Challenge Story – Kilimanjaro
Becky and Georgie from the St Christopher’s Fundraising Team successfully climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. This is their story.
We made it! We conquered the mountain and have raised over £5,000 in total on our joint and personal pages (it’s not all in yet!), every penny of which is for St Christopher’s…and it feels amazing!
The highlight had to be the summit night, as hard as it was. We started climbing at about midnight, all through the night, with the aim of reaching the summit at sunrise. If we could bottle one memory to share it would be the night sky. There was not a single bit of black that was not filled with stars, planets and galaxies, it was breath-taking.
Towards the end of the night the cold, steepness of the climb, lack of oxygen, thirst (our camel pack pipes had frozen) and fatigue was getting the better of us, we needed the sun rise right now. Low and behold a few steps later we turned around to see a tiny crack of light on the horizon. I can speak for both of us, and almost everyone on that mountain at that moment, when I say that the sunrise lifted our spirits miles further than our legs would take us (to the roof of Africa!) and it was the most beautiful sunrise we have ever seen.
But what rivals that sunrise and what made our trip was all the amazing support, encouragement and sponsorship that we received before, during and after our climb. We can’t thank everyone enough for digging deep and all your words of encouragement – they meant so much.
Becky and Georgie xx
Day 1 – Machame Gate (5,400ft) to Machame Camp (9,400ft) – 7hr walking
Before you even start your trek you have to drive about 2 hours to the gate. We were bundled into a little minivan which was filled with smiley porters and off we went. You could tell that we were all really nervous of the unknown ahead as no one was talking. We just took in Africa through the window and sat in anticipation. When you get to the gate the porters disappear to sort out all your luggage and equipment. They have to weigh everything at the beginning and at the end to make sure that they are not carrying too much but to also make sure nothing is left on the mountain. We had a team of 31 porters and 4 guides!!! These amazing men can carry up to 20kg…on their heads and with ease. It is just incredibly! While they are taking care of the hard work we are given a pack lunch and just wait until we can enter the national park and begin our adventure.
So it begins….you walk through Machame Gate up a slightly ascending path into the forest. The slow pace was already evident, even on this almost level easy path! You are already 1,840ft higher than Snowdon. We soon found out that the phrase “pole pole” would be the slogan of the trip meaning “slowly slowly”. We hiked for about 7 hours with plenty of loo breaks due to the amount of water you have to drink with our altitude sickness tablets (4L-8L). You reach your camp and our amazing porters had pitched our tents along with our two toilet tents and kitchen tent (definitely my favourite). You are welcomed with individual bowls of hot water and soap as well as popcorn and hot chocolate while you eagerly await your hot dinner. From here you can see your first views of the summit and just how vast it is.
Day 2 – Machame Camp to Shira Camp (12,500 ft) – 6hr walking
We were woken up at 6am with two (soon to become my favourite) men offering us tea, coffee or hot chocolate in our tent…luxury…so we can have something hot while we get ready before the sun rises. We then made our way to our kitchen tent where a delightful spread had been laid for us – toast, jams, peanut butter (yes!), porridge, fruit, eggs and sausages. It was soon apparent that they try and make you eat as much as possible as well as combining as much liquid into your meals as they can…the porridge was definitely not the porridge we know!
We start our climb up a steep rocky ridge, covered with heather and gasped at the porters that sprinted passed us in converse. They were not only carrying our luggage on their heads but with this was a thin mattress and one even had a watermelon…A WATERMELLON!!…possibly the heaviest fruit there is…madness. We eventually reached the top of the hill and saw our toilet tents and kitchen tent set up for lunch…bliss. After we had devoured as much as we could it was back to walking and the route turned onto a river gorge. After a few hours walking we arrived at our next camp just as the heavens opened. We retired in the kitchen tent and listened to the hail pummel down on the tents…eeek! It was at this point that I truly fell in love with every single one of our porters. They were all outside braving the horrific weather making trenches around our sleeping tents so that they did not flood…just unbelievable.
Here we were told the bad news that we were unable to do an acclimatization walk (walk up higher for 1hr and then back to camp) due to the bad weather. You could definitely feel the nerves in camp at this point. We knew not being able to do this walk would work against us and we had all factored in the heat and cold but we had slightly forgotten to prepare for the wet…which personally makes me miserable. We tried to distract ourselves with card games and then after dinner we all retired for an early night. Luckily the girl I was sharing a tent with had bought her iPad because I am not the best sleeper and not being able to do the acclimatisation walk meant the nerves well and truly set in and I probably had about 2 hrs sleep after trying to distract myself with Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (the only thing she had on her iPad).
