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Narrative on Roger’s trek up Kilimanjaro

The trip was an amazing experience and harder going than I thought it would be. It was a bit
daunting when we met people who were on their way down with various horror stories, having
been hit with altitude sickness. Some groups only had a 50% success rate. One person we
met described their push for the summit as ‘the worst day of his life, by a long way’! He
suggested that we turn around and head to Zanzibar for a few days on the beach instead. It
was very tempting but in the end, all seven of us made it and it was an amazing experience.
Having got the overnight flight from Heathrow to Nairobi, we then got on a smaller plane and
flew to Kilimanjaro airport. Having arranged for the luggage to be transferred over, there was
a bit of a panic when three of the main bags failed to appear. The flight was actually held up
while they located the bags, which they did, much to everyone’s relief. That would not have
been a good start! The first glimpse of Kilimanjaro came from the connecting flight when we
looked to our left and saw the mountain towering above the clouds. It was really strange to be
flying above the clouds but below the mountain top!
We were transferred from Kilimanjaro airport to the Marangu Hotel at the base of the National
Park. I expected the weather to be scorching hot, but I was surprised to find that it was
actually overcast and pretty cold. The first day had been set aside as a day to get all the kit
ready and to catch up on sleep. We took the opportunity to find a local guide who took us
around one of the villages tucked away out of sight in the forest. It was my first glimpse of
Tanzanian culture and it was terrific. The people were so friendly and happy to see you.
Despite having nothing by our material standards, they had a real dignity about them and
made you feel so welcome. It was a very humbling experience. The children all came running
out of the huts and make-shift buildings calling, ‘Jambo,Jambo’. They were full of fun and
obviously a little puzzled by our strange colour.
We received a briefing on the first night, which was quite sobering. We were told to watch out
for the symptoms that could be associated with a Cerebral Oedema or a Pulmonary Oedema
because these could be fatal. We decided that it was going to be very difficult to spot the
symptoms of Cerebral Oedema amongst the group because the main symptom was ‘declining
mental status’.
On the first day of our trek, it was very strange to meet the team in the courtyard of our hotel
who were our guides and porters for the trip. There was two people for every one of us. My
Porter’s name was Abraham. It was cringe-worthy every time I passed my bag across to him
because he was half my size. The porters carry the main bulk of your kit up to each base
(15kgs). I was staggered to see them put your perfectly good rucksack into a hold-all so they
could balance it on their heads. I was reassured that the porters were very well paid for this
work, which eased my guilt a little.
The first day was a trek through the rain forest. The climate at the base is very conducive to
lush vegetation. A pathway had been cut though the forest for visitors, which was a good job
because it would have been virtually impossible to make your own way through. We walked
up to our first base, the Mandara Huts. The wooden huts were basic but perfectly functional,
with four to a hut. They were definitely a good option when compared to the alternative of
pitching a tent. Mattresses were even provided so I do feel a little guilty for accepting your
sponsorship money. Although they had fitted solar power to the huts, the light bulbs had gone so there was not a great deal of light around the place. We arrived early so we had a quick trip across to the Maundi crater where the views across the rain forest were spectacular. With nothing else to do when we got back to the huts, I learned to play poker and I was very relieved that we were not playing for money. The porters provided food at each base, we were well looked after and were treated to a three course meal every night. Pasta and baked beans was our favourite, although I never really got used to the Maze porridge that we had every morning. At the Mandara Huts, we were woken at 6.00am in the morning by monkeys who were making a hell of a noise, showing off in the trees next to our hut. The next day, we trekked up to the Horombo Huts, which were at 12,500ft. It was approx. 10 miles to these huts and it was mainly walking through alpine meadows. We had been told to expect some shortness of breath by this stage but we all felt fine. We stayed at these huts for a further night, to help acclimatise. We walked up in the day to the saddle between the peaks of Kibo (Kilimanjaro) and Mawenzi. We could see the mountain in the distance and we could just make out the path that we would be taking up to the summit. It looked very daunting and we were quite relieved to head back down to the Horombo Huts for another game of poker and Perrudo (a dice game which is a good laugh when you have a few people). It was quite strange to be getting in to the habit of going to bed when it got dark and waking up at sunrise. The temperature at night was extremely cold, despite it being so hot in the day whilst we were trekking. I had compromised a little when buying a sleeping bag and regretted it for most of the first night at Horombo. The temperature had dropped to below -20C and it felt like it. Unfortunately, we were all taking Diamox to help combat against the effects of altitude sickness. The main side effect of Diamox is that you all always nipping to the loo, which is no joke in the middle of the night when it is so cold, especially when everyone else is also getting up three times during the night aswell. The following day, we set off on a really long trek to the Kibo Huts at approx. 15,500ft. The vegetation quickly started to disappear and it was semi-desert by the time we got to the base. The guides insist on you going very slowly to help acclimatise. The group wasn’t quite as jovial as it had been, there was quite a serious edge to it all at Kibo. Just before reaching the base, we passed someone who was being carried down the mountain on a stretcher and he did not look at all well. Rather than four-man huts, we were put in a long dormitory. It seemed colder in the dorm than it did outside. We sorted out all our kit for the ascent and went to bed at around 7.00pm. We were woken at 11.00pm, had some tea and biscuits and set off at 12.00pm to walk up to the crater rim, using head torches for light. It was a lot easier on the rocks than the scree, which was deep and you seemed to take two steps back for every step forward. We passed people in the dark who were struggling with altitude sickness. Two of our party didn’t feel too good but managed to keep going. We finally got to Gillman’s Point at 18,635ft on the crater rim at about 5.30am. It was a relief because we had all made it. I was celebrating because I felt absolutely fine. We set off for the Uhuru Peak (the very top), hoping to make it there in time for sunrise. Altitude Sickness then hit me like a brick wall. It took two hours to get to Uhuru but it seemed like a liftetime. I had to really focus on slowly pushing one foot in front of the other, I was struggling to breath and felt incredibly nauseous. So many times, you thought you were just about there, only to find that there was another climb stretching out in front of you. It was a huge relief to get to the Uhuru summit. The views were incredible as the sun came up and you could see the vast crater stretching out in front of you. I’m very glad that we arrived 350,000 years after the last eruption, it must have been spectacular but I doubt many survived to tell the tale. There are huge ice sheets on top of the glacier which were amazing to see so close up. It was a fantastic feeling to be right at the top and the altitude sickness started to subside. We took some great photos. Gareth from the Orange Tree had promised to give £200 to Rainbows if I managed to eat a packet of their new range of healthy crisps (Cripps) at the summit and I managed it, despite nearly losing my fingers to frostbite! It is a good job that I missed an email from a friend just before I set off. He had come up with the following through Google: ‘While it is inactive, Kilimanjaro has fumaroles that emit gas in the crater on the main summit of Kibo. Scientists concluded in 2003 that molten magma is just 400 metres (1,300 ft) below the summit crater. Although new activity is not expected, there are fears the volcano may collapse, causing a major eruption similar to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.’ On the top, you do get a feeling of how precarious our existence is on this planet. The trip back down the scree was not easy. We tried to take it in turns to carry Ben between us because he was having trouble with his knee. At that altitude, you quickly get very short of breath. It took two days to get back down to the park entrance and we kept up quite a pace. It was great to have a bath back at the hotel, not having washed for a week! The beer did not taste quite as good as I thought it would because the Diamox makes it taste really strange and flat. Nevertheless, after a couple, you didn’t really notice and we managed to keep the celebrations going until 5.00am!


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