The biggest question – Will I make it?
With over 40,000 people attempting the summit, and around 40% failing to do so, I wondered how I would feel and what my chance of success would be.
How fit do I need to be?
Ok so yes, Chris Moyles and the Comic Relief crew did successfully summit, but your friends really shouldn’t mock the mountain. It definitely should not be underestimated, and at the end of the day, how many times have they walked uphill for around 5-8 hours every day for 7 days?! I bet the answer is…. Not many! The upside of countless number of celebrities fund-raising on the mountain does highlight the facts that Kilimanjaro is easily accessible, is technically straightforward, can fit within a week’s annual leave and is all round just blooming awesome!
Trekking on Kilimanjaro, from my point of view poses a great challenge due to a combination of factors; how you cope with altitude, your fitness level, and your mental attitude. When on the mountain I found that at sometimes I really needed to dip deep to keep myself motivated; periods of bad sleep, an episode of nausea, continual walking uphill, no showers and repeated early mornings, can just ever so slightly dampen your spirits! Just remember when that happens to share your feelings with other group members, remind yourself as to why you’re doing this, and remember one day you’ll look back on this experience, whether successful in summiting or not, with an appreciation of your efforts.
By receiving notification that I was to join one of our Kilimanjaro months in advance, I was able to plan my exercise accordingly, lucky for me, over the summer period. Biking to work and back increased my aerobic ability (helps your heart to work harder), incorporating hills into my route home helped with strength, and upping the mileage supported my stamina. However as the dark nights approached, turning to the gym and using the treadmill (on a gradient) plus step machine helped to replicate the movement of walking uphill, which is a must for any holiday involving ascents! Having a campervan and living in the Lakes helps too, as regular walks with my rucsac (packed to mimic Kili) on the fells really is the best method.
Ultimately, the fitter you are, the more enjoyable your holiday.
Altitude – Luck of the draw?
With our trekking crew, you’ve no need to worry. Their intention is the same as yours, to summit successful and safely.
Pace is a key factor and you’re sure to find the initial, ‘pole, pole’ pace frustrating but believe me by time you’re onto your summit bid, you’ll be thankful.
Another factor is hydration. It’s all about the water so get into the rhythm of drinking plenty, start by ensuring you carry a 1 litre bottle to work, and make sure you consciously drink it. Whilst on trek, you’ll be encouraged to drink around 6 litres of fluid a day – water, tea, juice, soup. Water is available throughout the trek, every morning, lunchtime and evening. We all experienced the ‘hangover’ effect to varying degrees, with our guide always there asking questions, looking into our eyes and our characters.
I also believe that by working your body aerobically, you will have an increased chance of dealing with the curve-balls that altitude brings to support the inner strength you’ll need to push on.
Diamox is also a consideration…. You must consult your doctor, always… I must admit that on this occasion, and for this trip in particular, I chose to take it for the first time, pro-phylactically. For me, I feel it helped.
Guides – where would you be without them?
Lost! And that’s the truth. I don’t mind from a navigational perspective (as all of the routes are well maintained and trodden) but from a motivational point of view. Our trekking crew were amazing and could not do enough to help. Always smiling, always singing, they inspired and lifted spirits at every occasion. For me, the most memorable moment was our arrival into Camp on Day 3 – the second day of trekking and one of the longest. After around 8 hours of walking, and the sun descending behind Kilmanjaro, we arrived to a full rendition of Kilimanjaro, the lyrics kind of something like this (Forgive my spelling!):
Jambo, Jambo Bwana (hello, hello sir), Habari gani (how are you), Mzuri sana (very fine), Wageni, mwakaribishwa (foreigners, you're welcome), Kilimanjaro Hakuna Matata (on Kilimanjaro there is no problem).
Please listen to your guide and your assistant guides, they really are there to help you, and take an immense pride in getting you to the top, safely.
