All I remember is seeing the peak in the near distance and thinking that’s it, I’ve almost done it. After four and a half days, we were finally only 45 minutes from our goal.
Two hours later and we were cursing our ever the optimistic guide but we were there. We had made it. Somehow.
I swear I slept the majority of the time it took us to crawl from Steller Point (5756m) to Uhuruh Peak (5895m). Looking back, I think we must have had a 5 minute nap for every 10 minutes of walking - I never knew rocks could be so comfortable.
Before I set off, I never could have imagined how physically exhausting yet enjoyable this trek would be. I was naïve to the physical intensity of walking each day carrying a rucksack containing 4 litres of water, and to how many nature pees drinking this much would entail.
Our adventure began when we landed in Kilimanjaro airport at 2am local time and our luggage was strapped to the roof of a mini bus for an hour journey to the hotel in which we had our first taste of African ‘roads’. At least the jolts and bumps kept us awake.
Ready to go!
We had a day at the hotel to recover before beginning the ascent the next morning, so naturally we jumped at the chance to visit a nearby orphanage rather than sleeping. With a tour guide from the hotel, myself and three other girls set off to glimpse our first proper sights of Tanzania. On the way we stopped off at a shop to buy sweets for the children, $10 for two packets of sweets and our guide received two ‘free’ cigarettes – something strange happened there.
A thumbs-up at the local orphanage
To end our tour, our guide took us on the scenic route back to the hotel through the maize plantations and passed his ‘friend’ the witch-doctor. Needless to say we were thankful when we discovered his friend wasn’t in. Though to ease our disappointment our guide took us to his own home where we met his wife (slightly bewildered as to why there were four British girls in her house) and children. You can imagine it was quite an awkward experience with us all told to sit on their marital bed but it was an interesting insight into how the locals live. Afterwards, we persuaded our guide to walk us back to the hotel without stopping for coffee at one of his friend’s shops and he arranged for a driver to take us into the centre of Moshi (the nearby city). It was getting dark by the time we had finished looking round and bought souvenirs and we were eager to get back to the hotel. Suffice to say, we had some stories to tell the others when we got back - they didn’t even know we had left.
Disaster struck the following morning 15 minutes pre departure to the base of Kilimanjaro with both mine and my friend’s camel-packs breaking. I don’t know who thought a sack of water with a tube attached that you drink from was a good idea because as the sopping bed sheets we left in our room indicate, it’s not. There was a mad dash to buy another water bottle and more water before we set off. Probably not the best way to start the adventure – stressed and wet.
At base camp
Our climb began after signing in at Machame Gate (1640m) and taking the obligatory photographs whilst our permit to begin the ascent was being processed. The fact that we were actually climbing the highest peak in Africa was yet to sink in and there really was not much difference between this walk and climbing Bathwick Hill albeit with walking poles and stunning scenery of the rainforest. Stopping regularly for a piece of our packed lunches and the inevitable nature pees, the morale of the group was really high. I guess it’s easy to bond with people after accidentally hitting them with a walking pole – I gave up with my poles after day 1, I just couldn’t coordinate my hands and feet.
We reached Machame Camp (2850m) after about 8 hours of walking to find that our tents had already been set up, the porters are truly incredible. Not only do they carry our 15kg bags on top of their own gear, but they walk twice as fast as us.
The next morning, we were awoken at 5.30 after a sleepless night of tossing and turning in which I think I must have eventually managed to drift off just before the time to wake up. Typical. After breakfast of porridge (runny gruel) and cold toast we set off, leaving the glades of the rainforest and ascending a rocky ridge to Shira Camp (3847m). Lunch was served when we reached camp then we embarked on an altitude acclimatisation trek up to 4000m in which people began to show signs of altitude sickness. Personally, I felt fine apart from tiredness - the lack of sleep from the last few days had caught up and I fell straight to sleep after tea that night.
Day 3 was a much gentler incline but with the increasing altitude many people were struggling. I ended up walking with one of the guides most of the way to Lava Tower (4630m), at 23 he’d already ascended the mountain over 60 times and he explained that to become a guide you have to climb up and down carrying all equipment in 3 days. That made our 6 days look pitiful in comparison and we had someone else carrying our things. He taught me some useful phrases to say in Swahili to add to my repertoire of ‘Jambo’ (hello), ‘Mambo’ (Hi, how are you?) and ‘Asante Sana’ (Thank you very much). In response to ‘Mambo’, I could now say ‘Poa Kachizi Karma Ndizi’ (Crazy cool like a banana) which always made the porters laugh – probably at my accent or lack of. The talk turned more personal and he told me about his life away from the mountain (he gets only two weeks rest between each ascent) and asked me if he could add me on ‘Facebook’ when we reach the bottom and if he could show me his room in Moshi. Luckily I would be going on Safari the day after the mountain so there would be no time for such sightseeing.
Lava Tower was our stop for lunch then we descended to Barranco Camp (3976m) to sleep. The motto is walk high and sleep low. After breakfast we were faced with the task of scaling Barranco Wall, our first taste of actual climbing – hands were required to pull yourself up and at tricky points the helpful hand of a guide. It was here that the true fitness of the porters was shown, they nimbly negotiated the rocks effortlessly whilst balancing a huge bag on their head. Amazing. Just like the view from the top of the wall. It was bizarre standing above the clouds and peering down to an expanse of white, you could really sense just how high you had climbed. Yet, behind us the imposing snow-capped peak still felt out of reach.
A rewarding view
We slept for 3 hours at Barafu Camp (4673m) that night before beginning our ascent to the summit at 1.30am. In the pitch black, with only our head torches to light our path, we shuffled along wearing all the clothes we had brought to shield us against the bitter cold. The sun rose at about 6am offering a little bit of extra warmth and teasing us with the view of the peak – still so far off.
Sunrise from Kilimanjaro
But through sheer determination, 32 out of 34 of us made it to the Roof of Africa. We had completed our challenge and raised an outstanding amount of money for The Children’s Society. Even now as I write this, I cannot believe how much I have achieved in my first year of University.
Uhuru peak- the roof of Africa