Day 3 – Shira Camp to Lava Tower (16,000 ft) to Barranco Camp (13,000 ft) – 8hrs walking
After the same format of being woken with a hot drink followed by a large breakfast we ventured almost 16,000ft to Lava Tower, called the “Shark’s Tooth” to help in the acclimatization process. This is where most of us realised how hard the altitude really was. This is your first experience of snow and you walk so slowly you may as well be standing still but yet you’re are still panting. This was also mentally tiring due to the concentration used to not fall over on the ice patches. On the incline to lunch this was really testing people. I took the approach of ipod in and head down and just focussed on getting to the top.
Lunch couldn’t have been more welcomed, not the food but the break. Lunch was certainly a lot quieter than the others with everyone trying to master breathing and eating at the same time…something I haven’t really had to think about before. At this point the appetite has truly subsided but I was told before I went that you have to eat as much as possible to get to the top and there was no way I was not getting to the summit. So I ate as much as possible and as quickly as my body would allow.
After lunch you walk down to camp. Luckily I found this fine but a lot of our group couldn’t take it on their knees. So me and another girl went ahead with one of our guides and once you see camp in the distance your spirits were lifted and your tent is well received. After no sleep the night before and the long arduous day I was shattered. I slumped on a deck chair in our kitchen tent and gorged on popcorn and peppermint tea (one of the girls had bought a box with her which was like heaven). Once you’d had dinner our guide Harold gave us a brief for what lay ahead the next day (this happened every evening). Yet again it was an early night for us knowing we were up again at 5.30am.
Day 4 – Barranco Camp to Barafu Camp (16,000 ft) 10hrs walking
We were determined to start walking at the right time as the guides had discovered very early on that time keeping was not our forte. Maybe we took the term pole pole to all aspects of the trek. This was by far my favourite day as it was scrambling. We got to climb the 1000m nearly vertical Barranco Wall. It was definitely not real rock climbing but we certainly had some aspects close to it. Just when we thought the porters could not amaze us anymore you could see them scale this wall to camp with speed and precision so not to drop the equipment which was balanced on the back of their necks.
After lunch we walked at the slowest speed we had so far on the trip – up, down, up, down and after the final steep incline which we zig-zaged up we reached Base Camp. Hoorah! This was the busiest camp as three routes had joined to camp there. At this height everything was an effort. It was before but now even more so. You put on your gaiters you’re panting, you go to the loo you’re panting, you move you’re panting. It was just the most bizarre experience. We arrived here around 4pm and prepared for the summit.
Day 4/5 – Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak (19,345 ft) to Millennium Camp (12,530 ft)
At 11pm the porters came around to tell us it was time to get out of our tents. We were meant to have slept but only one girl managed this as we were all too nervous. We slept in our thermals and piled on the rest of our summit attire – merino wool long base-layer x2, hooded fleece, thicker fleece, down jacket, merino wool leggings, fleece lined trousers, waterproof trousers, liner socks, summit socks, buff, balaclava, thermal hat, liner gloves, down mittens. With this much clothing you already felt like a michelin man. As it was approaching midnight there was no sunlight so you are doing everything by your head torch. With the limited oxygen everything is already so difficult and then you had nerves to add into the mix.
Our guides made sure that we only had our essentials in our backpacks as these needed to be a light as possible – snacks, 3L water, ibuprofen, waterproof jacket. They then carried all our 1L water bottles for us to share once our platypus pipes froze. It still amazes me at how much they carry for you. The backpacks are on, the headphones are in and we start are slow ascent to the summit.
If I could bottle one memory to share it would be the night’s sky. There was not a single bit of black up there that was not filled with stars, planets, galaxies, it was breath-taking. When I was not taking in the sky I spent most of my time with my head down looking at the heels of the person in front of me thinking these heels will eventually be on the top. When you looked up at the mountain ahead of you all your saw was head torches zig-zagging up the mountain at a snails pace. It was one of those experiences that is so hard to relay and you really just had to witness it for yourself. The guides were singing Swahili songs to keep momentum up and to keep you from falling asleep.
At our first break I have never wished I was a boy more. Going to the loo was the most exhausting thing I had ever done and I really did not know how I was going to get to the top after this. We were rewarded with Kit Kats and ginger biscuits and then we were back on our way. The hardest part was the starting and stopping. Trying to find that momentum to get going again was even more exhausting. We soon realised that it was going to be harder for all eight of our group to stick together as some needed a longer break than others. My biggest fear was getting cold and I was the only one who had not rented a down jacket as I had borrowed it from a friend and was using it as my lucky charm as it had already been to the summit.
