12kg? Impossible!

So yesterday I told you that I was about to try to squeeze a quart into a pint pot if you remember. Or more specifically I had the dilemna of having a massive amount of packing to do to get into a very small bag. The issue is that when I get to Kathmandu, my bag for the trek is weighed at the hotel, and can only weigh 12kg – yes you heard me correctly! That’s all of my kit for a 22 day expedition, all clothes, waterproofs, sleeping bags, boots, down jackets, equipment, the lot. I can tell you that my sleeping bag and Thermarest alone weigh about 3kg, and my various electrical items close on the same. It’s not even close to being funny. It all has to fit into a very small space too – i.e. the ‘expedition bag’ they gave me for the trip.

When I was told I was being sent an expedition bag I originally thought ‘oh good, a nice new bag, I could always do with one of those’. Then when I saw it I just laughed – it must hold about 50 litres max, and thought ‘no way’. Then I was told that my stuff had to fit into this bag for the trek, and could weigh not a gram more than 12kg, and so I knew I was in trouble. It almost leaves me with wearing the same exact clothes for all 22 days, and whilst I expect to be ponging to high heaven by the time I make it back to Kathmandu, there are limits as to how long you can live in the same pair of underpants – please!

So anyway this was how things looked yesterday:

The sprawling kit as of yesterday.....

And so today I have been trying to squeeze things down via stuff sacs and compression bags. The compression bags are great -I bought a couple of the Exped Tele range from Amazon, and they are great. You can even suck the air out of them like those clothes bags that you see on QVC! Anyway, things are heading in the right direction, as it now looks like this:

Heading in the right direction at least.

So I reckon that after a day of huffing and puffing (and believe me, compressing a sleeping bag and Thermarest takes it out of you in my living room, and so doing this at altitude with no oxygen is going to be a killer) I have it do I can get it all into the bag, just. All good I thought, so let me weigh it. And the answer is……..18kg.

Yep, that’s without the boots as I’ll be wearing those, and without toiletries, as I haven’t packed them yet. Oh and it is without underwear, or any clothes other than those I listed in yesterday’s post, i.e just my trekking pants and fleeces and things. I was about to throw everything out of the window in the end. I then had to think about my stuff for Island Peak, as this is excluded altogether from the above. Oh Lordy!

So I then decided to pull myself away from that and look at the rucksack situation, just by way of small distraction, as it were. My trip notes say “40-50 litre rucksack with ice axe straps”. I have to confess to being pretty bad with rucksacks this year. Bad that is in that I have already bought three :). One of them I actually used :). So which one to pick:

Eenie, meenie, miney moe.......

Now the one on the left is technically the only one that fits the bill, as it is a Berghaus 45+8 sack, and has as many attachments and pockets as you could wish for. The one on the right is the one I used for Switzerland in the summer, it’s a Deuter 35+ and has the bells and whistles too (if not all of the room). It is a great climbing sack, but not a great one for trekking though. The one in the middle is a Sprayway 30, and I love it, but it has no ice axe straps.

If I was just trekking to base camp I’d take the Sprayway, without hesitation. It is the most comfortable, has great access, has outside bottle holders etc etc. If I was just climbing I’d take the Deuter – it is made for ropes and axes and helmet etc, and I know it fits the bill. If I read the kitlist properly then I should go for the Berghaus, as it is the only one that fits the spec.

But then…..the list goes on to say that your total baggage of 15kg should be divided into your kit bag and rucksack, with the kit bag to weigh ‘no more than 12kg’. Now this means that the rucksack can weigh no more than 3kg. I can tell you that I weighed each of these this evening, and the Berghaus weighs 2.1kg on its own. Totally empty. That means I can fit in like a pair of sunglasses and maybe a bar of chocolate if I’m lucky. My waterproof jacket weighs 800g, and my camera about the same including its spare batteries and the like. What do I do with suntan lotion, lip salve, water bottle, camelback, fleece etc etc etc?

