Africa

My journey to the summit of Africa

So I thought to myself early of 2013, whilst watching a document about Tanzania, I had a strong desire to visit the country, everything really interested me,  from the culture, to the landscape to reaching the summit of Kili.

I decided this was my challenge for that year, after losing a number of people to cancer, I wanted to raise awareness, money and push myself to a challenge.

So I decided to sign up with Gap adventures, whilst fundraising over £2,000 for the charity Cancer Research UK.

Before I knew it I was heading to Tanzania to climb that amazing mountain.

It all started from London Heathrow travelling with Kenya Airways, from this experience I wouldn’t fly with them again, an 8 hour flight with a broken TV and several attempts of asking for water. It was so long and I just wanted to get to the final destination. Arriving into Kenya, we got a unique tour of the destroyed part of the airport due to a fire the month before. The airport was my first glimpse of how different it was to the western world, chalk boards with the upcoming departing flights, worn and old seats I was utterly surprised I managed to get a wifi connection.

I was presented with my connecting flight to Kilimanjaro on a propeller plane, oh boy!

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Literally squashed into this tiny plane, I was surprised they provided a refreshment service, the loud noise of the plane concerned me, but my mind was soon occupied with the incredible views I was seeing. It was my first glimpse of Mt Kilimanjaro, I couldn’t believe that is what I was climbing.

Going through Passport control was quick and simple, having already got my visa beforehand I just walked straight through and my bag was literally waiting for me. Walking out of the airport I was presented with so many people with signs all asking if I needed a lift. I literally walked passed most and hoped my arranged pick up would soon be there.

Driving down the dusty red roads, it literally hit me I was finally here, my eyes were struggling to take in everything I was seeing. Its so different from seeing things on the TV to actual life. Women with baskets of fruit balancing on their head whilst riding a motorcycle, donkeys just cruising on the road.

Arriving to my accommodation the Springlands hotel, surrounded with a white wall and controlled gates, the hotel was beautifully done, with a tropical forest feel with lovely balcony rooms. The staff were just so welcoming, full of big smiles I felt so happy.

Arriving a few days earlier, to get use to the surroundings, I quickly made friends with others staying at the hotel, some had already done the trek so I was fascinated to hear their stories. I was also eager to meet the rest of my group.

The evening before the trek, we had a group meeting, finally I was able to meet everyone, including myself  we were a group of 10, with 5 guides and around 25 porters, of who we rarely saw. Being a complete mix of people from across the world, different backgrounds and different reasons for wanting to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. I was excited!

On the morning of our first day I really appreciated my last shower for a while and a decent breakfast, the truck was loaded with all our luggage for the next 6 days, we headed off, driving through the village of Moshi, that would be the last of civilization for a whole week.

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Reaching the starting point, we had already climbed around 1,800 metres, literally the highest I had been in my life. The starting point was a very busy place, where all the porters meet, get there bags weighed, also a heaven for local people to make a bit of quick money for the unfortunate tourist who may of forgotten an accessory.

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We were registered in, some pictures taken and general words in Swahili told to us, we began.

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 Fresh and happy faces.

Machame Gate to Machame Camp

The first part was on the the slope of Kilimanjaro, walking through the rain forest with a gradual climb. I kept a constant look out for the black and white colobus monkeys and exotic birds. The forest was buzzing with noises.

Around 11 km in distance and 6 hours hiking, we had made it to our first campsite for the evening. I was over the moon, already at 3500 feet I did feel some slight pressure in my head.

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Walking through the rain forest

After our first decent camp dinner, I decided to get an early night, it was also amazing that I had my own tent, as various people had to share.

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I slept so well that night, I think the mix of hiking and adrenaline made me tired. It was truly breathtaking waking up above the clouds. The porters were just incredible, breakfast was already prepared and presented nicely in our little dinning tent. Filling our stomachs with hearty bowls of porridge and eggs I felt content.

Machame to Shira Camp

We started off around 8 am, the guides preferred if we set off early making the most of the day, from Machame camp we hiked around 5 km which took a duration of 5-6 hours , we had left the rain forest behind and slowly started a steep ridge, with several breaks lunch and general water stops we finally made it to Shira camp.

I remember getting to this point and just wanting to rest, the porters had already set up the camp and were preparing our feast for that evening. Our guide was so determined for all of us to get to the summit, he recommended after a short rest we walk a little further up get our bodies use to the altitude.

They gave us a little story on how the porters use to shelter in the caves before they were given actual tents to camp in. I seriously cannot believe most of these porters came from very poor back grounds and would often hike the mountain several times a month. Wearing just basic trainers, jeans and a fleece.

