So what about the (and beyond?) then….

So having been rather quiet for a few days or so, whilst I reflect on life the universe and everything, I have been plotting adventures new. I shall tell you about those shortly.

Meantime I have been corresponding by email with a person whose son has been climbing Kili. He was doing the Pofu route (which I hadn’t heard of before, at least by name). This is the route that takes a longer route around and up the mountain, and then has you camping in the actual crater before summiting. That all sounds fairly hardcore, even to me.

So anyway, the person with whom I have been corresponding (I shan’t name them as I do not have their say so as of yet to do so) has obviously been nervously (big understatement there) waiting for updates from the son, and has happily been receiving them on a regular basis. It has made me think how I would feel if my daughter was doing it (it won’t be happening for my son I cannot imagine but you never know:)), and I totally understand what the emotions must be like.

Anyway I am absolutely delighted to tell you that he summited successfully yesterday. That is fantastic news, I am delighted for them both, proud parent and son alike. Apparently the only hiccups were a broken camera (thank goodness for mobile phone cameras then), and a bad case of sunburn from the summit itself.

I am hugely looking forward to hearing more of the adventures that he had, and if he is happy for me to do so then I will post them here in due course.

Meantime also I have been trying to figure out what to do next. And so I have:)

Well it couldn’t last too long could it? I mean the follow up?

For those people who know me well, then you will know that I occasionally suffer from a bout of impetuosity. In fact I am one of the most impulsive people I know:)

So for the last week or so I have been pondering the merits of renewing my gym membership as against buying a bike. The gym I have been to only a couple of times since I have been back, and as one of my other traits is getting bored (although I don’t have time for that these days), then it doesn’t have the appeal as much anymore. Whilst planning for the mountain I was very driven, surprising myself sometimes in fact, but now I need something to plan for. Something to drive me, motivate me, challenge me.

So I hit upon the idea of cycling to work. Now also for those of you who know me, and before you start guffawing away with howls of derisive laughter, I should tell you that I used to love riding bikes. OK so it was a long long time ago, but I used to do it a lot. Me and Col used to cycle through the pedestrian tunnel over to North Shields sometimes – it was probably about four miles or so! That was however when we were about 14.

So my office is about 7 miles away from my house, and I figured that on the days when it is not raining (so I could be actually very safe here) I could probably get there in about 40 minutes or so, hopefully. There are also about three different routes I could take, and so I started to decide which one to take. One of them involves a bit of off road, but is by far the most direct. The other two are quite different – the shorter one involves a fair few ups and downs, and might be a bit painful in places for a cycling novice like me. The other one probably adds a few miles on, but is almost entirely flat. The first bit is down fairly narrow lanes though and so if there are cars coming then it could be a bit hairy.

I narrow a number of choices down to a few bikes online without really knowing what I am looking for, but a Cannondale Bad Boy really takes my fancy, and is a snip at about £630. I then go to my local cycle shop and my head is spinning again. I could have  Trek for this money, and a Specialised for that money, or a Bianchi (wasn’t she in Eastenders?) something-or-other. Even if I had chosen a bike I could have chosen between about 30 different tyre types alone. I leave the shop none the wiser.

And so I buy myself a cycling magazine. Sorry if this is a long story by the way:)

So I still just cannot decide which bike to buy. There are (to follow:)) so many decisions to take about 53-39 chainsets, and doubles and triples, and Tiagra versus 105 and things that it will make your head spin. And that is after you decide between a hybrid, a sloping frame, aluminium or carbon and the like.

Anyway, I see an advert in the magazine as I am thumbing through, and it is for “the Great British Bike Ride”. I look at the website and it tells me that the ride is in September this year, and is 320 miles between Lands End and Twickenham in London, over 4 days. It is the first time it has been held in the UK, and it is for three different charities, all of whom I like a lot. So I think – why not, and go and immediately sign up!

I am so excited about this it is fantastic. I have a new adventure to plan!

Here are the details of the ride:

Looks like no hybrid then, but a road bike, and a serious one. More decisions to come then, and a rigorous new fitness regime. 320 miles – gulp!!

My Certificate

So a couple of people had asked me what the certificate is like, and so here is a picture of it. To say I treasure this is a bit like saying that I value breathing, or that I like beer, or I like Sunderland Football Club, or some other such ridiculous understatement.

You will see on there, amongst other things, pictures of the Senecia and Impatiens that we saw on the mountain. You will also see my Swahili name (I love being called that, and am considering having it tattooed somewhere, I mean seriously), and also the date and time of our summiting. The record here is also recorded in the big register at the Park Gate, for all time hopefully.

I will be getting this framed and put somewhere such that I can look at it for all time. Special it most certainly is:

Proud I am......

Why Climb Kilimanjaro?

I thought that I should do a sort of “final post” thing here already, but it seems too early somehow. I have been back in the UK now for about 10 or so days, and the whole thing is still so close. Although to some extent, like any ‘holiday’ (ha), once you get back into work mode it seems very quickly like a long time ago, with this it will not fade, and I hope it never does. Having said that, I don’t want to become obsessive about it (again:)), and for it to take over my life. But it is also too big, too important, to let go of, and it won’t be happening anytime soon.

I have also been delighted by some of the comments that are being put onto here. That I find quite inspirational. It is fantastic for example to be able to help anyone, and if I can then I will, so please if you are reading this and are thinking about leaving comments, then do so – I promise to reply.

I’m also so pleased with how much attention the blog is getting generally – I used to get 10 hits a day if I was very lucky back in December or so – today I have received 240 so far! In fact pleased is a massive understatement –  I am doing cartwheels across the floor!

In the meantime I wanted to put up a few ‘post climb’ thoughts. How do you feel when you have been back a few days? What do people say to you? Is it an anticlimax?