So I knew this was going to be a frustrating day. I really wanted to spend it trying to do some things around the house, maybe have some ‘me’ time, maybe even go out and not think about panicking about the trip at all to take my mind off it. Instead it is worse then before. I will get there somehow, I simply have to, but how?

Answers on a postcard please…….

Kit List for Everest Base Camp

So I have just four days to go, and four sleeps to go, until I embark on the greatest adventure of my life. I thought that Kilimanjaro was (and it was) massive, but this is simply bigger by miles. Kilimanjaro was a 7 day trek, and it took me to 19,340 feet. It was the best adventure I have ever had, and may stay that way, as I have no idea how this one will yet turn out. This trip is 22 days, takes me into the heart of the world’s highest mountain range, involves ice climbing with technical equipment, and takes me up to 20,305 feet. And to boot I get to stand in front of Mount Everest, the mother of them all.

If I told you that I was just a little bit excited at the moment, then that would be the ‘mother’ of all understatements. I have been like a cat on a hot tin roof all day today. I cannot keep still, my heart is racing, I have probably burned about 5,000 calories in nervous energy – who needs the gym! I started to lay out my kit too, and buying the last few items that I will need. More on those later, but for now I thought I’d put down here the kit that I am taking. If anyone out there wishes to comment on the appropriateness or otherwise of what I have here, then I’d be very grateful. I still have no idea how I am actually going to get it all in and under the weight limit, but for now I am still assembling, so I will get to think about what I take away later.

So here’s what I have so far:

Everest base camp kit

So we have here:

Clothing

3 base layer T shirts

2 sets of thermal underwear

1 pair lightweight trekking trousers

1 pair fleece lined trekking trousers

4 pairs of socks

2 marino wool tops

2 light fleeces

Outerlayers

1 Goretex rainjacket

1 Goretex overtrousers

1 (very toasty) Rab Neutrino Plus down jacket

1 Rab Generator Alpine jacket

1 midweight Polartec Fleece

1 woolly hat, 1 cap, 1 scarf, and one buff

1 balaclava (looks like a gimp mask, hope I don’t get to have to wear it :O)

3 pairs of gloves (inner fleece, outer shell, and goretex padded)

Walking boots (my trusty Meindl Burma Pros from Kilimanjaro, best bit of kit I have ever bought)

Trainers/approach shoes for camp

Electronics

Powermonkey charger

Suunto altimeter watch

Sony HX9V camera (bought today, hope it’s good!), plus extra batteries

iPad (I hope to keep my blog written up whilst away, charging it isn’t going to be easy though)

Spare mobile phone (Nokia C3 – hoping to be able to charge my iPhone en route so this is a back up really)

Headtorch plus spare batteries.

Other gear

Rab Summit 700 sleeping bag

Thermarest

Glacier glasses plus spare sunglasses

Camelback with insulated hose

Drinking bottles x 2

Gaiters

Rucksack (Deuter Guide 35+)

Toiletries etc

Toilet roll (may need to take 10 of these :))

Sunscreen (factor 30+)

Chapstick

Paracetamol

Immodium

Compeed

Various sticking plasters

70 pairs of contact lenses 🙂

Anti bacterial gel

Baby Wipes (my only means of washing as far as I am aware)

Travel towel

NO Diamox (I understand that I can buy it in Kathmandu, and buy it I will)

Other bits and bobs

Book (Bear Grylls’ “Facing Up”)

About 20 Clif Bars, about 10 Clif Shot Blocks, and 10 Zipvit Energy Gels (these may all be casualties, they weigh collectively 2.5kg :))

Water purification tablets (x 100 or so)

Compression sacks and bin liners

Travel Insurance documents

And that’s about it. Sounds like a lot, but this is only the stuff for Everest Base Camp. I also have to have harness, ice axe, helmet, figure of eight, Slings, jumar, plastic boots, hand warmers etc etc. for Island Peak. The above also includes no ‘normal’ clothes – no underwear, T shirts, jumpers, or anything else for that matter. There won’t be room of course, as the above list I have to get down to just 12kg! That is going to be a nightmare, but it will be apparently weighed at the hotel in Kathmandhu, and I have to do it somehow.

