I’m home everyone! Yes, I’m covered in chill blains and I have minor frost bite on my toes, a few scuffs here and there, but I’m alive! And what a bloody amazing adventure I have been on. I got back on Friday 2nd of September after traveling for nearly 24 hours. Nightmare. I was greeted at the station by my parents, who never have I been so happy to see, and I was going back to my Home! …And cats. Stop judging me…
I signed up for this expedition to Kilimanjaro not knowing anyone else who was on the team. ‘Sod it’ I thought, so I signed the paper. I had to raise £2990 for the Meningitis Research Foundation, which is an excellent charity. With a lot of hard work, dedication and the kindness of my family and friends I raised an amazing £3213.92 or £3462.98 with gift aid. I’m very happy with this achievement.
Anyway! Now to the cool stuff about the climb itself. Upon reaching Tanzania I couldn’t help but feel proud to be back in the same country I was in when at just eleven years old, I first saw Kilimanjaro. Now to be stood on the same ground, knowing that this time I was going to attempt to conquer the worlds tallest free-standing mountain felt ‘totes amaze balls’ to say the least!
We were climbing and trekking the Machame route. The second hardest route on the mountain (there are seven routes altogether I believe.) Not only were we climbing the second hardest route, but we were also doing it in six days, when it should normally take you seven apparently… yup.
Day 1) We started by trekking through the lower regions of the mountain, which was a steep incline through jungle. Due to the altitude increasing with every step; we became more and more out of breath the higher we climbed into oblivion. We didn’t set off until mid-morning, so it wasn’t long before we needed lunch and a toilet stop. (So far this all sounds plain and simple, it wasn’t…)
Sure enough we stopped and munched away at our pre-packed lunches, that was the simple part, however if you needed to disperse of your urine (or little Tony’s), that was a different matter altogether. Emily (a lovely fellow climber who I had befriended) and I headed off into the bushes. There right in front of us on the path, was a human poo, just sitting there, chilling. This became a running theme and I soon realised that it was more hygienic to crap in a bush than it was in the pre-dug hole in the ground – which were often too smelly to even contemplate. But hey! What can you expect up a mountain? It also made using my lovely ceramic, flushable bowl at home feel fit for a king. Honestly, pure magic!
We continued our trek until we reached our first camp -Machame camp, which sits at 2865m above sea level. The incredible porters had gone on ahead to set up our tents for us. The camp terrain was dusty and hard. Not great if you brought a self inflating roll mat to sleep on… that doesn’t inflate anymore. Lesson learnt. Moving on. I tried to eat as much as I could. It was day one and already the altitude had stolen my appetite from me. But knowing the calories were crucial, (for once in my life!) I shoveled down what I could.
Day 2) After what can only be described as an interesting nights sleep; We left our camp at roughly 6am after a hearty breakfast of boiled eggs. The trek became steeper and steeper and took us far above the clouds. The views were breathtaking, as was the altitude! Kilimanjaro has strange weather, it was hot, yes, but never too hot that I felt uncomfortable in a fleece and beanie hat (cool story, bro..) Also due to the air being so thin on the mountain, it’s still important to slap on the old suncream .
That evening, at ‘Shira camp’ (3810m above sea) I became emotional and cried myself to sleep. I literally don’t even know why? I blame the altitude. No, really!
Day 3) I had accepted the fact that my time on the mountain would include: communal bush poo-ing, (picture this, three of us squatted in a row, taking it in turns to hold the torch while we all squeezed one out.. You’re welcome.) Plus struggling to eat tiny bowls of chocolate porridge in the mornings. By tiny I mean tiny, a mouse could have eaten it and still have been hungry after. It really is such an effort to eat when you’re just not hungry! We headed to ‘lava tower’ which took us to a new level of altitude for acclimatisation, before heading back down to a lower camp.
This was the first day I truly started to struggle. My heart rhythm was doing something odd and someone had commented that my lips were looking blue, even though it wasn’t particularly cold yet.. This worried me and I started getting concerned. We were taking breaks every half hour. Everyone looked tired, but you just had to keep going, one foot in front of another. Just as I thought I was going to chunder, a couple of team mates started singing ‘fuck her gently’ by Tenacious D. This incredibly lifted my spirits. I joined in and suddenly we had a little chorus going. The song reminded me of my good friend Vicky from back home; after a cheeky pint or two at our local, we almost always end up playing it and singing along. I felt better after our sing-song and it gave me new found energy to keep going! Amazing what can save your arse up a mountain. The views from lava tower were spectacular. Ginormous boulders everywhere, and a good view of the snow capped summit, looking intimidating. After stopping for lunch, we left to head down to ‘Barranco camp’ 3962.2m above sea level.
Day 4/5) After a good nights sleep (by which I mean about half an hour all in all.) I felt better. The dreaded day had come. The day we would attempt to climb the ‘Barranco wall’. Dun, dun DUUUUUUUN. This was basically scaling a cliff. Enough said. I whacked my knee whilst jumping over a crevice. It was ok, not that there was much I could do if it wasn’t. I was so proud of everyone in the team this day. We all did amazingly and actually when we were discussing it after, we decided it had been a fun and adrenaline filled morning. There really is no way of describing it.