So first a few thoughts, post-climb, as it were:

Well firstly I am still on an absolute high. Despite being thrown back into a very heavy work schedule, and also having a lot of ‘catching up’ to do generally, I am still buzzing. I didn’t go up the mountain to find anything in particular, but I certainly learnt a whole lot about “life, the universe, and everything”, as they say. I’ll try to capture those things separately in another post sometime soon.

Secondly it is great to be able to go through the photographs, all of them, good and bad ones. They all tell their own stories. I am very glad that I got the new camera, but wish to an extent that I had taken more shots, particularly of the flora and fauna. One of the amazing things about Kilimanjaro is the totally amazing variety of what you see. From forest to desert, from indigenous tropical flowers to alpine heathers, it is incredible. I love to be educated, and whilst on the mountain I found myself never able to learn enough about all that was in front of me. I found a world full of ‘impatiens kilimanjari’, of moss, heather, lobelia and senecia.

I will continue to pursue that knowledge – it fulfills me greatly. Kilimanjaro also takes you through five (yes five!!) climate zones. They are the forest (where we saw the moss and the monkeys, amongst other things) with 230cm of rain a year; the heath with its 150cm of rain; the moorland with 53cm and its lobelia and senecia; the alpine desert with 20cm and its helichrysums; and then the ice cap, with virtually no rain ever, but lichens and bunches of snow in our case. It is amazing to think back of being at (or immediately below) the equator, and then going through so much change in weather. To think that I was at a higher point when I reached the top than the aeroplane was that flew me into Tanzania puts it all into perspective.

Next there are the people who made this really happen, and I mean “really really” happen. You may recall this photo from a few posts ago, but here it is again:

These guys (Tayma and myself excepted) are all heroes....

So it would be more than remiss of me if I didn’t name them all, and so here we go:

The Porters:






Imanuel Mrema






Kevin (“Spiderman”)




Antony (also dishwasher)

Joseph (also dishwasher)

Frank (also waiter)

Ally (also waiter)

Omari (also cook)

Mauld (also assistant cook)

The Assistant Guides






So with some of these guys we would pass like ships in the night , as they lugged our stuff up the mountain and catered to our every need. We exchanged the occasional “jambo”, “mambo” and “poa”, which was about as far as my Swahili would stretch. That makes me feel a bit ignorant – you guys were the best, and I admire every single one of you, enormously and incredibly gratefully. With the assistant guides and Deo, they all spoke our language, as they are required to for their qualifications for their jobs. I won’t stress again here what these guys did and how much they mean to me, but it is irreplaceable in my memory – unforgettable. Raymond in particular, at least for me (see my “summit” post) is just my hero, always: Raymond my friend, when we speak again, as I know we will, I want you to know that you have my undying respect and admiration, for all time.

It appears that I have whole lot more to add here, so I will continue this another day (and also try to answer the title question, which clearly I have failed to address altogether in this post) – in the meantime I thank everyone who is following this blog in these seemingly ever-increasing numbers. It is getting very big indeed – maybe I should keep it going for a little while yet – what does anyone think??

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”

We see each other for the final time this morning.  Heather, Caroline, Ronan and I sit and have breakfast, this time joined by Kevin, aka Spiderman, my trusty bag carrier all week.  He wanted to come and see us, and he hasn’t seen a breakfast of cornflakes, orange juice and scrambled eggs on toast before, but certainly seemed to enjoy it all!

Kevin is actually from Dar Es Salaam, about nine hours away by bus, and is here to earn a little money in a break from his studies. He has done the mountain four times, and tells me that he has had enough. It is too hard. I don’t blame him. Not only is he about a foot shorter than me, but must also be a good fifty pounds lighter (or make that eighty:)), and he has to carry bags the likes of mine (20kg or so) on his head all day up that mountain for $50 a week. I couldn’t carry my bag up there for a million dollars, just couldn’t do it. He has my utmost respect. He also tells me that the mountain scares him – he has already seen and heard of people dying up there. Now that is really not funny at all. We all enjoyed seeing him today though, and we swap email addresses and say we will keep in touch – I also gave him another little ‘bonus’ for being a great guy and also a good friend up there.

At 9am after Kevin leaves, Ronan and I say goodbye to Caroline and Heather. They are off on safari to the Serengeti, the Ngorogoro crater, and lots of other exotic places on a six day trip. I wish I was going with them, as I would dearly love to go to those places, and also because I shall miss them both – we spent a week on that mountain together and you cannot help but bond. We also kept together, the three of us, pretty much the entire way, and so we walked and shared the whole of Kilimanjaro together – that is a pretty special thing to have, certainly for me. I will look forward to hearing subsequent tales of their adventures and hope we can keep in touch. So to Caroline and Heather, if you are reading this – I miss you bunches, and hope you had a great time on safari and in Zanzibar, and also a good trip back to the States.

The fun and adventure was not quite totally over however for me, as I was due a visit by Raymond, the assistant guide who had got me up the mountain. He had asked if he could come and show me his house, and I was delighted to to say yes. So here is Raymond’s house:

Raymond outside his house in Arusha

Raymond had arrived with his brother, and Ronan and I were still together, so we both came along. It was quite a culture shock to see some of what amounted to the back streets of the suburbs of Arusha. Raymond bought Ronan and I Coca Cola to drink, and we were both surprised by the inside, pictured here:

Inside Raymond's House

His furniture and crockery and cabinets were not at all what I had expected, it was really quite amazing. He told Ronan and I that he plans to ‘find a wife’ and get married next year. I wish him so well – a nicer guy you could not meet.

He then took us on to look at his parent’s house, in the garden of which he is also building another house for himself. His parents have banana trees and some goats and not much else, but it was in a great secluded spot, and I loved getting the opportunity to see it – thank you so much Raymond.

Raymond's parents' kitchen, and their banana trees.