So as I said earlier – any and all comments welcome. The bag (that would be the small Exodus one in the foreground) will be packed and unpacked a few times in the next few days, and the air will be very blue indeed inside my house……I shall let you know how it is all going tomorrow.

Pete’s Dragons Conquer Kilimanjaro!

I received the most wonderful email last night from Rebecca Layman, who is also known as ‘Dragon Bex’, of Pete’s Dragons fame. For those who don’t know about Pete’s Dragons, then please see the link below. I shall also quote from their website to tell you a little bit about them:

In January of 2010 Peter Wicks passed away. He was aged just 24 and the younger brother of Diva Dragon. Diva and her friends decided that the only way to say thank you to the people and agencies who helped Pete’s family and friends through this hard time was to raise money and awareness for them; to ensure that they can help other families in their time of need.

http://www.petesdragons.org.uk/Core/PetesDragons/Pages/Why_Petes_Dragons_1.aspx

I came across the Dragons last year, when I (and they) did the Great British Bike Ride, and I posted my small but enormously emotional tribute to them in this post here from last September:

https://aquavista.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/to-petes-dragons/

The poem referred to there I still cannot read without being moved to tears. I think what the Dragons are doing is nothing short of amazing, and it makes me feel very honoured just to have some very small association with them, even if just by sponsoring their efforts now and again.

So anyway, being friends with the Dragons on Facebook, I get to follow their activities, and noticed that Rebecca was doing Kilimanjaro a few weeks ago to raise more funds for their wonderful cause. I got to correspond with her a few times before the trip, and tried to offer a few snippets of advice from my own experiences. It was just nice to be able to share a few of them again – Kilimanjaro will never leave me, and I am so grateful to have such wonderful memories of my own time there.

I was so happy to find out that on 8th September 2011, Dragon Bex summitted the world’s highest free-standing mountain. Fantastic!

Dragon Bex at the roof of Africa

Bex has done a write up of her experience, and with her kind permission I am posting it all here below for you to see. It made me smile, laugh, and also cry, and brought everything back to me from my own trip. I am so happy for her, and for all the Dragons. And if you enjoy it half as much as I did, then please show your appreciation by making a small donation to their chosen charities – a link to their charity page is provided here:

http://www.petesdragons.org.uk/Core/PetesDragons/Pages/Your_chance_to_donate!_1.aspx

By Dragon Bex:

    Trip of a life time


It is Summit Night. It was cold and dark, as 7 people crowded around the table in the mess tent. Somewhere outside we could hear the muffled laughter of the porters exchanging jokes in Swahili. In the tent we sat with our head torches on crowding closer to Ramson our Head Guide.

“In my village at the foot of Kilimanjaro I often take a meal with some of my tribe elders.” Said Ramson in his excellent yet heavily accented English.
“I have been a guide on Kilimanjaro for some years and they still ask me the same thing- “Ramson we don’t understand why do the Mzungu do it? (Mzungu is the collective term for white man) The mountain is dangerous, you can get very sick and die up there, it is cold and bleak- and they spend a fortune to do it…….why Ramson Why?”

As I reflect on my amazing adventure “Why” indeed!

Earlier that week on Saturday we arrived at a very dusty Kilimanjaro airport having flown from Heathrow to Kilimanjaro via Addis Ababa and Mombassa. Very tired, myself and my companion Sue climbed on board the bus to be confronted by the tallest man I had ever seen. He explained that he was Paul the chef and introduced us to the rest of the team: Ramson our head guide and Amos and Thomas his deputies. Paul explained that his height was not unusual as he was half Masai and in fact at 6 foot 7 he was the smallest in is family! In addition to these 4 chaps there were also 18 guides who came up the mountain with us (more on them later) some who accompanied us on the bus and some who we were to meet the next day before the climb.
As Sue and I settled in our seats our fellow Mzungu joined us. A lovely couple from Northern Ireland; Daphne a Nurse and Rob a retired drug enforcement Policeman, Fiona from Scotland who ran her own pet grooming firm and Nigel- A paramedic who we referred to as the “Camp- Medic” ( Take that as you will!) All lovely people and will be friends for life I have no doubt. They were also really interesting and great fun and the conversations we had on that mountain were awesome and got me through some tough moments.

