Saturday, 28 April 2012

Kilimanjaro Diary - my climb with Childreach International

Hi all,

Below is my account of my Kilimanjaro climb I did in July 2010. For those interested, I climbed the Machame route and would thoroughly recommend it.

Just as background, I was the group leader of a group of 22 volunteers (23 including myself), who climbed the highest freestanding mountain in the world, raising money for the charity Childreach International. Kili is known as the roof of Africa, as it is also the highest mountain on the continent, and is a tough climb to say the least. For those who want more information, I would thoroughly recommend Henry Stedman's book 'Kilimanjaro' and his website) Feel free to let me know your thoughts and I'd be happy to offer advice for anyone considering the trip.

6th July;
The day started with a relative lie in, as I had stayed at a Travelodge the night before, to break up the travel to London, and then from there to Nairobi. We were flying from Heathrow to Nairobi with Virgin Atlantic, then driving from Nairobi to Moshi, Tanzania, to save costs.

Heathrow Airport Travelodge really isn't at Heathrow Airport. It's about half an hour away, and a bit of a pain to get to and from, but it was relatively cheap and I had no complaints apart from that!



I met up with the group the next day, along with a group from Bath University (who we were to climb and travel with) at Heathrow, then checked in and headed through ready to start the adventure!

7th July;
We wandered out into Nairobi airport at around 8.50am their time, a little nervous as we had heard bad things about 'Nairobbery' but we passed through without a hitch (apart from some people getting charged $25 for their Visas as opposed to $10) and again, collected our bags without a hitch. We were relieved to say the least! We then left the baggage claim area in search of the Really Wild tour company (Childreach's tour operator at the time), and we met Raymond (one of our Head Guides) for the first time! Our bags were loaded rather precariously onto the minibuses (the porters seemed to think we had a lot more than they were used to, which was probably true) and we set off to Tanzania!

                                Minibus Tanzania

One of the first things Raymond said to us was his famous 'Wee!' to which we learned we were supposed to reply with 'Wee Waa Wee, Yes We Can!' and so we did, and it became the motto of our trip, repeated many, many times. We then all fell asleep on the bus, despite the road from Nairobi to pretty much Arusha (a town about 6 hours down the road in Tanzania) still being built, so we had to drive on a dirt track on the side of the road that even 4x4s back in England would struggle with, let alone a small minibus with no suspension. 

But fall asleep we did. For the moments we were awake, we were very disappointed to see, not elephants or giraffes, but lots and lots of cows and goats. We did see some camels however! I eventually forced myself to stay awake, after Raymond's comment of 'You are very tired.' Yes Raymond, yes I am.

After about 4 hours, we stopped for lunch at a few ramshackle little huts that were serving typical African grub - rice and beans and meat! Then, we passed through the Kenyan border, into no-man's land, and experienced the first of our many form filling sessions (I memorised my passport number by the end of it, something I have had no reason to know before). Then 5 minutes later,  we were finally in Tanzania!

We were told to close our windows so the dust wouldn't get in (you've never seen dust like it...unless you've been to Africa) but the driver obviously felt himself above this, so he kept his open. Unfortunately I happened to be sat behind the driver's seat. This was bearable, until about 2 hours in, I could feel the dust in my sinuses and my face swelled up. This meant that by the time we arrived at Kitolie (our hotel in Moshi) I felt like the elephant man and wanted nothing more than a shower. 

This wasn't to be however; as soon as everyone had settled into their rooms, I needed a list of all the kit everyone wanted to hire. So me and Rach (who I was sharing a room with), who kindly volunteered to help me, made the rounds and constructed a list, only to be told to go back round again and get the money. Sigh. Which we did, and then went back to the room, where I hoped I would have time to at least wash my face before dinner. Again I was thwarted.

Before I got chance to get sorted, Ellie - the rep from Really Wild Travel Company - came to meet me. We had a chat, then had a dinner of meat and rice, our staple diet for the rest of the trip, and then Jack and I sorted out some details with Ellie then, as far as I remember, collapsed into bed!
It was very cloudy at this point, and we still hadn't managed to catch a glimpse of Kili, which disappointed us. It may have been a good thing at this point though.

8th July;

                                  Childreach Volunteers Kitolie

                                  Childreach Kitolie

Yet another relative lie-in! We were picked up to visit one of Childreach International's projects at 8am (god knows how last year's group started the climb straight after they arrived, I definitely needed an extra day to recoup) and we went to a school in Kibosho, on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.

 Can I point out that at this point, we still hadn't seen the stupid hill as it was too bloody cloudy! The school was fantastic, and the kids were truly amazing! We split into 3 groups, one of people who wanted to teach, one of people who wanted to plant a tree, and one of people to go on a visit of the local community. We all rejoined about an hour later to play with the kids. 

I got suitably dirty planting a tree, then wandered back to the playground, where we were immediately surrounded by kids. We sang and danced with them, then they posed for pictures, before taking our cameras and (in my case at least) disappearing with them for about 45mins. I didn't mind in the slightest however, as they were so happy to be able to use them, and they were really good with them! Most of these children never get to see their reflection, so digital cameras are a real source of fascination to them.