What a difference a day makes! Mawenzi Tarn, 4300m
So having walked 2600m over the past 3 days (so that’s roughly a Helvellyn in the Lake District every day), at this point, tiredness and irritation kicks in for me! Thankfully I don’t have to do any more walking that day, nor the next really, bonus. At last I may manage to read some of my book and write some notes! The acclimatisation walk lasts around 2 hours with a 200m ascent to a spectacular viewpoint of Kilimanjaro. Poor guys who are transiting out….they don’t get time to recover from the large gain in height, and rest their bodies at altitude.
Summit Bid – the day of reckoning
After an early start retracing steps back up to Mawenzi Ridge, we move slowly across The Saddle to Kibo Huts, arriving in time for an early lunch. A quiet and emotional time with two companions choosing to dip out of the summit bid. Off to rest until another early meal around 5pm, then another couple of hours trying to both prepare, and sleep for the night/day ahead. Tea and biscuits at 11.15pm then off we pushed at midnight. Dark, but lit by a full moon, I’m layered up (although carrying a down jacket, a waterproof layer, and windproof bottoms for extra protection). It’s an eerie and surreal feeling, to be surrounded by others, but for it to be so quiet. Also walking on what feels like a sand dune for the most part was a little strange too! It’s a slow, steady pace, and come 3am I’m ready for my down. The moon has edged behind Gilman’s and it’s dark, just a trail of head torches light the way. Reaching Gilman’s and elation all round. We feel the sun on our backs, and then on our faces as we watch the sun rise above the jagged peak of Mazwenzi. A rest and then decision time, push ahead? It’s only 300m away but still another 2-3 hours…. We’re like zombies! A fellow traveller plays Rudimental ‘Waiting All Night’ for an extra bit of rhythm and motivation, we all need it.
Uhuru – personal achievement
Text message, phone call, and a Facebook post away, we’ve made it, solo and group photo taken! What a day! Standing just shy of 6000m! But guess what, it’s not over yet…… we have to return to Kibo (1000m descent away), then to Horombo (another 1000m down).
Safari – two words, Do It!
If you can afford the extra 3 days, and can stretch your budget then I would totally recommend including a safari option. The journey between parks is interesting, rewarding and colourful. At times not that comfortable as some of the roads deteriorate giving us an ‘African Massage’ as Godfrey calls it! I’m still amazed at the volume of Masai villagers herding their cattle whilst using mobile phones, in the middle of what it seems, nowhere! After celebrating your success in the bar, it’s a relaxed morning wake up call, before heading off to Tarangire National Park and your lodge for the night.
Tarangire National Park
Tarangire Safari Lodge is a well deserved oasis of calm and luxury. Animals are free to roam amongst the ‘tented camp’ (but nothing like the tents you have been accustomed to on the trek), and you’ve plenty of time to relax and watch them go by, you may even treat yourself to another another ‘Kilimanjaro’ beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail. The lodge itself situated about the Tarangire plain, words cannot describe the beauty in front of you.
Ngorogoro National Park
Ascending up to the rift escarpment and then down into the Ngorogoro crater continues your exposure to the natural beauty of Tanzania, the wildlife and the Masai. My highlight here being the solo Black Rhino in the distance, and the 15ish Hippo’s at lunchtime!
Lake Manyara National Park
Another beautiful residence in the evening overlooking Lake Manyara, and another chance for a dip in the pool, a sundowner and some hotel boutique shopping.
The final part to this whirlwind and Big Five spotting safari takes us down into the Lake Manyara National Park where meeting a tower of giraffes and is the finale of my Kilimanjaro familiarisation trip. I even buy a souvenir giraffe (Jimmy) at the Heritage Centre on the way back to Arusha, which I’m happy to say, safely made it in the cabin and all the way back to Cumbria!
My top moments:
Highlights – Top 4
1. Sunrise over Mawenzi
2. Scree jumping down Gilmans Point
3. Giant Trees of the Horombo forest
4. Close up and personal with the Giraffes in Lake Manyara National Park
Equipment - Top 4
2. Wide brimmed sunhat – that sun’s strong!
3. Nalgene bottle with large neck – do you really want to know?!
4. Gaiters – not for the wet, for the dust!
Safari - Top 3
3. Camera with excellent zoom controls