'Well, where do I start? I suppose I have Clive to ‘blame’ for my adventurous streak. Though maybe blame is the wrong word, as those who knew him, knew of his ability to engender a feeling of self belief and determination that was infectious!
Clive and I first met back in 2007 when I found him through an MdS (Marathon des Sables) forum. Noticing that he was an MdS Veteran and based quite near to me, he graciously offered to meet up and wax lyrical about the event and what I could expect! His knowledge was invaluable, but the enthusiasm he had was almost hypnotic! Clive’s support didn’t stop after I travelled to Morocco in APR10 for the event, he e-mailed me every day and gave me and the team words of encouragement as well as humorous anecdotes to help keep our spirits up!
After successfully completing the MdS, I found that through Clive’s enthusiasm and the natural high from the sense of achievement, I needed more… I therefore started to plan to enter La Trans Aquitaine, a similar staged race along the beautiful Western Seaboard in France. I was going to enter that on 2011, but a positive twist in fate meant an opportunity to tick another box on the list (Climbing Kilimanjaro), coupled with the opportunity to raise money for the fantastic Candlelighters charity presented itself…..
I have been friends with a recruitment professional at iSource for many years and she mentioned that they, along with people from The Yorkshire Mafia and The Test People were putting together a charity climb of Kilimanjaro to raise money for Candlelighters. Originally, the intention had been to accompany her and be her ‘support’, but following a health review with her doctor, she unfortunately had to pull out of the event and I was on my own….
Living and working in York posed its problems to meeting up with the team and sadly the first time I had opportunity to meet them was at the foyer of Leeds Bradford Airport at 0415 on Saturday 17SEP11. We immediately started to bond and it was clear from that early point that the team would be there for each other during our following expedition! I’ll leave out the usual stuff about flights (3 of them!) and the missing baggage (mine!), suffice to say the way the team came together and cobbled kit together was again a sign of the camaraderie and support that was to last from day 1 onwards.
Day 1 – Sunday 18SEP11
(Machame Gate 1830m to Machame Hut 3000m)
We had spent the night in the Key Annexe Hotel in Moshi. It wasn’t downtown, far from it, but it’s a great little hotel on the outskirts of Moshi (about 2 miles from the centre). Rooms were basic and functional with Mosquito nest and fans and a very soft bed. After a day of travelling sleep was not a problem and we awoke refreshed and ready for the trip to Machame Gate. Machame Gate is at 1800m elevation and is the entrance to the Kilimanjaro National Park and all treks start from here. It has a couple of buildings that serve as administration hut, toilets and ‘holding’ area. I say holding as other than a few benches and tables under a solid roof, we couldn’t see any other purpose for its existence! We took the opportunity to have our lunch box (again a basic, but filling sandwich, chicken drumstick, juice and crisps. One of the team is a vegetarian and he was well catered for throughout the trip.
After the formalities, we set off trekking in earnest. The route was beautiful, winding its way through the lower slopes of deep verdant flora. Fauna was less prevalent, although we were fortunate to see a white tailed monkey and, after dropping back from the main group with a member of the team who was finding the going tough, we were rewarded by seeing a dormouse.
To say we were already at 3000m, once the camp had been set up, the catering by the porters was fantastic! Every meal was freshly prepared, three courses and of good quality and quantity!
Day 2 – Monday 19SEP11
(Machame Hut 3000m to Shira New Camp 3840m)
After a beautifully clear night that allow spectacular views of the stars and passing satellites, the pay-off was that the temperature had plummeted during the night. A small amount of ice on the tents identified areas of pooling water or condensation, but this quickly disappeared after the first rays of the sun peaked over the horizon. We were welcomed by the incredible sight of looking down onto the clouds below us. I shall never forget these views and they made you feel that you were in an alternate plain, surveying creation. Breakfast raised our spirits further (if at all possible after my previous comment!) and we made a ‘Mountain Mocha’ of instant coffee and Cadbury’s hot chocolate….. mmmhhh yummy!
The trek today was quite punishing as it was almost constant climbing. Obviously you tend to go up when climbing a mountain, but it was more scrambling and climbing around rocks than trekking up an inclined slope.
The fabulous support team
Day 3 – Tuesday 20SEP11
(New Shira Camp 3840m to Barranco Wall 4000m)
Today would be a good day, whatever the ‘hill’ threw at me! Why? Because at 0630 a porter crested the track from Machame Hut with the best thing I could ever wish to se…. my main bag! This saint of a man had set of at some ungodly hour of the morning to return my bag to me. In my best (!) Swahili, I thanked him profusely and was soon revelling in the pleasures of clean underwear, thermal layers, boiled sweets, trekking poles etc. It was lucky that this event had lifted my spirits as soon out the camp, the rain started, which soon turned to sleet, and then hail! Some of the team decided to visit Lava Tower (4,560m), but myself and roughly half of the team decided that due to the weather and our general level of fatigue, we would dip out and head straight to camp at Barranco Wall. A good choice personally as I was definitely starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness.