On the way there on a very rough road we went past what used to be Raymond’s school and also his local church. The place is probably a mile away from the main road, and I do not believe that (and Raymond confirmed this) that the children at the school had ever seen a white person before. The children excitedly swarmed around the car yelling “Mzungu” (meaning”white man” in Swahili) at Ronan and I. Had the kids been older than nine or so I actually might have been slightly initimidated there were so many of them, but instead it was totally charming in every way.

At Raymond's school. The local pastor and also his former schoolteacher are in the left of the shot too.

So the last two shots were the last two I took in Africa. The first is Raymond’s parents’ house as we were leaving:

A bit warmer here than up on the mountain....

The second is on the road back to Arusha town from the house. It was an experience just to be on this road, and made me stare wide-eyed at the surroundings, which were just amazing.

Pracitically my last image of the Arusha neighbourhood

From here we got back to the hotel in good time for a beer and some food. It was a very hot day, and I bade farewell to Ronan for the last time.

My taxi to the airport came at about 5pm and I was on my way out of Africa. I was very much wiser, extremely happy, and so grateful for all that my trip had brought to me. I could harp on about the trip back via a very hot, oppressive and unpleasant Nairobi Airport, but the story is irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. It passed, it was just something that had to be done to get me back to whatever ‘normal’ life was. I did however win a few games of ‘Oh Hell” over a few bottles of Tusker beer in the airport.

For the record, I landed back in the UK at Heathrow at 5.45am on Thursday 4th March 2010, just eleven days after leaving. Those eleven days changed my life forever – they couldn’t not do so, as much as anything because I wanted them to. There is a book which is a favourite of mine called “Illusions” by Richard Bach, and one of my two favourite quotes from the book is  ….” Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.” I had chosen Kilimanjaro, or perhaps it chose me, one of the two. Either way, I had a choice what to with it, and still do now. I am very happy that I have that choice, and enormously lucky that I had the good fortune, good health, and support, to be able to climb Kilimanjaro.

I give thanks therefore to those few, those happy few, who I got to share this all with. And I get just as big a buzz, or maybe even an even bigger one, from those people who choose to put comments onto this blog. If I have helped just one person in a tiny way to get themselves up that mountain, or to realise some other ambition, then I am an even happier soul. But conclusions to be drawn from this are for next time – my job here is nearly done……………..

Back to Civilisation, sort of…

Back to Civilisation – well Moshi Town and Arusha anyway

From the Marangu Gate we joined the remaining porters who were not staying on the mountain and joined the bus:

Still needed to fit 44 of us in here, and it didn’t smell quite as sweet as it did a week ago…

I had been looking forward to hearing the Kilimanjaro song since I first heard about it since several months ago, and Deo had told me on the way down that it would be sung on the bus. And it was – I do not currently have the ability to embed videos here apparently, but as soon as I fix this it will appear here in all its glory – I loved it – you may not, it was a kind of “you had to be there” sort of thing:)

On the way back to Arusha we stopped at Moshi town and had lunch at a great little restaurant  called Edwins I think.

There we were presented our certificates, and here is me getting mine from Deo:

This was a fantastically proud moment for me.

Deo put our ‘Swahili’ names on the certificates too, which was a nice touch.  I will be forever Bao bab – “the old tree” – that makes me rather proud and happy that. It is a beautiful and timeless memory, and as I look at my certificate in years to come (it will be framed and take pride of place somewhere) I will always see that name.

It is strange eating lunch in a restaurant (albeit a rather basic one in Moshi Town) when you have been in a tent for a week.  It is strange also just how quickly you get used to different conditions.  It was furthermore difficult to choose what to eat when you have eaten ferociously whatever was put in front of you for the last seven days. I chose a beefburger in the end, as it was at least ‘normal’ to me, although it did come served with a fried egg on top:)

Oh yes, and they had beer:) Which one to have??? Well Kilimanjaro of course!!!, At least for the first one, and then I tried some Tusker to follow., but just stuck to the two. It was just lunchtime after all, and there would be several more coming my way later that day for sure.  I think we will all also remember the restaurant for what Samuel, one of our assistant guides ate – a cows tongue, yep a whole one.   Looked like it had just been ripped out by the root, and there it sat on a huge board.  Heather installed as she called it a “modesty screen” of menus around him so she didn’t have to look at it. As Kamal was fond of saying ‘TIA’ (this is Africa) – gotta love it.

On the way back we to Arusha we got so many great views of the mountain – it was even more transfixing and compelling now than ever. Here are a couple I took from the window of the bus – it never looks the same on a photograph does it?

Didn't want to leave it behind......

Impossible to truly appreciate the scale until you have driven around the base of it for four hours....

We finally reached our hotel, the Outpost (Heather, Caroline, Ronan and I) at about 5pm, having dropped off Kamal, Tamara and Tayma at their place just beforehand.  The others went straight for that much needed shower, but I went to the garden, ordered me a beer (surprise surprise) and reflected on all that went before me.  I wish I could bottle that moment and have it forever.  Come to think of it, I believe I will have it forever.

Oh and talking about forever, that is how long I could have showered for.  My hair, what there is of it these days, which likes to be washed pretty much every day, or at worst every other day, didn’t seem to like the first half bottle of shampoo that I put on it.  Although I (and I believe all of us), had been pretty diligent with the wet wipes whilst away (oh and anyone reading this, thinking of doing Kili, needs to put wet wipes as way way up their list of essential items), there is no substitute for a good hot shower. I could have stayed under that water for half an hour, actually come to think of it, I think I did.

In the evening we were joined by Freddy for dinner, and also Alicia, one of Caroline’s friends who had just arrived at the hotel and was going off on Safari with her and Heather the following morning.  Kamal, Tamara and Tayma were supposed to join us, but they had to sort their luggage out for their own safari – they had not seen their luggage at all since arriving in Africa, and that made me realise how lucky I was.