After an hour of driving Paul signalled to something in the sky. I thought he was pointing out an airplane or a bird, but no, nestled in the clouds was our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro. I don’t think anyone was prepared how big this mountain was and the mood on the bus changed…….Ramson noticed and quietly remarked that as long as we gave Her the respect she deserved we would all be ok.

We arrived at our Hotel, (lovely) had a few beers (lovely) and looked forward to the next morning and the start of “The Climb”.

There was no need for an alarm the next morning as the 18 porters had arrived with food for 7 days, our tents all the equipment and were noisily strapping it to our bus. I must now talk about the porters who were for me the absolute stars of the journey and there is no way on this earth any of us could have done it without them.

The first thing I must mention is how poor they are. They are paid very little and are poorly equipped. We all had spent a fortune getting ourselves kitted out with boots, warm clothes etc but some of them climb, every day, in flip-flops. I also need to mention that they carry the majority of their bags on their head. Yes head. They also can make several trips to and from the various camps on a daily basis to ensure the Mzungu have water. Each of us had to carry 5 litres of water per day in our ruck sacks so you can imagine the volume. Many don’t have sleeping bags and huddle together at night in a very flimsy tent. (This is also generally the same tent that Paul cooked in- Health and Safety…!?) Having said all this they are always smiling; are unfailingly polite and helpful and love to teach you Swahili; Jambo “ Hi”- Poa- “Cool” Habari Gani? “How are you”. Fiona thought she was being highly amusing by feeding me some lines from her Swahili guide book: I couldn’t help wonder why the Porters fell about laughing (Fortunately they have a brilliant sense of humour) when Fiona suggested I say

“Unafanya nini wikendi hii, Unataka kwenda kucheza densi”

Which roughly translated means: “What are you doing at the weekend would you like to go dancing?

Hmmm thanks Fi!!

So back on the Bus and off on the two hour drive up into the foot hills to the Rongai gate to start our climb. Now to give you some perspective we started walking on Sunday at lunch time at over 2000 m above sea level. This is higher than Ben Nevis the highest mountain in the UK. The weather was lovely and hot, the sun was shining and spirits were really high…

I think the problem with climbing Kilimanjaro is that the first 2 and a half days are relatively easy. Monday and Tuesday are spent walking up hill at a slight gradient, very slowly for about 4 hours in the sunshine, looking at the wild life, pretty flowers. Chatting, eating sweets, playing games getting to know each other and having a jolly time. Altitude sickness pah! We had would stop at camp for lunch, have a rest, go for a high walk in the afternoon to help us acclimatise and then have a nice dinner…..What comes as a shock is summit day ( More of that later) and also the lack of hygiene that slowly creeps up on you…which leads me to the Camps…..

Let me make this clear, there is no running water on the mountain. No electricity or gas. So clearly there are no showers. There is the odd “drop toilet” at camp and believe me, having used one of those I now know what hell smells like. It is also advisable at night not to use your head torch in the toilet as any glimpse down into the “pit” will lead to dry retching. I made a decision early on that I couldn’t use the “toilets” and felt happier going behind a rock. This is known as “checking the tyre pressure” I have no idea why! Each day at some stage on the walk the girls would go one way and the boys another, armed with toilet paper wet-wipes to relieve themselves by a rock….leave your dignity at home!
The next thing to mention is the dirt….it is very dry and dusty in Africa and the dust is so fine that it gets everywhere, ingrained into your deepest pores, it goes up your nose (black bogies) and into your ears, not usually a problem, however there are no showers so it is impossible to get clean. There is of course the “Shanklin Shower” named by Daphne which is a wet-wipe wash of your face, arm-pits and…well you can imagine the rest! We all turned our noses up at the start of the trip as the porters were a bit pongee but by the end we didn’t care because we smelt just as bad!