                               Bus Kibosho

                               Bananas Kilimanjaro

                               School Kilimanjaro

                               Children Kilimanjaro

They taught us how to count in Swahili (already forgotten) and some clapping games, and I taught them 'Hi Low Chickalow' in return and let them wear my sunglasses. We then played some games with them as a group, including a massive game of 'Duck, Duck, Goose!' which we called 'Mambo, Mambo, Poa!'  

The standard greeting in Tanzania, to tourists at least is 'Mambo' to which you reply 'Poa,' rather than the more formal 'Jambo.' (Apparently it's more complicated than that so we didn't go into it). It means 'Crazy' and 'Cool.' You can also extend the phrase to 'Mambo Poa Kichizi Kama Ndizi' which means 'Crazy Cool Like A Banana.'

                                  Childreach School Kilimanjaro

                                  Childreach School Kilimanjaro

                                  Childreach School Kilimanjaro

                                  Childreach School Kilimanjaro

                                   Childreach School Kilimanjaro

                                   Childreach School Kilimanjaro

                                    Childreach School Kilimanjaro

                                    Childreach School Kilimanjaro

                                                 Childreach School Kilimanjaro

We also did the Hokey Cokey, Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and 'If you're happy and you know it....' as well as trying to teach them the Macarena, which didn't work so well! We then helped serve them their lunch, before having our own (our first taste of Chrisburger - basically a burger of an unidentifiable meat with an egg on it) and then playing with the nursery kids on the playground, before giving them the things we bought and having to leave. 

We then returned to Kitolie for dinner, and had our mountain briefing courtesy of Raymond and Herman, our Head Guides for the mountain. Two very different, but equally incredible people (Raymond was much more outgoing whereas Herman was quite reserved). We collected (most) of the kit we'd hired, packed our bags, and went to bed feeling incredibly nervous yet excited!

9th July;
We woke up, not quite believing we were going to climb a mountain today, and yet we were! I had a last shower, then wandered over to breakfast, meeting Ellie on the way, who informed me that Kirsty and Lauren, two girls who had had to fly in a day later than the rest of us, had arrived at 1am the night before after a massive rigmarole, but were here safe and sound, thus completing our group 

 I had some breakfast, went and introduced myself, then we were on our way! We packed a ridiculous amount of stuff onto our two little minibuses (how they didn't tip over at some point while we were there I have no idea, they weren't exactly stable, and I've never seen anything like African driving!) We arrived at Machame Gate after about an hour's drive, disappointed to find the stupid hill immersed in cloud yet again, and signed in (something you have to do at every campsite, they're really quite strict both for safety and preservation of the national park), collected the last of our kit and made our last use of a proper toilet. After an hour or two we were on our way! (The Tanzanian's definitely aren't in any get used to 'African Time.')

                                  Childreach Machame Gate


At first I was right at the front, behind Herman, disappointed that we weren't going to see monkeys until the descent. I was very happy at this point, chatting with the girls, and looking at the many, many trees and clouds that surrounded us. It's called a cloudforest for a reason amazingly enough. We stopped for a short break about an hour in, all of us slightly damp (was very humid!) but in good spirits! It wasn't steep and we were finally climbing!

                                    Carrot Sandwich

We stopped for lunch about another hour later, and had a....carrot sandwich. Actually, I think I could be sued for calling it that. It was bread with about 5 bits of grated carrot on it. Everything else (egg, chicken, banana, juice, cake) in the lunch-box was amazing though, and all were still in good-spirits, so only good-natured complaints were heard, and the 'carrot-burgers' became somewhat of a Kili legend. With us anyway. 

After lunch however, the steps got steeper. I was ok at first, and was able to keep up, and even managed to keep talking to Paul. As they got even steeper however, it became clear just how unfit I was and I dropped to the back, never to walk with the main group for the rest of the trip (partly because of my unfitness, partly because of the altitude). I walked with some of the Bath girls, along with Jess and Lucy, who I climbed with for most of the trip. I managed not to embarrass myself too much and we arrived at Machame campsite around the same time as the rest of the group. We all signed in, and made our way down to camp for the very first time.

Now the bit I was dreading initially - would everybody find a tent-mate? My worries were unfounded however, and everyone found two other people to share a tent with, to my relief. I explored my new home with Kirsty and Lauren, then panicked a bit because the porter with the bag which had my sleeping bag, roll mat and layers had not yet made it to camp, and as we were in a cloud, I was getting pretty chilly. My worries were yet again unfounded however, and he made it to camp about half an hour after we did. 

During this time, I made my first visit to the 'long drop.'  (toilet). All I can say about this is, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting! Yeah the smell was bad, and yeah it was uncomfortable, but as I say, not as bad I was expecting! It was still, essentially, four wooden walls, and a wooden floor with a hole cut out however. A word of warning - Never shine your headtorch into the hole! You'd rather not see what was down there! My only worry about these for the entire trip was someone walking in on me, because they obviously don't have locks, and often the doors were quite far away from where you were squatting!





After this, still waiting, I had a look around. I was very disappointed, as I had read about how good the views were at this campsite, but, as we were in a cloud, we could see nothing but fog. It was also a bit chilly. People from the year before had said they wore little else but t-shirts for the first bit. They went in September. As it turns out, 2 months can make a hell of a lot of difference. Apparently September is the best month to climb Kili. July is ok, but is a lot colder apparently, which was definitely noticeable.