After dinner it was very strange to sleep in a proper bed with a bathroom, which meant if you wanted to pee in the middle of the night you didn’t have to don three layers of clothes, hiking boots and a head torch in order to do so. What luxury. It again is strange how you very much get used to different conditions of sleeping in a tent and not having your creature comforts around you, and then as to just how luxuriously appointed the Outpost Lodge was now, when a week ago I was not really wanting to walk on the floor of my room without putting my shoes on.

I slept fantastically well. Tomorrow would be my last in Africa, and I had an invitation to go and see (the assistant guide) Raymond’s house nearby, which I really looked forward to. It would a great experience, and a very fitting way to spend my final day…………..

The mountain, the last day – 02/03/2010

So for our final day on Kilimanjaro we are awoken at 6am without the customary tea in the tent.  I shall miss that from hereon in, even the sleeping in a tent part. We have a long way to go today however, (approx 22km), and it is necessary to get on with things.  And so after a briefish breakfast, we do the tipping ceremony:

Raymond arriving to be presented with his share of the spoils.

We had 27 staff altogether and the money gets presented to each one in turn, ranging from US$50 for the porters to just over US$100 for our guide Deo.  It amounted for us to around US$200 each.  The porters and guides apparently earn about the same in tips are they do in wages, and for the work they do it is a pittance in my opinion, even allowing for the fact that we are in Tanzania.  They are all seemingly extremely grateful.

Not all of us were entirely unanimous on the level of tips to give – I’ll leave it at that, as it was the only point of contention that the seven of us had all week, and when you consider that at least some of us knew none of the others before we started, and then spent 24 hours a day with each other, that could have been sometimes stressful.  It actually never ever was – we all got on great at all times. And money is, after all, a rather emotive subject.

We set out for the descent at about 7.30am finally, and the walk down was tiring to an extent, as you use different sets of muscles going down than up, and we also went at a fair old pace.  We had also just done the summit and another 30k or so over the previous 36 hours, so muscles were definitely well worn at this stage. Deo told us the walk would take around six hours, and Heather, Ronan and I did it in five.  The ‘tweens’ however, with ‘newcomer’ Caroline finding her legs and joining them, did it in a incredible four hours, running in part.

The walk once past about a third of the way down was absolutely stunning.  Far and away the prettiest (if not the most stunning, that being reserved for any walk with a view of Kibo) walk yet, as it was through tropical rainforest.  It was very hard to believe we were still on the mountain.

Me and Deo in the forest on the way down

We also saw quite a lot of flora and fauna indigenous to Kili – such as more Senecios, some small flowers whose name escapes me (someone please help me here?), some parasitic climbing lillies, waterfalls and Spanish moss. I really must learn to write down names of things before I forget them:). Here are some pictures on the way down anyway:

The Senecios grow an extra limb every 25 years apparently...

Spanish Moss, I can remember that one:)

I remember that this ends up crawling up the forest canopy...

I asked quite a few questions about things on the way down, and Deo would stop and tell us things that we might have otherwise have missed. It was nice to be educated in this way by him.  This is the mark of a great guide for me (without of course any experience of bad ones) as when questions were asked he was almost always able to answer them.

We reached the gate at 12.40pm, and registered at Marangu Gate where certificates were issued to the guides on our behalf.  As I passed through Marangu Gate my emotions were very mixed.  I was delighted to finish seven days of very hard work, where I had pushed myself to the very limits of my own physical capabilities.  I was also so outrageously happy/content coming down.  Kilimanjaro was more that I ever hoped it would be.  On the other hand I was however quite sad to be leaving.  It did not want this to be over, as needy as I was for a shower, and the comfort of a bed, and a celebratory beer.  Those things, attractive as they most certainly were, were just not important any more though. I walked through the gate and off the mountain, perhaps and probably for the last time…..

Kilimanjaro had taken over pretty much all of my thoughts for six months – I made the most of it, respected it, loved it.  And I always will….

The journey down the mountain – 01/03/2010

You cannot spend long at the summit.  Firstly you don’t want to, as you really don’t feel like it due to the lack of oxygen.  Secondly your guide/assistant guide won’t let you.  Every extra minute up there is not good for you.  You have 40% of the oxygen that you would have at sea level.  Oh yes and thirdly it is (at least for us) blizzarding snow like nobody’s business. In fact just getting the camera out gets it wet, and although I need this moment and these photographs I don’t want to ruin the camera either.  Your brain works reeeeaaaalllyyy slowly here.  After about 10 minutes at the sign proclaiming the “World’s Highest Free Standing Mountain”, Raymond suggests we get away.  There are no arguments from us.

Wish I could linger here a little while longer, it was fun!!

To get down we have to get to Gilman’s Point, which is the eastern most point of the crater, and almost 1000 feet lower than Uhuru.  The journey is scary.  There are precipitous drops on both sides, and we are walking on snow and ice with perhaps two or three feet each side of us at times.  To add to this we are nearly four miles up in the air, have been awake for over 24 hours, have just climbed Kilimanjaro, and are just dead on our feet.  Oh and I have run out of all drinking or eating materials, and it is snowing like crazy.

I don’t even dare get my camera out.  You need poles here badly, and thankfully I had mine (in fact I had been clinging to them for dear life all night long), and was still capable of them.  But we cannot stop to rest at all – time is precious.  We reach Gilman’s Point after I do not know how long, and began edging down, pole by pole, step by step, on icy, steep scree.  If you fell here you’d end up:-

  1. Creating a very big snowball with you in the middle of it, and
  2. It’d be the last thing that you ever did.

After about perhaps 40 minutes of painfully slow, toe curling, twitchy moments, the scree turned more loose, and less icy.  This enabled us to scree-ski and make huge gains.  It was actually fun!!!!!!.  It was also hard, but by leaning back and basically jumping each step you were carried down by the weight of your body at each step.

Let's get the hell out of here..............