So with the exception of no showers or toilets the camp is made up of the Mzungu’s 2 man tent I shared with Sue, (cosy is the best way to put it) the “mess” tent where a trestle table and 7 chairs sat, where he had our meals and a bigger tent which had seen better days which doubles up as the porters accommodation and the kitchen. Now a huge amount of credit goes to Paul. I have no idea how at 4 km above sea level he managed to produce some yummy food. Breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, Porridge, Spanish omelette, bacon on some days and sausages, with lots of coffee. In the evenings after our walk we would come back to popcorn and hot chocolate. For our supper we would have soup followed by coconut based curries and pasta. It wasn’t Cordon Bleu but you eat everything that was put in front of you.

So I hope I am painting a picture so far of lots of- if somewhat dirty-fun.

And then Wednesday morning came and everything changed. As today was summit day and we had no idea what to expect……..

The days started with a 5 hour walk to Kibo Hut which is the last camp before the Summit at aprox 4500m above sea level. Now this is the tricky time for altitude sickness. Whilst we had been walking very slowly for the last few days and walking high in the afternoons- this was a critical time to get our bodies used to what was to come. The terrain suddenly started to change too, from lots of vegetation to desert as it is too cold and there is too little oxygen for anything to grow. It also started to get very cold, and we all had to put on gloves, hats and several layers. When we arrived at Kibo hut the mood was slightly flat was we were tired and frankly in my case scared of what was to come. After lunch we rested and were fed again early evening and briefed on what to expect that night. Ramson explained that we were to get as much rest as possible because at 11pm we would be roused from out tents to start the walk to Uhuru Point 5895 m above sea level with an expected arrival time of 7am the next day. We would be given a small bowl of porridge before we started as it was likely that we would be sick if we ate too much. We were to take the bear minimum in our ruck sacks: 5ltrs of water carefully wrapped because it would freeze, any sweets, flapjack or glucose tablets we might need. Two pairs of gloves, socks and other warm clothes, our head torches as well as sun high factor sunscreen because when the sun came up we would burn.

I have no idea what I thought about for those 8 hours. It was pitch black, we walked unbelievable slowly on a variety of terrain; we scrambled over rocks, slipped on scree, all at a very steep gradient. It was so cold (-10 degrees) I could barely feel my hands or feet and we were so very tired, I am fit and have done a huge amount of prior training but my muscles were on fire. We should have been tucked up in bed, yet Ramson would not let us rest too long for fear of getting to cold or falling asleep. Is strange, you are with a group of brilliant people who you have bonded with of the last few days and there are several other groups of people from all over the world ascending at the same time, so you are not alone however it is a very lonely experience walking in the cold with your own thoughts and fears of not getting to the top. Altitude sickness can hit anyone, no matter what age, gender, or fitness level. You have to keep focused though on the task at hand. Big strong men in their prime are being taken back down past you, covered in vomit with their noses bleeding because they could not cope with the altitude. You have to just keep going slowly and pray that the terrible headache you have and the acute shortness in breath will not lead to anything more dramatic.
I have focused on the negatives here because it was really really tough but it was also amazing. I was given a piece of advice by a Kili veteran before I left- make sure you look up from the boots in front of you and take in your surroundings. I am so thankful for that advice…..as mentioned there were several other groups on the mountain ascending at the same time as us and as we zigzagged in the darkness it looked like a beautiful pilgrimage to yet unseen point, as the little groups of light created by the head torches bobbed up the mountain. With no light pollution, the stars were like nothing I have ever seen- you could see the Milky Way and I lost count of the shooting stars. Dawn breaking made the pain disappear… (momentarily!) Sunrise at 5,500m above sea level is something to behold, we were so high we could see the curve of the earth as the gold line of dawn on the horizon lit up everyone’s dusty faces. Shortly after we felt warmer and I could feel my hands and feet again. Looking down we could see a blanket of cloud several hundred metres below us. We were now nearing the end and could see in the distance the summit, so tantalisingly near yet still so far. I thought it might be snowier at the top but it is Spring in Tanzania and Global Warming has shrunk the ice cap. What is left is still majestic, massive turquoise lumps of ice.