During this stage our group had broken with three of us going ahead (me, my colleague Becky, and another girl Lauren). We had our guide Jacob who was the rebellious guide and a porter who spoke no English. Lauren kept hearing his walkie talkie and her mind started playing tricks on her thinking she was going be taken down. Along with this she kept seeing smiley faces in the rocks. Becky was sticking to her birthing breathes the whole way up which I’m surprised didn’t make her pass out. I had my own breathing technique that I focused on, refused to talk till I was at Stella Point (18,600 ft) to save all energy and gave myself pep talks whenever I struggled. This included our mountain mantra of “strong mind, strong legs, strong lungs” reminding myself that I said I would not let my body fail me.
On the way up we had a few rests with us three girls leaning against the rocks and our guides feeding us ginger biscuits, my Kendal mint cake and the water he was carrying. Quite early on our water pipes had frozen even after we used the technique of blowing back after each sip you took – this was the hardest thing to do and left you breathless and needing a rest. Just as the cold, steepness of the climb, lack of oxygen, thirst and fatigue was getting the better of us we turned around to see a tiny crack of light on the horizon and it was the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen.
We were soon at Stella Point on the crater rim. We had completed the most mentally and physically challenging portion of the trek. Our guide whipped out a can of red bull each and by this stage I was definitely slightly delusional and felt so peculiar. I can’t describe it but it was almost drunk like. From here we only had a 30minute walk to the summit, which is basically flat. After a little group pep talk and trying to pretend your body did not feel like you had just run several marathons we geared up to tackle the last 30minutes… We made it! We had reached Uhuru Peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro and the continent of Africa.
Most people celebrate or are overcome with emotion at this point…what do I do?…All I can think about is how much I need to go to the loo! You are only meant to be up at the top for 15 minutes but we stayed there for a good 30 minutes as we wanted to wait for the rest of our group. By this point Becky felt horrid so the guide swooped her up and frog marched her back down to Stella Point. Lauren and I ran behind but you are at 50% less oxygen and I thought I was going to have a heart attack so our attempted run soon turned into a heel dragging saunter.
I was welcomed at Stella Point with Pringles crisps and knew the only way I was going to make it back to camp was if I wolfed down as many as possible – not hard as crisps are one of my favourite things. Becky was soon run down the track, with Lauren and I trying to make our own way down. Luckily our porter Javit found us and took us under his wing. I say luckily but porters speed is certainly different to that of a guide. He flew down that mountain with Lauren and I trying to keep up but not succeeding. Your body had used all its energy, the sun is beaming and you are wearing a ridiculous amount of layers, the path is a mixture of rocks and dry thin soil so you almost ski down.
Everyone always talks about how hard it is to get up but no one ever mentions the down. This was by far my worst bit. Camp couldn’t have seemed any further away. The walk is meant to take about 3 ½ hrs and we managed to do it in 2 and I have never wanted to see my tent so much. Just as we were approaching the camp site we were greeted by some of our porters and their beaming faces. I could have cried. They were so happy we had made it and looked so proud. They took our bags from us and carried it for the remainder of our journey to our tent. I was home (well my mountain home)!
So you would think this was the end of the day but no…we had to get to another camp. Luckily as the three of us had finished earlier we got back to base camp just before 12 so had plenty of time to rest but the poor others did not get back till 4pm so had to do a quick turnaround and we were off again. We filled the water platypuss and we were off AGAIN leaving our camp behind to be packed up for us. There were some very unhappy faces with exhaustion at this point. We all looked like we had aged about 90yrs. Faces were blistered from the summit climb sun/wind. Lips were blistered. All in all, not a very pretty bunch. Two hours later we arrived at our campsite and to our amazement everything we had left behind was now set up in front of us and some beaming faces greeting us with pride. I could not believe my eyes…. It was an early dinner and then a much needed sleep!
Day 6 — Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate (5,400ft) 5 hours
My birthday…not many people can say they turned 28 on Kilimanjaro. It was up at 6am and on the move by 7am. We walked back through the jungle and after putting your knees through the ringer we had conquered Mt Kilimanjaro!
Thank you so much for sponsoring me. This was so lovely of you. I’m truly grateful and so is the hospice.
Asante Sana!! (Thank you very much in Swahili)
Becky and Georgie have raised over £5,000 for St Christopher’s - thank you Becky and Georgie!