Anyway, still in good spirits, we made our first visit to the mess tent for tea (or Milo in my case - hot chocolate with extra energy!) and salted popcorn, then wandered around for a bit, and then went back in for tea which included soup and bread, then meat, vegetables and rice, then fruit. The meals, to say they were cooked on a mountain, were fantastic! They actually tasted pretty nice, and were actual proper meals, served on plates and with cups and cutlery. It was insane! We were all pretty shattered after tea, so after a motivational talk from Raymond, which ended with him telling us we would be woken up at 6am (and the famous 'Wee Waa Wee, Yes We Can!), we went off to bed.

I actually slept like a log, the whole time on the mountain. One of the symptoms of AMS is insomnia, something I, very fortunately, didn't suffer from at all. If I'd had that as well as loss of appetite, I know for certain I wouldn't have made it to the summit.

I can't remember if this was the first night or the second night, think it was the first, but our tent was on a slope, so we kept sliding down to the bottom of the tent. Not a problem if you fasten your tent up. We mustn't have done ours up all the way because, when Kirsty and Lauren went to the loo in the middle of the night, they found me fast asleep, with my head half way down the tent, and my feet and legs in the outside 'porch' bit of the tent. I didn't realise till the next morning. Amazing.

What I will say about the nights is that they felt like they lasted forever. Every morning I woke up when it was still dark, thinking 'right, they must be coming to wake us up soon.' and every morning it was hours until they came to wake us up, it was weird. You lose all concept of time at night. I did anyway.

10th July;
We were woken up at 6am the next morning as promised, and we pulled on some layers, visited the long drop, and wandered into the mess tent for breakfast, which involved porridge, fruit and 'eggs.' I say porridge. It was oats and water. I actually managed to eat it this first morning, which I was very proud of, as I have a bit of a reputation for being a fussy eater. I might slag off the food by the way, but it's in a very good-natured way. I honestly believe the food up there is amazing - even I thought it tasted nice, and the stuff they cooked was just unreal. You just develop less than fond memories of it after 6 days of it in a row, especially with a loss of appetite and people trying to force you to eat.


                                       Cloud Kili

                                       Raymond Childreach

The altitude was already affecting me by this point. Not majorly but, although I may be unfit, I don't usually get out of breath going to the bloody loo! So we then packed up our stuff and set off on day two. Pretty much straight away I was out of breath, so was at the back with Jess and Lucy, the start of 'Twendai, Pole Pole Dadas!' (Let's go, slowly, slowly sisters!) We were with Mapa today, an assistant guide who was amazing, and attempted to teach us the 'Jambo Bwana' song, which I am pleased to inform you goes, 'Jambo, Jambo Bwana, Habari Gani, Mzuri Sana. Wageni, Mwakaribishwa, Kilimanjaro, Hakuna Matata.' All we could remember though was ' Jambo, Jambo Bwana....Kilimanjaro, Hakuna Matata,' which must have annoyed him no end. He also had a very cool Tanzania flag hat.

                                     Me trekking

                                     En route to Shira Plateau

                                     Kili Childreach



Looking back at pictures of a couple of groups who went with Childreach last year, Mapa was in both of those groups, and other porters must have been as well. You thoroughly underestimate these incredible people until you get on the mountain. While I was struggling along at the back, they were running past me with huge 20kg packs on their heads and backpacks on their backs, always there before us to set up lunch, then again to set up camp in the evenings. They were always very helpful, going above and beyond any help we asked of them, and always seemed very concerned when we were 'ill' though I'm sure we must have seemed very wussy and pathetic to them. They deserve a lot more than they get, and I wish I could have given them a lot more than I was able to.

After taking it very slowly, but very cheerfully, we came across the rest of the group who had stopped for a rest and (I presume) to wait for us. This was again a recurring theme throughout the trip, but one, we cheerfully decided, we didn't mind. We didn't care how slow we were as long as we got to the top. This turned out to be, in my case at least, a very good thing. We then stopped for lunch a couple of hours later, and were very pleased to find a table and chairs set out for us with cutlery and plates etc. It's insane the luxuries the porters provide for us. Jess, Lucy and I arrived at lunch about 20mins after everyone else, and we sat down to eat. This is where the altitude really started to get me though, and I couldn't eat more than the soup and a couple of mouthfuls of the pasta. This was the last thing I ate for a while.

It's hard to explain what it feels like - all I'd been told by last year's group before I came was to force myself to eat, and I basically bought out Tesco's supply of chocolate so that, in the event I didn't want to eat proper food, at least I'd have chocolate to eat. But I simply couldn't eat any of it. Not the pasta, not the chocolate, nothing. It's hard to describe, it's not that you feel nauseous, it's that you can't eat. Full stop. It's weird, and something I'd never experienced before.

Anyway, I thought nothing of it, assuming I'd be fine by dinner, and carried on after lunch, still with Jess and Lucy and still in high spirits. The vegetation was thinning out by this point, and we were seeing more and more rocks, a sign of things to come! At this point, Rachael was feeling really ill, so she and Billy were walking with us and we kept stopping with her to check if she was ok. She wasn't, and so fell further behind with another guide, and so me, Jess and Lucy carried on. We came across Lauren and Kirsty at this point and Lauren had lost her camera, so was understandably a bit upset. She knew she'd had it at lunch, so our guide borrowed her poles, and set off back down to find it, bless him! He was amazing! He didn't say anything to us though, and left his stuff with us, so we didn't know whether to carry on or to wait for him! We waited for probably about twenty minutes again, with the main group far ahead of us, and no sign of Rachael or the guide, so we decided it would be best to carry on, as there was no-one around to steal his stuff anyway.