The feeling when you get to the top is strange. I felt personally felt a huge sense of relief and sadness in a way (everything you had planned for the last year was over), a few people shed a tear, some laughed hysterically. After taking the iconic pictures, I just wanted to get the hell out of there! I had gone from extreme cold to now very warm in the African sun; I was hungry and wanted my tent. The mind works in mysterious ways and I got a sudden surge of freakish energy, frankly I think I went a bit bonkers because, with the permission of Ramson, I ran down……..You walk up one side of Kili on summit night but part of the journey back down is 2km of sand dune, I had so much fun running and rolling down from the peak, I-Pod blaring return to camp to the best tasting glass of OJ ever, juice delivered by a smiley porter..

So you are shattered, you stink, you can’t wash, or use a toilet in private you are hungry but an hour after you get back to camp you have to pack up because you still have two days of walking to get back to the bus!! These last two days were in a way my favourite, you are all mad with fatigue- everything is very funny, the food is deliciously because you are always hungry and the sleeping bag is like a four poster bed because you are shattered….On our final night on the mountain the Porters got together and sung as songs in Swahili which was incredibly moving as we gave them gifts of our old tee shirts and smelly socks…they were so grateful!

The best bit though….. collecting my certificate at the bottom and celebrating with my new friends and a Kilimanjaro Beer.

Kilimanjaro, charitable donations, and blogging

It is a funny thing this blogging business. Before I started doing it I had no idea what to do (still haven’t really:)), but most of all it has been an absolute blast to do. It has also been hard work, and lots of late night effort, caused mainly by a busy life, and also an incredibly frustrating typing speed. As I look back now and reflect (and I do, daily, if not hourly still) on all that transpired over the last nine or so months since I first decided to do it, a lot of things have happened to me. Some of them are related to the mountain specifically, others have quite frankly nothing to do with it, and some are jumbled up right there in the middle. I am acutely aware that my trip has also influenced some things that other people have done, and that is scary in a way, but also nice, whenever positive.

Some examples of the above are the charitable donations that I received. Bowel Cancer UK has received almost ÂŁ1,200 as a result of my blog, and I am bloody proud of that. I am going to keep my Justgiving page open until the summer, when I will close it by putting some money in myself – thank you enormously again to all of the kind people who donated. The majority of these were from people close to me, but some also from people I did not even know. How amazing is that! My blog has received something like 4,000 views since I started, which is staggering to me. I am delighted beyond compare with that, and also each and every one of the comments that I have had has touched me. I want to keep the blog itself going now, despite the fact that I have been remiss in recent weeks in doing so. I also am so grateful for people like Paul and Darina, who I do not know from Adam, but they found my blog apparently. They are doing Kili in September this year, and I got a lovely donation from them the other day, which was hugely appreciated. Good luck to them on their adventure – if you want to follow their blog it is linked below:

http://mykilimanjarotrek.blogspot.com/

I have also been in touch with a mutual acquaintance from work who will be doing the mountain later this year. I wish John very well in his endeavours.

I miss so many things about the mountain, and I will not let it fade. I miss it, but won’t let it dominate – it is just what it is.

I have much to tell about bikes and the Three Peaks Challenge, but they can wait for another day.

Lala salama (or sleep well in Swahili).

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:

Elibanki

Adson

Yasin

Rauld

Mnandi

Imanuel Mrema

Zamili

Hasani

Imanuel

Elisante

Raymond

Kevin (“Spiderman”)

Juma

Faustine

Edwin

Antony (also dishwasher)

Joseph (also dishwasher)

Frank (also waiter)

Ally (also waiter)

Omari (also cook)

Mauld (also assistant cook)

The Assistant Guides

Fredy

Samuel

Raymond

Guide

Deo

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……………..