The desire to get to lower altitude also took over, and so the effort was worth the reward, on a ‘no pain – no gain’ basis.  Altogether it took probably 3.5 hours to get down to Kibo Huts, at an altitude of 4,700 m, where we would have lunch.  By the time we reached there we were exhausted but still elated by all that had happened during the night. We all made it, which was fantastic beyond belief.

After probably not the best lunch we had ever had, which was described to us as French toast and cucumber soup, although it really looked like neither, we set off back to Horombo camp, where we had left the previous morning some 18 or so hours before.

The walk was long and dull and wet.  It was also across what must be Kilimanjaro’s only ‘boring’ terrain known as The Saddle.  The walk was a further 12km or so and it rained pretty hard for about two thirds of the way.  Some 3.5 hours later we were back at Horombo.  When we arrived I was immediately greeted by Kevin, my porter.  He had lugged my bag and watched my tent for me every day for the last six days.  Porters cannot go to the summit, but news had been telephone ahead of our success.  He was clearly delighted and we hugged each other.  It was a lovely moment.

Close to Horombo after 36 hours of up and down at the summit

We had dinner at about 6pm and I have no recollection of what it was.  Tiredness had basically overcome all of us, and by the time dinner was completed, and a brief interlude to sort out tips for the following day, everyone headed straight for bed.

From 8pm or so I slept until 6am the following day. Someone asked me if I had heard the gales during the night. I said that if a herd of rampaging elephants had stampeded through my tent I would not have heard them. In fact, it may have been the best night’s sleep I ever had, and I do not believe I moved a muscle all night, which is a good thing, as everyone of them had been used to the point of not wanting to be used any more.

The mountain – the summit! 28/02/2010 – 01/03/2010

How do you start to describe a day like this? I am really not sure, but here is my best (if long) attempt at it.

Well 6am came around rather too quickly this morning.  So did 4am and 5am, as I was wide awake at both times.  Following a breakfast that no-one seemed really ready to eat, least of all Caroline who said she had not slept at all, we set off at about 7.45 for Barafu, which would be our temporary camp for the evening. That would be also the last and highest port of call for the Porters. Our entourage of 27 would be whittled down to just four. Deo, Samuel, Raymond and Fredy would come up to help us to summit – the rest would return to this camp here at Horombo tomorrow morning and await our return.

Would we all make it? No-one wanted to speak of making it or not. In fact no-one spoke of much at all – the stakes were too high for that.

The views first thing were utterly mesmerising – both Mawenzi and Kibo tempting us in the sunlight in front of a crystal blue sky. It is still a bloody long way to go though. We are about to cover (including the descent) about 35km in one go, including the summit. No wonder those guys yesterday looked absolutely knackered.

View of Kibo from the tent at about 6.30am

The walk before lunch was fairly long and hard, about 9km and about 700m of ascent. Here we are coming out of camp (this picture is taken looking back), already above the clouds, but still with about 2,400m of ascent ahead of us in one day – incredible:

Coming up from Horombo en route to Barafu

After a while the views of Kibo start getting better and better with each step:

Mid morning, 28/02.10 - Kibo still looks like it is part of something else altogether.

We lunched in a huge glacial valley below Barafu, now at around 4,500m or so, the highest we had yet been to. The weather started to close in too, and cloud and mist predominated suddenly.

The path through the valley leads to lunch somewhere....

….Oh yes, here it is:

Silver service at 15,000 feet!

The valley was breathtaking.  We have seemingly seen every landscape possible along the way here, and this was special, as it all was – I would love to know how and when this was formed.

The walk up to Barufu after lunch was however brutal.  It was only about a further 1.5km but with about 400m of ascent to a campsite which seemingly defied gravity, being perched on the side of a hill.

Barafu - even the toilets were a long way away...

On the walk up Kamal inscribed a few messages on some flat stones for us stragglers as usual (that would be Caroline, me and Heather then), and as he did so he was dancing, bounding and singing up the slopes like the extremely fit 24 year old that he is.  Made me feel very old to be giving away 22 years to him.

At the campsite Kamal asked Heather and me a question, which I don’t think either of us answered at the time.  It was something like: “say you were at this campsite like we are now before the greatest adventure of your life, and your partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/whatever showed up in your tent and wanted to make love all night long – what do you do or say?”  Now if I was a 24 year old then my answer would probably be to say ‘yes’, and then still go up the mountain.  My answer in my advancing years here and now would be something like “sorry dear but I have a mountain to climb“, probably:).

I think that probably reflects also on how important Kilimanjaro is.  If you just for example added up all of the time/money/effort expended to get the seven of us to this rocky ledge 15,000 feet up, at the cusp of the final assault on the worlds tallest free standing mountain, then it would add to a hefty sum in all areas. I don’t think any of us are going to jeopardise anything now, even Kamal!

So after registering at Barafu, some 4,700m (15,500ft) high, we settle down in the tent. It is cold, and just breathing at something like a normal rate tires you out – it is hard to describe. Here we are in the tent just after we got there:

Be afraid, be very afraid.....

We ate a pasta dinner at 5pm (our second pasta meal of the day), and at 6 were told to ‘get as much sleep as we could’  We would be woken at 11pm for the summit climb, and Deo went through all the things we would need.

We were told also that we would get porridge, tea and biscuits at 11.30, and then the climb would start at midnight sharp!!!.

We all trooped off to bed and I packed and unpacked my daypack several times.  We were advised to wear four layers on the legs, and five to seven on the body, and in addition we’d need at least 3.5 litres of water (not enough in my opinion as it turned out) and then waterproofs, camera, suntan lotion for the summit, sunglasses, a lunch pack that Deo had prepared for us etc etc.  He also told us we’d get a can of Red Bull and a Mars Bar if we made it to Stella Point.  This got everyone fairly excited after the (albeit very hearty) diet that we’d been on for the last five/six days.