At this point Lucy was feeling really sick and dizzy, so Lauren, Kirsty and I waited for a bit, but she felt better if we carried on so she didn't feel like she was holding us up, so carry on we did, with no guide. I was feeling better at this point, and as I was fairly sure I could see the path, we carried on, knowing once we reached the top of Shira Plateau, we'd see the camp.







Sure enough, as we reached the top, I could see the tail end of the group so, having regained some energy and breath from somewhere, we walked fast and caught them up. I know Mike and Pete (I think) were there, and a guide. As I was worried that we'd left Jess and Lucy on their own, I told the guide, who told us that the guide with Rachael would catch them up and they'd be fine, and we carried on to camp, which was only 10 minutes away. 

The path was flat but very rocky, something I found out to my disadvantage when, five minutes later, my ankle gave way when climbing down from a rock, and I did (according to Mike) a slow motion fall onto my knee. I initially thought it was only a graze and tried to keep walking straight away, embarrassed. The guide and everyone else however, made me sit down and have a look at it, which was probably a good thing, as there was blood gushing down my leg and into my sock, and gaping hole in my knee. Not just a graze then! It didn't hurt that much unless I touched it (or the guide did, ouch!) and so I was able to roll my trousers up, laugh it off and walk into camp. (You know the amazing thing - gaping hole in my knee, no hole in my trousers! Rab is definitely a good make of trousers!) Everyone was milling around, and were very sympathetic to my war-wound which looked a lot worse than it actually felt (until I started putting antiseptic on it) and I went straight to my tent to sort it out.


It didn't really hurt for the rest of the trip, but was obviously deeper than I first thought, as I still have the scar now, nearly five years on!

Luckily Kirsty was very well prepared and had brought some antiseptic wipes and cream, none of which I had thought of, and also a massive patch and some tape to put on it.  I don't remember much of this evening apart from talking with Paul at tea, not being able to eat the potatoes, Billy telling us Rachael was ok but asleep, and being able to see the stars for the first time! Unfortunately, it was too cold to stay outside and appreciate them, due to there being an incredibly strong, and more importantly very cold wind, which lowered the temperature to well below freezing, something that was 'unusual' at Shira Campsite apparently. Reassuring I'm sure, but it did nothing to comfort us, and we crawled into bed.

11th July;
I had been awoken a couple of hours before the guides woke us by (either Matt or Chris) from the Bath group being violently sick. According to others, who had been kept awake, they had been ill all night, which did not bode well for the day ahead, when we were to ascend 1000m and descend around 900m in order to acclimatise. A long day! 

I started off feeling relatively well; we had our first view of the summit in the morning, a scary yet exciting prospect, and I started out at the front, singing Bohemian Rhapsody with the girls. This lasted all of 5 minutes, and, even walking on the flat, singing had me so out of breath that I once again dropped to the back with Jess and Lucy, and poor Matt who was looking very ill at this point. 

We soldiered on - the gradient we could cope with, but the path was so rocky you literally had to clamber over it. We lost the main group again, but were at this point, joined by Raymond and Herman for a bit as well as our usual guide, as they were concerned about us, particularly my breathing and Lucy's dizzyness and sickness. Not good. At this point, I was getting a bit worried myself. I could cope with not being able to breathe, but not knowing if it's because of a more serious problem is a bit scary. Luckily it wasn't, we assured them we were fine, just slow (pole pole), and they walked with us to lunch, about an hour away.








We arrived to lunch I think about half an hour after the others, and again I couldn't eat, making it 24 hours since I'd eaten anything substantial. I think I managed to force down some of the soup and was happy to drink the juice but that's it. Raymond wasn't happy but I managed to stop him trying to force me to eat through a lot of apologising but refusing, and we carried on. A lot of people were feeling ill at this point, I remember Dave being very sick and I'm sure others were too, though this is where my memory gets very hazy. We walked another twenty minutes to the Lava Tower, where we had our blood oxygen levels and heart rate measures (81 and 128 - not bad and ridiculously fast) then we did Yoga to acclimatise. An amazing experience doing Yoga at 4000m! We then set off back down to Barranco campsite.

A combination of more oxygen and going downhill spurred me on, and I was able to walk at the front of the group all the way downhill, although I was a bit slow in some places and, for once, was one of the first to arrive at the camp! I went straight to my tent, sat down to wipe the dust off my face, and immediately had a nosebleed, but considering what happened over the next few days, I can't complain.

 I don't remember much of that night, except I didn't eat again, and it was the night of the World Cup Final. I do, however, remember digging out Henry Stedman's Kili book, and reading about the next day. Big mistake. On the description of the route, every day had a graph showing the gradient and distance of the walk. I thought the days up until then had been tough, but that was nothing compared to the next day. Worried, we went to sleep, trying not to think about it!







