amazing! I had done it!!
The excitiement wore off quite quickly when we had to walk back down to camp. I was so exhausted that I could barely put one foot in front of the other. Because of this I fell over on a steep bit, landing flat on my back and winding myself! Th guides didn’t really understand what I meant when I said I had winded myself – and got into a bit of a painc. I just about managed to stop them getting a stretcher to carry me down! At this point Balthazar came to my rescue, along with one of the summit porters. They positioned themselves either side of me and practically dragged me down the mountain. I wouldn’t have made it without them!
After a short rest and some food at camp we had to carry on, walking 2 hours to our next (and final) camp. This was tough going, and we all went to bed early that night! I think it was the best nights sleep I had all week!
This was the last day, and was a downhill trek straight to Mweka Gate. We were all tired, but were spured on by the thought of a beer, hot shower, and a proper bed to sleep in.
Climbing Kilimanjaro has been one of the most amazing, and memorable experiences of my life. This is mostly down to the amazing group of people I treked with. We started as realtive strangers, but it is safe to say that we ended as firm friends. Without the support, banter and friendship of these people I don’t think I would have made it. So: Sam, Scotty, Emma, Lynn, Mike, Romy, Vee, Sam, Kirsty, Becky, James, Gavin, Helen, Becca, Matt, Jo, Sam and Stu….thank you!! xxxx