Day 4 – Wednesday 21SEP11
(Barranco Wall 4000m to Karanga Valley 4000m)
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this would be the day I quit, though those of you who know me, know that I don’t do quitting! Looking at Barranco Wall from the camp a mere 400m away, gave it the appearance of being vertical! I am terrible with heights and I really thought I’d met my match and would not be able to overcome my fear. ‘Fortunately’ another member of the team was in a similar position to me, so we provided each other with support and positive reassurance that we could do it! We started to climb carefully and bizarrely as we gained height, the wall appeared to be less vertical than first believed. That’s not to say it wasn’t steep and there were definitely a few moments where tears where shed, hearts were racing and determination needed to be summoned from the deepest parts of our being. The views from the top of the wall were, as you would imagine spectacular! I have definitely conquered my fear of heights and relished the drop offs and views from that point onwards. An undulating path for the rest of the afternoon brought us to our penultimate camp before summit night. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) had well and truly set in on me and some of the team and the effort required just to get to camp was incredible. Added to that I had lost my appetite and had a crashing headache which ibuprofen or paracetamol was not touching!
Day 5 – Thursday 22SEP11
(Karanga Valley 4000m to Barafu Hut 4572m – Barafu Hut 4572m to Urhuru Peak 5895m )
Double day effort! After breakfast, we walked to Barafu Huts. This wasn’t a particularly strenuous trek and it needed to be gentle to conserve our energy for the summit attempt later tonight / tomorrow morning! Although giving my increasing suffering of AMS, the effort was extreme. After arriving at Barranco Wall, we rested until late evening 2300, when we got ready to summit! I hadn’t eaten for a day and the chief guide, Lipman advised me to take some ibuprofen, paracetamol and Diamox and get some rest. He would decide when he woke us for the summit bid whether my attempt was on or if I would be sent down to lower altitudes for my own safety. Fortunately sleep came quickly and I managed to get about 8 hours solid rest. When he woke me around 2200, I was fighting fit and the drug cocktail had worked its magic and although not 100%, my headache had dramatically reduced, I felt like I actually had some energy and was raring to go!
The ascent was hell. A monotonous zigzagging path which was mainly dust over stone / rock with the odd stretch of scree that demoralised the unprepared by slipping you back with every foot step taken. We battled the mountain for 7 hours, loosing a couple of team members on the way. The team really pulled together to try and get everyone to summit, but we all had our own internal battles and despite our collective best efforts, some guys just couldn’t go on. The ridge at Stella Point seemed never to arrive, then suddenly it appeared. I had prepared myself for this moment and although I did take a moment to rest and reflect, I didn’t fall into the trap of thinking I had conquered the mountain, I knew that was another 45 minutes and 200m ahead and above me. Actually remembering to stop and take pictures of the beautiful Southern Glaciers, the true summit seemed to take no time at all and it was an emotional time when I joined the other 7 successful summiteers from our team and took in the achievement.
You are allowed a maximum of 45 minutes at the summit, though my AMS was returning by this point and my guide advised me to descend as soon as practicable, so we set off to Barafu Hut.
The 'terrible' views
Day 6 – Friday 23SEP11
(Uhuru Peak 5895m to Barafu Hut 4572m, then on to High Camp 3800m)
The descent was quick! Overall the summit and return to advanced camp took us 11 hours. This apparently is quick, with the average time taken around 23 hours! The weather deteriorated as we approached Barafu hut and a decision was made by the guides to strike camp and push on to High Camp. The trek was awful, with the majority of the day in a mix of light to heavy rain. It didn’t help that High Camp was the least favourite camp that we had been in all week. If we had realised that after the 4 hour trek to High Camp, the relative oasis that was Millennium Camp (3100m) was a mere 2 hours away, I’m sure the group consensus would have been to push on and take advantage of an empty camp with proper toilets!
Day 7 – Saturday 24SEP11
(High Camp 3800m to Mweka Gate 1500m)
My birthday! Sadly we didn’t summit on my birthday, but hey it was near enough! In a way I’m glad as I was greeted by a chorus of happy birthday by my trekking buddies and the long walk back to ‘civilisation’ seemed less arduous now that the goal had been achieved and we all looking forward to getting a proper clean, some food and several very well earned beers!
Mweka Gate was, as imagined similar to Machame Gate, but with the addition of entrepreneurial locals taking opportunity of weary trekkers to tout their wares. Everything from carved wooden safari jeeps, to friendship bracelets and even some hunting knives / spears were on offer. I settled to barter on a couple of T-Shirts, picking up a couple of reasonably priced ones proclaiming my success on the mountain. We were bussed to a local village where we had the opportunity to give the porters any unwanted kit and of course the very well earned bonuses. Through a mix of Sterling, Dollars and Schilling, they porters did very well from out team!
Once we had got back to the hotel and made ourselves relatively presentable, we went to a restaurant in downtown Moshi and had a deserved meal and beer(s!). I’ll not go into the full details, but let’s just say that the flight was the following day at 0635 and we had to leave Moshi at 0400. There were a few of us who decided that there was no point going to bed as we could sleep on the plane….
Day 8 – Sunday 25SEP11
Fly home! Another all day trudge with an extended stop in Schipol for 5 hours, but safe in the knowledge that we were nearly home! Great flight, easy baggage reclaim, joyous meeting with friends and family at LBA! Job done, £26,000 raised during the expedition and a further £21,000 would be raised at the Candlelighters Candy Ball a few weeks later.
There were times on the hill that I visited some very dark places and seriously doubted my ability to achieve the goal. I thought about all the people that had sponsored me, my family and friends and the people who inspire me to help get me through. I did think about Clive a lot and what he would be saying to help get me through. Along with his ‘laws’ and how excited I know he would have been at my achievement and these pushed me to succeed. Thank you to everyone who supported me in this life changing event.'
Fantastic Adrian (and others!)