12th July;
I woke up the next morning, dreading the day ahead, having completely forgotten about the football. I was about to wander over to the mess tent, and heard someone say Spain had won, which made me happy as I'd won £60 on my brother's sweepstakes! I didn't eat breakfast, but was feeling ok, until I turned and saw the 300m vertical Barranco wall ahead of us. Eep!

 In the end I enjoyed the scramble; it was nice to have something to think about other than just trudging along for once, and was nice to ascend so much so quickly after the descent yesterday, but it was nothing compared to what was to come later that day. We collapsed at the top for a bit and had a couple of pictures taken. I was feeling very tired at this point; not ill, just completely exhausted, and so it took a lot of effort once we walked a bit, and saw that we had to make a huge descent into Karanga Valley then a very steep ascent back up again, for no other reason than there was a valley in the way. Going down was painful but ok - it hurt my knees and I didn't have the energy to put sun cream on so stayed covered up and sweltered, but it was do-able.

Going back up again was hell on earth. It was literally the steepest thing I have ever walked up apart from summit night, I had no food/energy in me, and I had just walked a long way up then down then up again for no other reason than there was a valley in the way. I was at the very back at this point, and really not feeling well at all. Exhausted. There was another group behind us, that we had seen a couple of times at the camps, so I set off, accompanied by either a porter or an assistant guide (as awful as it sounds considering how much they saved me up that mountain, everyone apart from Raymond and Herman blurred into one due to exhaustion). The other group ended up passing me as I struggled back up Karanga Valley towards lunch, but somehow I made it, even though it took me wayy longer than it should have. I literally stumbled over to everyone else and collapsed into a chair, again not able to eat anything, or even appreciate the view.




The walk after lunch was steep again; not as steep as previously, but I had exhausted myself, so steep enough. I was again, at the very back of the group, Jess and Lucy had been able to go on ahead, and I had arrived at lunch too late to refill my water so I had half a litre to keep me going for a 4 hour walk to camp. Needless to say it wasn't enough, and I was walking at a snail's pace, stopping every 30 seconds, and towards the end, I started retching. Lovely.

 About an hour away from camp, I finally threw up (disgusting, and I'm sure you don't want to know, but it was just water and my Malarone (anti-malarial)). I then managed to carry on walking, with the help of my guide, and made it into camp probably about an hour after everybody else, and it was going dark by this point. I was very lucky however, this was one of the only times I felt sick, and I didn't get a serious headache throughout the whole trip! I couldn't have kept on going with that I don't think. This nausea too, wasn't proper nausea, at least not at first. It was just from pushing my body too hard.

I felt sick the whole of the rest of the way to camp. I got to the tent which, bless them, was the closest to the path as they could possibly get it (the porters knew me well haha) and Kirsty and Lauren were already there which was lovely. I collapsed into the tent, had a little cry and then lay down in my sleeping bag. I didn't see Barafu Campsite until the next day, as I didn't leave my tent until we left for the Summit attempt. This proved to be very disorienting when returning from the summit attempt, and having to pack up my bag and tent when I didn't recognise I thing!

I was exhausted and still feeling very sick so I couldn't stomach the mess tent, so Kirsty and Lauren left me to it. About half an hour later, I had a visit from Raymond, bless his heart, trying to force me to eat something. I wished I could so much, but couldn't sit up at that point from nausea, so he gave me a little blue pill to stop me feeling sick (I didn't ask what it was and I certainly don't want to know (I figured out a couple of years later that it was probably Viagra!)), and asked if I definitely wanted to do the summit attempt. I insisted I did so he nodded then left me alone. Shortly afterwards I heard the distant tones of 'Wee Waa Wee, Yes We Can!' from the mess tent, then Lauren and Kirsty returned, and we dressed in all our layers and fell asleep. The summit attempt was only hours away.

13th July;
I woke up and was instantly confused as we are surrounded by voices, I could hear Billy and Rachael shouting at each other, and everyone seemed very awake. I checked my watch. 1am...the time we're supposed to be setting off to the summit attempt. Wtf?? We were supposed to be woken up at 12am!! Panicking, we grabbed the rest of our gear and layers and hurried outside. Indeed everyone was dressed and ready to go, having already had breakfast and been awake for about an hour. They had forgotten to wake us up, and with it being pitch black, no-one had missed us. Pissed off, but nothing we could do, we got ready very quickly and set off. Though I no longer felt sick, I felt very tired, and I very quickly dropped to the back, along with Helen who was as exhausted, if not more exhausted than me.

My guide, who I cannot for the life of me remember the name of, insisted on taking my daypack, and we set off. Straight away I was very far behind the main group, and as I looked up, you could see lines of headtorches stretching for miles ahead, showing how far I had yet to go. This sapped my morale, and along with the dark and the cold, I started to feel very tired and very miserable.