Once we had reached the top of the wall, we kept going until we reached ‘Karanga camp’ where we stopped for lunch and to be checked over by the medics, to ensure we were fit and safe for the nights bid to reach the summit. By now, a few of the team were really suffering and it was horrible to witness. The medics gave us a talk to tell us what to expect on the night. They put it rather brutally and looking around the mess tent, everyone had worried expressions. “Its likely you will vomit and its likely you will hallucinate. Be prepared, its hard, hard work. You will be freezing! Put on every layer you brought and a pair of socks on top of your outer gloves. You’ll need it!” Great. Superb. Smashing. Cheers for that I thought.
After our ‘lovely’ little chat with the medics, we continued our journey to our final camp on the ascent. ‘Barafu camp’ is situated at 4664m above sea level. After what had been a seriously long day of hard trekking and climbing we arrived at camp. There were many tears rolling down cheeks when we got to Barafu. Everyone was nervous about what lay ahead that night and when you haven’t eaten or slept properly in days, emotions do kick in. We were already exhausted from the day and knowing that we still had a long old night of climbing ahead of us, in temperatures likely reaching the minus twenties, it really did seem like we faced a hard old task. We flopped our sleeping bags out and tried to get a quick nap in. We had just two hours to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically not to mention trying to get a nap in before we had to be up again for a quick bite to eat and then get cracking to the summit. I didn’t sleep at all. I was so cold. No amount of layers were warming me up. I tried trapping my head under the sleeping bag. That didn’t work either.
We were all up by 10pm. We had a hot drink in the mess tent before setting off. Our head guide ‘Shanana’ made sure we were all prepped, warmly clothed and mentally ready. We left camp at 11pm. The temperature had reached a ridiculous -25 degrees Celsius. In the pitch black with only a head torch to check your footing, you could not see a thing. The stars however, were absolutely incredible. Just stunning. I started off feeling ok. Most of the team were listening to their iPods. Walking up a consistent steep incline, at ridiculous
altitude, without substitute oxygen, in -25 degrees does have an effect on your body. After a while I started flagging. Thinking my uplifting playlist would help, I plugged myself in. I was listening to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack. It helped for a short while. I remember looking up and seeing a row of stars, perfectly inline. The row of stars started to move and I soon realised that these were the head torches of people near the summit. This was extremely hard to see, already feeling exhausted with every step and yet knowing that we still had so many meters to climb.
At about 2.30am I slumped down on a rock. It was like my body was giving up. Mentally I still felt strong and was in no mood to give up. My lips had gone blue and I was uncontrollably shivering. My guide ‘Attley’, noticed I was struggling. He was my hero, stopping every twenty minutes to violently rub my hands together so that the blood would come back and also giving me hugs, to get my body temperature back up. It was the strangest sensation- being so exhausted and cold that I was falling asleep whilst walking, and you REALLY don’t want to be doing that whilst you are climbing up a 6000m mountain in the dark! Every tiny step we were taking took such an enormous amount of effort. I could hear the rest of the team below me projectile vomiting, it became the soundtrack of the night. I was just so desperate to get to the summit, we all were. At every rest stop, people were falling asleep, propping themselves up with their climbing poles. “NO SLEEP, KEEP WALKING, KEEP WALKING!!” the guides shouted to us constantly. “YOU SLEEP, YOU DIE!”…Great, thanks for that!
At about 6am the sunrise came. After struggling for so long in the dark, the sun was such a welcomed sight, and with it also came some much needed warmth! This really did boost everyone’s moods and gave us the courage to carry on to the summit. The climb to Stella Point, is made up of shingle, so you slide back with each step you take, meaning even more energy is being used. Eventually, we made it to Stella Point. From there, it’s only another rough hour to the summit. Here, I saw hundreds of cartoon mice running towards me. I blinked and they were gone. About five minutes after this first hallucination, Bambi appeared and started running around in front of me. I blinked and Bambi had gone. Bloody altitude. My gums also started to bleed at this point, along with blood clots coming from my nose. Yuuummaay!
After a brief stop at Stella point; I stood up, brushed myself off and prepared myself for the last hour of going uphill. The last push! It was me, Rowen and our guide Attley now, all trying to make it together. I strutted off, feeling confident. About two minutes into this strut, my knees started to buckle and I
was having to stop every few minutes. My strut became more of a foot drag. Everyone was just knackered. In the end, Attley swung both Rowen and mines’ arms around his neck, so that we had to keep walking. We needed to get there as soon as possible as it’s not good to stay in that altitude for long, if you are feeling tired. Finally he got us there! We were so happy to see the summit and what a view! Just the most incredible scenery you could ever wish to see, glaciers sitting on the mountain, hundreds of feet tall and wide. Amazing. Everyone was hugging and smiling. We had made it!!!
This is going to be the anti-climax paragraph I’m afraid. There’s not a lot I can write about the descent. It hurt my knees a lot. It felt good when we were back at the Machame route gate and we started to see civilisation again. Just to wash our hands with water was incredible. Mountaineering certainly makes you appreciate the little things in life, such as a tap, flat ground, and of course a toilet.
Next stop: Mount Everest….
Yeah ok, ok. Maybe not quite yet. But that might certainly be on the cards in the future.. So watch this space!
Special thanks to:
Attley Benson, the man who got me to the summit.
Our head guide Shanana and all the amazing guides and porters on Kilimanjaro who make the climb possible. Thank you.
All my family and friends for putting up with my strange existence.
Bear Grylls… *het hem*.
© Eve Sanders