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After a decent meal, we decided to have another early night, unfortunately during the night I desperately needed the toilet, facing -10 conditions, a trek to the little porter loo or hold on until the morning….I decided to get out of the comfort of my cocoon, my sleeping bag was the best investment ( Rab Duck Down ideal for all year round.) never felt the cold whilst in this. However trying to unzip my tent, it was frozen after much force I managed to open it and trek to the toilet it was freezing….but nothing feels better than emptying your bladder. haha

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Waking up above the clouds

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 Nothing felt so good than a hot coco to start the day

Before we began trekking that day the porters all decided to lift our spirits by singing us a song, it was so lovely.

It was such a beautiful morning the pastel colours surrounding the clouds was incredible, especially seeing the top of one mountain in the distance.

Shira 2 Camp/Barranco Camp

This part of the hike was slow, we were climbing slowly through the rocky terrain to the Lava Tower (4600m, 15,092 ft) this pushed many of us, experiencing altitude sickness at this level was common. The guides were just amazing and supportive. “pole pole” as they say in Swahili was used a lot! This took around 3 hours to reach Lava tower where we had a proper cooked sit down lunch, it was definitely needed.

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Enjoying some water and a energy bar. 

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The next part of the hike was descending towards Great Barranco Valley, a very rocky open terrain, I broke my sunglasses at this point,which were taped back to together. Not the best look but they did help. We took around 2 hours to reach the next camp, the terrain was changing quickly from rocky to a dry desert land , with the most unusual looking trees I had seen.

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 Finally reaching the camp we were surrounded by The Breach Wall on three sides and the area has an amazing view of hanging glaciers and the Kibo massif.

That evening was spent looking up at the stars the sky was so clear and you could see for miles the tiny lights flicking in the distance, I got chatting to a porter, he wasn’t confident with his english, but able to make conversation, he was telling me his dreams to visit England one day, especially as he had a love for Football, it really touched me that many people had never left the community or the town of Moshi, and mostly likely they never will, and yet many in the western world travel to destinations on a regular basis’s for work and leisure. It made me realise living in the western world, so many things are taking for granted, not WiFi, or a fancy car but the regular use of clean water.

Barranco Camp/Barafu Camp

When I signed up for this trek, I never realised some rock climbing would come into it. Within minutes we had approached a very high wall, first instinct was not to take another step! haha With the support of the guides and each other we slowly climbed the wall. The views at the top definitely made that rewarding.

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Literally we were above the clouds, one of those moments you will cherish forever. We had a short break here, lots of photos taken and just taking in the incredible view.

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Left Phi, our guides and myself.

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After a long day around 8 hours of trekking we had finally reached Barafu camp this was literally on a narrow, rocky, ridge with no barriers to block the wind. It was a very early night as we literally got up at midnight to start the final climb to the summit. Although trying to make yourself go to sleep around 7pm is challenging, I don’t think I slept very much.

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So close yet so far 

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Setting off at midnight in the pitch black, we all had head torches on and followed in a single line, mentally I had not engaged what we were doing, my body just went with the flow. It was by far the most challenging part, avoiding to stop for the fear of getting cold were advised to keep going, this definitely pushes your body to the max. One guy in the group was a triathlete yet he was seriously struggling with the altitude , and threw up several times. I could feel myself getting exhausted but with the help of one guide he supported me all the way to the top. With the wind hitting you full on, and not seeing a thing it really pushed your limits.

Slowly the sun started to rise, making the whole area light up, it really boosted my confidence seeing Stella point in sight. 7 hours of hiking just so we could make it for this incredible view

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Sunrise on Kilimanjaro 

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Exhausted, emotional yet so happy. 

From stella point to the summit, looked so close yet the altitude really slows you down, each step felt like a slow motion effect, others walking passed me encouraging me that I was so close. Before I knew it I had made it! A week of hiking and I was finally at the summit.

Clear blue skies, one side white glaciers, the other side whole rocky craters.

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Group photo we all made it to the top!

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 Feeling so amazing standing on the worlds highest free standing mountain!

Due to the altitude and how cold it was we didn’t spend to long at the top and slowly made our way down to the base camp.

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Some support whilst descending

Only a few hours were spent at the base camp, I literally fell asleep instantly with my legs hanging outside of my tent. The descent to our final campsite Mweka Camp, it was tough on the knees, but going down was way faster. The route down passes back through moorland and forest terrain.

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I still cant believe I have been at the top of this volcano!

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Group photo with everyone 🙂

The accommodation.

One thing I never mentioned was the toilets, they were definitely on another level, you needed a strong stomach not to be defeated by the squatting smelly pit!

I was so looking forward to having a shower after 6 days, that was literally all I wanted.

A local beer and a certificate presented by the Guide leader.

Overall it was one of the most incredible adventures of my life, challenging but also so amazing, how one mountain can be so diverse, from rain forest, to rocky terrain, to moorland to snowy glaciers.

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