In the first 4 or 5 hours, I ascended only about 200m, with 1000m left to go. I sat down on a rock every minute or so, for about 5 minutes each time (it could even have been more than that, I lost track, and my memory is very hazy), and fell asleep on the rocks more than once, my guide having to shake me awake and make me keep walking. Poor guy must have been freezing, I was too tired to feel it, but he stopped with me as many times and for as long as I wanted. Four times, I remember saying to him 'I can't do it, I really can't do it, I want to go back down.' and him asking 'Do you want to go back down?' and me saying 'No.' and either sitting on a rock or walking as many steps as I could before needing to sit down again. The whole thing felt like a horrendous nightmare, and I couldn't tell what was real and what was a hallucination. The only thing keeping me going was the thought of having to tell people I didn't make it, and how disappointed they'd be, not in me, but just in general. It worked :)

Then the sun rose at about 6.30am and it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. The daylight showed that, actually, there wasn't that far to go, and my spirits rose dramatically. My guide (lied as usual) and told me it was only 3 hours to Stella Point, and I could definitely make it (he wan't lying about that) and so I carried on and didn't have to stop half as much as before, proving just how much of it was psychological. I was still struggling as I didn't have enough breath to blow back into my Platypus (a technique to stop the pipe freezing so you can still get to the water - something I'd highly recommend) so the pipe had frozen and I'd had barely any water to begin with, but I could see the summit so all was good. I remember the guide offering me some of his water at some point, which I feel really bad about but I was so thirsty I wasn't going to complain. Also, as he had my pack, I didn't have constant access to it, so I was definitely dehydrated, as I'd barely drank the day before either.

Not long after this, I unfortunately saw Lucy, who, having reached Stella Point, was told by Raymond that it was too dangerous for her to carry on because of her breathing difficulties. She was so brave, and was absolutely gutted, but she was amazing, having reached Stella Point being so ill, and still 3 hours ahead of me! I gave her a hug and she wished me good luck. I told her I probably wouldn't make Uhuru but would definitely make Stella. An hour later, as we got closer to Stella Point, I asked the guide if it was possible for me to reach Uhuru Peak. He said yes, and this raised my spirits more than anything, so I carried on even faster than before.

A couple of hours later (I think, my memory is very sketchy, so I'm guesstimating things!) however, I started feeling really rough again, started retching and had to slow down again. About half an hour before I reached Stella Point, I passed the rest of the group, who had been to Stella Point and Uhuru, and were on their way back down. Having spent 9 hours walking on my own apart from the guide, I've never been happier to see friendly faces in my life, and instead of disheartening me, it really encouraged me! I could see Stella Point at this time, and with them wishing me luck, I really felt I could do it, even with Arne saying to me 'Hey Soph, I would talk to you but I feel like I'll be sick if I open my mouth.'

I could see Stella Point at this point and half an hour later, at about 11am, I reached it.
I won't say I walked there; I literally staggered up the last bit, with the guide holding onto my arm. I remember seeing a group of Bath boys sat there and being very happy to see some more people I staggered over to them. My guide tried to get me to sit on a rock, but I remember saying 'I think I'll just sit on the floor.' where my legs gave way. At this point, while I chatted monosyllablicly to the boys, my guide was radioing to Raymond, who was at the top, that I was at Stella (or that was the gist I got from the jumble of Swahili that included my name. He could have been insulting me for all I know!). He then turned to me and said 'We finish here.'

Bear in mind that, at this point, you can see the sign along the crater rim. It might be an hour or so away, and it might be tiny, but I could see it. Stella had provided me with some unknown energy at this point, so I was adamant that I was going. We debated for a while, with one of the guides saying 'No, no, it is 11am, it is bad, no time....we will give you a certificate anyway!.' to which I was very offended and was very adamant we were going. My guide finally (and reluctantly) agreed, so I got to my feet and off we went. I think at this point, I had unfrozen my water and it was empty, as I hadn't had a chance to fill it up before we went, so it had only had about a litre to start with, so as far as I remember, the Bath boys gave me some of theirs (thanks guys) and off we went.

As we started towards Uhuru, about 20mins in, we met Helen coming back down, who looked exhausted but happy. She was either delirious or trying to keep me going, as she told me Uhuru was only 15mins away, (took us another hour to get there I think) or I was much slower than her (entirely possible) but after a struggle, walk over ice and a lot of rest stops, I finally reached Uhuru Peak against all odds at 1.15pm.

I took a couple of pictures, tried to admire the scenery (I remember none of it - I took a picture, and it wasn't until I got back down that I realised I'd taken a picture of the crater, I hadn't even realised I'd seen it!) and then set off back down to Stella, with Raymond and my assistant guide in tow. (I realise now that that's one of the main reasons they didn't want me to go to Uhuru - poor Raymond had been up there since the early hours of the morning! When I got there (if I remember this correctly and it wasn't a dream/hallucination) he was having a nap on the floor, using his backpack as a pillow. Casually, as you do at the summit of the Roof of Africa! I also remember there being a lot more ice and snow that I'd expected - I knew there were glaciers, but I didn't think I'd actually have to walk through any snow. It was only for the last half an hour but it was definitely there.





This was all fine. I had well and truely exhausted myself by this point however, forgetting that I had to get back down again! Never forget that, at the summit, you're only half way there. The first bit was ok, as I had my guide on one side and my pole on the other, and we basically skied down the side of the mountain on the skree (naughty naughty, bad for erosion!). This is more tiring than it sounds however, and about an hour in, I was again stopping every 2 mins, making us late for camp! 

The plan was to stop at Barafu to rest for a bit, then carry on down to Mweka Huts for the night. A couple of hours in, it was clear I was holding Raymond up, and he decided I was so tired because I had no food in me (true) so he radioed for a porter to come up from camp with some soup, despite my protests! You could see the top of Barafu at this point, but the people were tiny, and it was around 45mins-an hour away, walking at a normal pace, never mind my snail pace! He then carried on to the rest of the group, leaving me with my guide, so he could brief the rest of the group.