By the time I was satisfied with my backpack it was about 7.15pm.  Kamal was ready too with his gear borrowed from Team Kilimanjaro as his, Tamara and Tayma’s luggage had still not arrived since they arrived in Tanzania.  I managed eventually to sleep a bit, but was awoken by rain/sleet on the tent at 8.45.  This elevation is the point where rain will not fall as the temperature will always dictate that it be snow.  This was really annoying for three reasons:-

1. We had all picked this trip for the full moon, and if it was going to be snow then we wouldn’t have either the benefit (for the scramble and the light it would provide beyond our head torches) or the attractiveness of it lighting up Kibo summit.

2. Every night so far, whatever clouds that had been around had lifted by the evening to leave crystal clear skies, so it was sod’s law that on summit night, of all bloody nights, we’d have clouds.

3. If the snow continued it would surely make the climb more dangerous.  This was a very steep ascent after all.

These thoughts continued as I carried on listening to the sleet, part concerned due to point 3 above, and partly just because I was ready to do this thing at long long last.  I was excited beyond compare.  It was finally here – I got no further sleep and concentrated on readying myself for the 11pm call.

So at 11pm we all assembled in the breakfast tent, some having slept and most like me rather fitfully.  Ronan regaled us with his adventure to the toilet earlier in the evening, which had been disgusting apparently.  Barafu is not a clean campsite at all, in fact it is pretty filthy.  There is rubbish strewn all over the place and this is a really sad thing to have to reflect upon the evening before your summit climb (the toilets are really appalling). Anyway, nothing (not even that) was going to distract us from what lay ahead.

Tea and porridge and biscuits duly consumed, I took another Diamox at Deo’s suggestion.  I think we all did (those of us who were on it, which was me, Caroline, Heather and Ronan).  We were all well kitted up and also waterproofs adorned, as it was snowing and very foggy (although this may have been that we were effectively inside a cloud as opposed to fog)  Tayma and Tamara’s mittens were bigger than the largest oven gloves I have ever seen – they came up to the elbows and were certainly a talking point – they did look toasty warm though. Here I am nearly ready for the off:

I think they call this 'a brave face'

We all set off promptly at midnight, headlamp torches beaming and scaled ‘Section A’ of the climb, a very steep rocky ridge leading directly out of the campsite itself. The snow started early – here are Cheetah, Twigga and Maasai as they started out with Deo:

Nice weather for a summit climb....

By the time we got to the top of the first ridge I was baking hot.  I wore, for the record:-

Thermal undertrousers (just cheapies from Primark); Craghoppers walking trousers; Tag 24 waterproof trousers; thermal vest, cotton fleecy sweatshirt; my Bowel Cancer tee-shirt; regular fleece; Northface waterproof jacket.  Oh and my Bridgedale ‘summit’ socks (absolutely fantastic by the way) and Goretex Amy Chaud skiing gloves; plus a balaclava, and a Thinsulate/Goretex beanie.

At the top of the first ridge I took off my fleece (actually at Deo’s suggestion – he checked everybody out and made recommendations) – he was fantastic throughout, and also my headgear.  I would put the balaclava and hat back on later but would never need the fleece itself, and nor did I ever put on the down jacket that I carried with me all the way.

We then commenced ‘Section B’ of the walk, a long but not too severe climb to take us onto the main rise of the Kibo Summit itself.  Half way through this section I began to really feel the effects of the altitude.  This was now by some distance the highest I had ever been (we were now approaching 5,000m).  I had a headache in the back of my head, and felt somewhat dizzy/light-headed.  I took an energy sachet and crossed my fingers that it would not get any worse, although sadly it later did.

We were then onto ‘Section C’ which Henry shows in his book (quite rightfully, as indeed this is exactly what it is) a series of zigzags.  The path has to be cut this way as the slope it goes up is unremittingly steep.  There were quite a few other parties of climbers on the path also, and the entourages (varying from perhaps four to twelve strong) would pass and let past each other all night where one group stopped for a breather, or just slowed to a crawl and got overtaken.  The zigzag path takes about 3 long hours.  As this is done between 2am and 5am in the morning it requires a lot of patience and determination, as well as strength and stamina, to get through it .

Half way up this section I felt worse, and the doubts about myself started kicking in.  I was able to walk only perhaps ten (very short) paces without stopping.  My heart pounding in my chest, my head aching, my senses numbed and dizzy, and my lungs seemingly incapable of getting enough air in this oxygen starved atmosphere.

I was kept going by several things. One was just to put my hand on the necklace I was wearing.  It is incredibly special to me, and it got me smiling and determined at times when there seemed almost little point in doing what I was doing.  Then I would think of Dan and Becca, and would not want to tell them that ‘I didn’t’ get there, and I desperately did not want to hear the words ‘never mind’ or similar from them or anyone else.  Then there were the people who had given money to the charity – I did not want to let them down – I wanted to succeed for every penny they had given, and hope still that more donations come.

Ultimately, and as much as anything, I just dug really really deep, far deeper and harder than I have ever had to go.  I have been inspired for so long by Rudyard Kiplings “If” poem, and the lines in particular as follows:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!

There was nothing in me for most of the night, or so I felt. Except there was, obviously, and I would just force myself to say ‘ come on you can do this’ out loud to myself.

Towards the end of ‘Section C’ the group totally split for two reasons.  Firstly Tamara got quite badly sick through a combination of a stomach cramping plus AMS.  She did not want to, nor looked capable of, continuing.  Deo stayed with her and so did Kamal, and told the rest of us to go on.  We followed instructions, and hoped it was not the last we would see of her that morning.

Secondly the two people who felt the worst in terms of breathlessness, the altitude, everything, fell back behind the remainder of the group, and that was myself and Caroline.  We both struggled from thereon in, and were helped by one hugely significant factor.  He is called Raymond, and he is magnificent.  He was my mountain at that point.  He encouraged, cajoled, and had the patience of a saint.  He stood behind me in my wake even when wild flatulence took over, and I could not stop farting to the point that I thought I would lose control of my bowels altogether. “What a guy” as they say:).

