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A Killer Climb of Kilimanjaro

Who are we?

Sandra and I (Mike) are former scuba diving buddies.  In the past two years she has gone trekking and climbing in the Andes, and I’ve walked the Lake District Fells.

Last autumn Sandra invited me on a trip to the summit of Kili, having researched it thoroughly.  She wanted to get to the summit by the Western Breach, a hard climb in its final stages.  I said yes, and then having realised it was nearly 20,000ft (5895 metres) high, panicked as I suddenly felt outside my comfort zone.

By January I could find no excuse preventing me doing it and went into as much training as I could in the time available, cycling, Sunday morning runs and walking up four flights to get to my office each day rather than take the lift.

I decided I wanted to not only take on a mountain challenge of a life time but a fundraising challenge too – I wanted to raise over £1500 for S.A.L.V.E.s work in Uganda (which I’ve now exceeded).

Going for the Climb

We left on 16th February flying to Nairobi and then onto Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania. The plane was full of confident, and fitter trekkers than me all determined to do the climb…

On the third day after flying in we started the trek, having met our two guides and collected the team – how many people can you get in a small minibus? Answer 14 plus supplies. The exhaust just held on beyond the entrance gate to the drop-off.  At Landorossi entrance was pandemonium with trekkers, their support teams and vehicles of all shapes and sizes. All the kit and supplies were checked to ensure no porter carried more than 20kg.

Then we were off.   That day we walked just 2 hours to the Shira camp across a plateau that was the remains of the Shira volcano, and we were already over 2000m. The main peak of Kilimanjaro overlooked us from the distance with its Christmas pudding profile of the snow on top. The tents were already set up by our porters who had gone ahead, carrying most of our kit and provisions which was the pattern of the trek.

The next day was more strenuous as we climbed to Shira peak at 4400metres, higher than Mont Blanc, then dropped down again to go to Shira 2 camp all with the aim of becoming acclimatised to the altitude. Getting to the peak was fine but by the time I had reached the camp at 3,900 metres I was suffering a touch of altitude sickness. Fortunately it was not serious and paracetamol dealt with the headache.  By the time we camped at Moir Hut at 4165 metres the next day I was fine.

By now we were getting close to the mountain, and the next day at Lava Tower it snowed on the tent and got to -12.

On the fifth day of the trek we reached Arrow Glacier (no glacier now as global warming reduces the snow on the mountain year by year). It was a short night as we were starting the final assault on day 6 by 3am.

The final climb was challenging with a lot of scrambling on rocks lit by our head torches, and before the dawn it got very cold, fortunately, however, we were wearing many layers. By sunrise the crater rim still seemed an interminable distance away, mainly because attitude was really having an effect now.  Our guides said in Swahili “pole pole” (slowly slowly) and that is the only way to cope with altitude. And drink plenty of water – by this stage starting to freeze in our water bottles!

By and by we reached the crater rim and rested before the final 250-300 metres to the summit, steep and in (fortunately) compacted snow.

Finally at 11.05am we reached the summit and at the sign celebrating the height of ‘Uhuru Peak’, we celebrated. A while later two elderly Canadians arrived as well from another direction so age is no bar to achievement if the will and motivation is there.

We then descended over 1000 metres through loose scree and rocky path to Barafo Camp where our cook had arrived around from Arrow Glacier to give us a welcome lunch and then another 1000 metres to Millennium Camp where we did camp and were presented with a celebratory cake cooked for us.

On the last day of the trek we walked down to Mweka Camp and exit through a tropical forest, lush in contrast to the previous five days, and had a welcome if warm Kilimanjaro beer, followed by several cold ones in the two days relaxation that followed and the stiffness had left our legs.

Reflections

To be able to reach the roof of Africa was a privilege and made possible by our guides who were determined that we would succeed, and by the hard work of our porters. The achievement will stay with me and cannot be taken away, and it was made even more meaningful by being able to raise donations from friends and colleagues for the work of such a worthwhile charity as SALVE.  Now why don’t you try and you will be amazed as well?

We climbed Kilimanjaro from February 18th to 24th 2013 with Lava Expeditions from the Kilimanjaro Climbing Company. But do get in touch with SALVE if you are interested in doing this or a similar challenge as they are very happy to help you and support you any way they can in your mountain efforts: info@salveinternational.org

Or if you prefer to climb mountains closer to home why not have a look and see what other challenges they have coming up?

Challenge yourself and support children to overcome one of the biggest challenge of all – being homeless.

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