 I carried on at my slow pace with my guide and another porter. When the guy with my soup arrived, they made me sit on a rock and eat it, and I tried so hard because, bless him, the poor porter had trekked for ages with my soup, but I couldn't eat more than half of it, so he finished it off, and off we went again, walking another two painful hours to Barafu.

By the time I got back, everyone else had set off and the plan had changed. Because I was so late and because 4 people were so ill they'd had to be stretchered down due to dehydration, we were staying instead at Millenium Camp, quite a bit higher than Mweka Huts. As soon as I got to Barafu, instead of getting chance to rest, I had to pack up my sleeping bag and stuff, and set off straight away, with a different guide, to the next camp.

Barafu was very disorienting - I was already hallucinating because of exhaustion, and I was taken into the porter's bit of the camp, with loads of tired porters giving me very weird looks, and I felt very uncomfortable and out of place, especially as I hadn't seen it in daylight before so I didn't recognise it at all. When I got to my tent, I didn't believe it could be mine because I didn't recognise anything around it, but it was. I had to sign in, and pack my bag and sleeping bag away, and then was taken down to Millennium by my new guide.

He was very nice to me, and told me it was only two and a half hours to the next camp. I'm sure it was if you hadn't already been walking for about 16 hours, but as it was, it took me about 4. He lent me his headtorch, as my guide from the ascent still had mine (I never got it back, but as I didn't have enough money with me to tip him extra, I was more than happy for him to keep it, he more than deserved it, and I would have given him much more had I had it.) On the way down, I was so exhausted I kept tripping and stumbling, and I'm certain that without my poles, I would have fallen over and broken something. 

Bless his heart, the guide really looked after me, and, when the sun went down, kept kicking stones out of my way and checking behind to make sure there was nothing I could fall over. I was so tired at this point, I didn't care that I kept tripping, there was nothing I wanted more than to get back to camp, I genuinely don't think I have wanted anything more in my life. So therefore, in my exhausted and slightly insane opinion, all he was doing was holding us up. By the time we'd been walking for 3 hours, I was shouting at him (in what I thought were whispers, but I'm fairly certain now that he heard every word poor guy) that I was fine, and that I just wanted to get to effing camp! It was worse towards the end because we kept zigzagging, and about an hour from camp you could hear voices and see headtorches but they never got any bloody closer. It was like a bad dream, and was genuinely the worst part of the walk.

I was also hallucinating, mainly while it was daylight. Nothing interesting, mainly seeing people and faces in the rocks, but it was definitely interesting. It also all felt really surreal, I couldn't tell what was real and what wasn't, when people were talking to me and when they weren't, especially when the guides and porters were talking between themselves in Swahili. That made me a bit paranoid I think. To this day I'm still not sure what bits of that descent are real! Eventually however, I got back to camp, and Kirsty and Lauren and rolled out my sleeping bag for me bless them, and they were really lovely to me! Apparently, when it was dark, people thought I'd just dropped to the back of the main group, then when they realised I wasn't when the sun rose, they asked Raymond where I was. 

He said I was coming, and when they asked if I was going to make it, he said he didn't think so. Well neither did I Raymond, but I did :) They were glad to hear that I'd made it when Raymond met them back at camp apparently :) I'm so, so proud of everyone in the York and Bath groups, everyone really pulled together, and really helped each other, and it all paid off in the end.

Everyone, including Raymond, insisted I had to go to dinner, so Kirsty walked me to the mess tent. As soon as I got close though, the smell made me retch, so Kirsty walked me back - we lost our tent then found it again - and I lay down in my sleeping bag. About 15 minutes later, Raymond appeared with a plate of food, determined to make me eat. It took me 5 minutes, with the food in the tent the whole time, for me to persuade him that it wasn't that I didn't want to eat, but that the smell of food made me gag, and would you please get that plate out of my tent now! Bless him, he was only looking out for me but god did I feel ill. 

At this point (apologies for the TMI) but I also hadn't been to the toilet at all for about 24 hours. I was very dehydrated and hadn't eaten anything, but I'm fairly sure this wasn't normal. As I was lying in my tent, I got a sudden urge to go, to the point where I thought I was going to wet myself. Unfortunately, I had no headtorch and had no idea where the toilet was...

I crawled out of the tent, with the intention of peeing there and then if I had to (we'd got to the point by then where nobody cared), but fortunately the urge went away and I was able to crawl back into the tent and try to sleep.

14th July;
We woke up the next morning, feeling vaguely refreshed, but immediately as I woke up I felt that something wasn't right. My lips felt really swollen and my face swollen and kind of sticky. I asked Kirsty and Lauren if my lips were swollen and they said yes, and there was pus all over my face and blisters, apart from a white patch where my hat and sunglasses had been.

 Lauren had a mirror and it confirmed that I looked like the elephant man, only worse. When I touched it, the pain kicked in, so I asked one of the porters to find Raymond for me, as I couldn't face going outside. Raymond looked at me and asked if it was my nose that was the problem. It was dark so you can't blame him but yes Raymond, that and the rest of my face! Once he'd had a proper look, he wouldn't accept at first that it was just sunburn and told me to wash it and then take an anti-histamine because it could be a reaction to the dust too, because it was so swollen. It wasn't, was just sunburn, but I actually think the anti-histamine helped anyway. I worked out afterwards that the sun had given me 2nd degree burns. I wish I'd got a picture from when it was at its worst, but the one I have looks painful enough...