Heather and Ronan made it from hereon in with Fredy, and so they were the first of us to make it to the top. I could not have lasted at their pace. They have reserves greater than me for sure.

Through the whole of the next section, the hardest, ‘Section D’ it was Raymond who willed Caroline and me on.  I was drawing on pure reserve energy.  This section is more or less a wall, or it feels like it.  It is frozen scree, leading to Stella Point, the point at which you reach the crater and qualify for a certificate.  It is 5,700m above sea level.  This is 3.5 miles high.  It is brutally steep.  I shall quote Henry from his book at this point:

Picking your way through a trail of knackered trekkers and exhausted assistant guides, ignore the sound of people retching and sobbing and remember to keep your pace constant and very slow……..You are now just thirty minutes from Stella Point, a painful, tear-inducing half-hour on sheer scree. The gradient up to now has been steep, but this last scree slope takes the biscuit; in fact it takes the entire tin.”

The snow was now blizzarding ridiculously, and  I don’t in fact remember a whole lot about that final hour.  I just remember Raymond calling  to me from time to time – ’45 minutes to go, you can do it’,   ‘40 minutes to go, come on Mr Chris’ – ‘Come on Baobab – you can see the top – that is Stella Point’  When I looked up at that time it looked as far away as the moon.  I could have cried.  If I had had the energy I would have shouted out in desperate frustration.  I had so little left.

Next I remember ’15 minutes – you are going to get to the top of Kilimanjaro’  I turned to Caroline, her face gritted and in apparent pain, I said something like ‘we are going to get to the top of this fucking mountain’ she turned to me and said ‘we’re not there yet’, and that served to remind me that I am stood on a 50º or so icy scree slope where a lost footing alone could have been not even worth thinking about.  Somehow, I made that last fifteen minutes walk, or however long it took.

And so, at precisely 6.24am, I clambered to the top of Stella Point, fell to my knees and blubbed like a new born baby.  I didn’t leave my knees as I hugged anyone in sight, but only remember Heather, Caroline, Raymond and Freddy.  I shouted through tears at Raymond as I hugged him ‘you got me here you bastard’  I am not sure he really understood this, but I know what it meant to me. The snow still came in droves – it did not matter at all – we were there, we had made it:

Stella Point, 6.24am - absolutely unbridled happiness

I seem to remember then hugging Heather standing up, and the two of us literally jumping up and down like demented baboons.  Quite where the energy for that came from I have absolutely no idea, but it shows you what the body can do when it needs to, and mine just did.

Fredy was then all of a sudden handing out cans of Red Bull, and I drained mine in one go.  I had finished a whole 3 litres of water on the ascent.  It wasn’t enough for me, and so if I ever did it again (ha ha!) I would take more.

From there, Fredy and Ronan went onto Uhuru Peak alone, and Raymond came with me, Heather and Caroline.  There was never a single part of me that thought of not going all the way round to Uhuru, as opposed to stopping at Stella like some people do.  Uhuru is a slog once you have done what you have just done, but it is only another 40 minutes or so, and only another 150 metres of ascent.  The air is so desperately thin though, and walking through the blizzard made concentration of any kind difficult. That 40 minutes is hard though, really hard, but you just do it for this:

The glacier, one of the many reasons for just being here in the first place.

And this:

What can I add to this?

The official summit time is 7.10am on 1 March 2010.

So there we were, Raymond, Caroline, Heather, me, on the roof of Africa.  I cannot even put into words the elation, the joy, the emotion, the happiness.  It is beyond priceless and will be with me for the rest of my life.  There are no words which can describe it all, and no-one can take it away from us, or anyone else who has achieved this.We stood at a higher point than anyone else on the whole continent at that moment. This was Kilimanjaro at its ultimate, at its finest – we were at one with it. At that moment, we were part of the mountain too. That is how it feels………..

On the mountain, day four, 27/02/2010

So today we woke up at the quite beautiful Mawenzi Tarn in the shadow of the crater of Mawenzi itself (Mawenzi being a subsidiary peak on Kilimanjaro at 5,100m
, or 16,830ft) at 6.30am with tea in bed as usual.  The tents are covered with ice, and it was brutally cold.  The sun didn’t take long to come out though, and we actually ate breakfast outside:

Morning at Mawenzi Tarn

A pensive breakfast at Mawenzi Tarn

Breakfast is the usual porridge, eggs, fruit, sausage and toast combo. We never eat the sausages but they keep on appearing. Maybe they are the same ones every day, I am never brave enough to try them. Oh and breakfast is usually accompanied by a ‘Diamox tingle’ – one of the two main side effects of Diamox (a raging urge to pee the other one) is tingling fingers and toes, although this only lasts usually about 15 minutes or so.

So today was acclimatisation day, where we follow the ‘climb high – sleep low’ policy.  This means that you sleep lower than you have climbed to give your body a relatively oxygen rich experience.  We were therefore to descend almost 1,000m.  Part of me thought this a waste to lose all of that height we so painstakingly gained, by I suppose you put your trust, your safety and your health with these people, so who am I to argue?

We set out at about 8.30am and climbed to traverse the saddle in the shade of Mawenzi Peak, before beginning our descent for the day.

Stopping for a breather past Mawenzi Peak

The views were amazing of Mawenzi, but Kibo was to elude us for the whole day today, shrouded permanently in cloud.  En route, Caroline told us the tale of ‘Feeding Pipe’ a friend of hers, and so much hilarity was had along the way with reference to hoses etc. I shall leave the details of the story on the mountain, as it were, ahem.

The landscape has changed quite significantly now, and is much more barren, but here we all are at the crossroads before descending into Horombo:

On our way down to Horombo huts

By around 11 we arrive at Zebra Rocks, formed naturally by salt seeping through porous rock.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, it is quite amazing:

Assistant guide Samuel takes a breather at Zebra Rocks

Then slightly further on the descent into Horombo Camp we came through a load of senecio plants, which are apparently indigenous to the slopes of Kili and found nowhere else. They are about 15 feet high, and the leaves apparently come out during the day and close at night:

A Senecio plant

The walk into Horombo is fairly dull, and the weather closed in on us by the time we were arriving:

The descent into Horombo, back down to 3,720m

We had lunch at the camp at around 2 by which time it had started raining fairly heavily.  The porters really earn their monies by digging channels all around the tents to stop the rain from being too intrusive.

Horombo Camp is unlike all of the others we have seen.  There are (albeit fairly primitive) huts here as it is part of the Marangu route up the mountain.  There are also flushing toilets here, an absolute luxury from the stinking ‘drop off’ huts that we have experienced so far – think ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ toilets and you are there.

Horombo Huts - pretty they were not.....

So we know that tomorrow will be one of the most brutal things any of us have faced – certainly for me. I meet a couple of Scottish guys wandering around camp – they have just summitted (well eight hours before anyway), and they are looking for beer. They look absolutely exhausted, and pale, and soaking. They look like just one beer would finish them both off for good, and I hope that I do not look that bad the day after tomorrow. Maybe I will…

The afternoon is spent playing cards, – more ‘Oh hell’ and then after dinner we play Mafia, taught to us by Twigga.  It is much fun.

Just gimme one more piece of popcorn will ya?

We retire at about 8.30 and I lie awake until probably 11 or so, and a huge electrical storm lights the sky.  We will be served our breakfast tea tomorrow at 6am, before we ascend 1,200m to Barafu Huts, the last point before the summit assault towards midnight, a further 1,200m.  This is the most fitful night’s sleep yet.

Tomorrow we, me especially, would find out what we were made of. It would be the culmination of everything we had done, all rolled up into one brutal 36 or so hour period. This is it – the day of days.

Kilimanjaro – day three (26/02/10)

So today started with a big big relief.  The headaches and nausea from last night have abated.  I went for a pee at about 2am this morning, and the benefits of the impending full moon were readily apparent as both Mawenzi and Kibo were lit up incredibly by the moon.  When I got back to my tent however, I actually found it quite difficult to breathe.  It was pretty scary – I had a moment when I thought that the mountain was not for me.  I just started deep breathing however, and eventually all was normal.

Breakfast was the normal feast, porridge, toast, honey, omelette, sausages, mango, papaya, tea, coffee etc.  There is too much.  Again I feel sorry for the people who carried the stuff all this way.

Everyone else seems to feel good this morning too, other than Kamal who has really bad sunburn on his neck which actually stopped him sleeping, and Heather who was sick during the night, oh and Caroline fell over on the way back from the toilet and cut her knee, and is limping somewhat, so she will use her poles today. The weather is again great though, and here is a view just as we leave camp:

Leaving Kikelewa on day three

We set off at about 8.30, and we have a short distance to go today, just 5km.  It is steep however, and it takes us to over 4300m or 14,100 feet.  We will be there by noon, all being well.

The ‘olds’ stick to the back, and the tweens head off at their usual breakneck pace.  This time Kamal hangs back with us, and I pronounce him ‘President’.  Before long however Kamal goes to join the tweens, and we hand back at our usual slow ‘pole pole pole’ pace, accompanied by Deo and Raymond.

The climb up towards Mawenzi

The walk is fantastic we are above the line of the trees and bushes now, and all that grows are lichens and alpine heathers.  We reach camp at Mawenzi Tarn at about 12.15.  The camp is in the shade of Mawenzi Peak, which is stunning.

First view of Mawenzi Tarn and campsite, at 4,300m

Along the way today, Deo teaches us the following phrase: ‘Poa kichizi kama ndizi’, which means literally “as cool as a banana”, but means properly “as good as it gets” or the like, I think.

We also ask Deo today to give us Swahili names. He is teaching us various words, and so it is fitting that we learn some more. We already know “Asante” (thanks) and “Karibu” (welcome) and a few others, but our own names just cap it off. They are as follows:

Kamal – “Kifaru” , which means Rhino

Tamara – “Twiga”, which is Giraffe

Tayma – “Cheetah’, which is cheetah, funnily enough

Ronan – “Mzungu Maasai”, or white (Maasai) warrior

Caroline – “Mchumba”, which is Sweetheart, or lover, apparently

Heather – “Mrembo”, which means beautiful

Me – “Bao Bab” – a type of ‘old tree’, pretty fitting really:)

So we are now on an extinct crater at close to 5,100m.  It is totally spectacular.  I have a look around me in wonderment, and have a ‘this is what it is all about moment!!’

After lunch of cucumber soup, meat pies with chilli sauce, and fresh pineapple, we all crash for an hour or so.  At 3.30 we are awoken for hot peanuts and tea, and then we set off on an acclimatisation walk. We go up about about 700 feet higher than the camp, along a ridge of what was once the crater of the volcano.  The views are outstanding.

Close to Mawenzi Peak, acclimatisation walk, at about 4,600m

Back at camp at 6.30 or so we retire to dinner of beef and banana stew, a local Chagga dish – it was outstanding. Before this we had fried chicken wings and battered egg plant followed by leek soup.

Played a few games of ‘Oh hell’ at cards, which Ronan won, although none of us quite know how to this day, including Ronan, as the rules of the game seemed to elude him slightly!!  ….  And then sleep comes so easily despite being at over 14,000 feet.

I felt much better this evening, despite being so much higher than the previous night. It may be due to the acclimatisation walk. It may be due to the fact that I know that tomorrow we will be sleeping at almost 1,000 metres lower than we are right now. My body looks forward to that extra oxygen.

I love Kilimanjaro. I cannot get enough, and it just ‘has’ me, although as you know, that happened a long long time ago……….