After washing most of the pus off my face, I braved going outside, the first time I had seen most people since before the summit attempt.

Just as an aside, the picture of my face is after it's healed for 3 days and it healed surprisingly quickly. Times that picture by 10 and add more pus and blisters and you have an idea of what it was like at first!

There was no porter's ceremony as we had an extra two hours to walk due to us having to sleep at a different campsite. As annoying and painful it was the day after, I know I genuinely wouldn't have been able to continue the evening before, as it was already 8.45 by the time I got into camp and I was nearly delirious. The first bit of the descent was a tad strenuous as we were still in the rocky bit, but we powered through and as soon as we got to the cloudforest, at Mweka Huts about 2.5 hours into the walk our spirits rose as we were nearly there! I was walking with Laura and Zoe, and we couldn't wait to get back down for a shower!

However, as the day went on, I became more and more tired, not because of the altitude but because there was nothing in my body to keep me going. I was fine until the last hour, despite a couple of trips and falls on the slippery steps, when our guide told us we had 20mins to go and I became very happy and excited, only to find that 20mins later he was still saying we had 20mins to go. If he had told us the truth in the first place I would have been fine, but because I was looking for Mweka Gate around every corner and because I was so tired, the path became very claustrophobic for the last hour and I was certain it would never end. 

I kept stumbling again and fell behind Laura and Zoe, but eventually, after being too exhausted to stop and look at the monkeys after my initial excitement five days earlier and after seeing a mammoth trail of ants, I arrived at Mweka Gate not too far behind everybody else, and even in front of some people (I was walking as fast as I physically could, determined just to get off the stupid hill), and sat on a bench, too tired to move, even after both Raymond and Herman attempted to make me move out of the sun because of my face.

Once we'd done this, we were then told we had another 10 minute walk to where the buses were. Bracing myself for another half hour's walk at least, I was told to get in a car with 4 other people who were ill, so we didn't have to walk down. I refused at first, but they insisted and I didn't have the energy to argue so we drove the 2 mins (they didn't lie this time, it really was a 10min walk but I couldn't have cared less at this point!) and then got on the buses, avoiding the masses of touts trying to sell us stuff, although in other circumstances I would actually have bought it.

Once on the bus, I realised we had to give tips to the guides and porters - I had already collected some, so made sure I had it off everybody, then we got to the hotel; I scared Ellie with my sunburn and we met back up with Nick who had been building a school and was dirtier than we were! I then gave Herman the tips and thanked him profusely, collected our luggage and had what I expected to be the best shower of my life but was actually quite disappointing because it was cold and because my sunburn hurt. 

Instead of sleeping I then had to book a hotel with Jack for the rest of our travels and sort loads of stuff out with Ellie. We then ordered pizza which was amazing (I was starving by this point) though it hurt to put it in my mouth, updated my Facebook status, tried to phone my mum and dad, text the family, presented everyone with their summit certificates then, while everyone else got drunk, fell asleep!

That's the basic story of my Kilimanjaro climb! Some of it, especially day 4, is very vague in my mind, one of the reasons I definitely want to do it again in the future. Of the summit attempt, I don't think I can describe the sheer exhaustion and despair that you feel. If the sun hadn't come up when it did, and if my guide hadn't been so amazing, I genuinely don't think I would have made it. In the end, I didn't eat for 4 days straight, and had thrown up the night before, so was attempting to ascend over 1000m in below freezing temperatures, at serious altitude, with no energy reserves to draw back on, and no water. How I managed it I don't know, and they probably shouldn't have let me, but make it I did, and so did everyone in my group.
None of us would have made it up there without the superb team of porters, assistant guides and the two head-guides, Herman and Raymond, who kept us going mentally, emotionally and physically throughout the entire climb. Herman and his wacky noises, Raymond and his varied medical kit and magical pills, and amazing energy, and both of them with their good spirits and songs.

I remember on the summit attempt, when I was alone with my guide and on the verge of giving up and going back down, I heard Herman on the radio go 'Arriba, Arriba' as he so often did. It reminded me that there were others out here, and that I would come across them eventually, and that I just had to keep going. It made me laugh through my tears, something my guide passed on to Herman, and it was the turning point, as the sun came up, in my mentality that allowed me to power on through.

Everybody who made it ahead of me felt more ill than me in one way or another, and they made it around 3 hours ahead of me, and I am very proud of them all. They kept me going as well. I didn't get to talk to them much on the mountain, despite being the group leader, as I was always lagging behind the group, something we made up for in the upcoming weeks.

After coming down from the mountain, we went straight out on Safari, and then to Zanzibar, but that's a story for another time.

At this point I'll leave you with. 'Wee!' 'Wee Waa Wee, Yes We Can!'
Whenever you struggle with anything, think of that, and it will get you through it.

(Just as an aside, the vast majority of these photos are mine, but there are a couple of things I didn't capture as I was too ill. I used a couple of photos from friends on the trip who kindly let me use them to promote Childreach).

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