What is it really like to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

During my 18 days in Africa (19 Aug – 5 Sept 2013), I kept a very up to date (and very honest) journal of the entire trip. What will follow is the majority of the entries regarding the actual climb of the mountain. Enjoy.

DAY 1
We have just completed our first day of the ascent! I don’t believe it! We started just before midday, our drive went up and up to Machame Gate at approximately 1800m up. We had a bit of a delay at the gate whilst we registered, used the toilets, collected waters and awaited for the porters to arrange themselves. The anticipation definitely built, yet it still did not yet seem REAL.

Our climb began very steeply. Not sure why we were caught off guard, it IS a mountain after all. Fortunately we only had a 45 minute hike before we stopped for a late lunch. After a bread roll, egg, piece of chicken and a miniature banana we continued. I found the first half of the afternoon quite leisurely. There would be steep sections which were followed by very flat plains, and I found myself leading the group at some points. Towards the end of the day however we were faced with an hour long steep incline and I felt the strain. Being a mountain rookie I noticed the back ache from my day pack, neck pain from looking at the ground, feet from the pounding and legs from the pace. We were all sweating and panting like dogs. It was chilly when we arrived at Machame, and it did get colder as we climbed, but the heat of our bodies maintained us whilst we kept up a pace. If today was already a challenge, I fear for the next few days. But there can be NO WAY that I do not summit.

Once we reached our first base camp, registered our location and allocated tents, we headed off to the Mess Tent for tea. We had popcorn and warm drinks, which I wasn’t particularly fond of but consumed regardless. An hour later, still sat in the Mess, we had dinner. The soup was courgette, and hooray for me I liked it. Then they brought out the chicken, potato’s and veg.

The majority of us remained huddled in the Mess Tent for a while longer. We enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the Porters who were helping us on our journey. They are a very cool bunch of people! We spotted one of them earlier wearing a Brunel University Sports Science jacket.

My new tent mates and I headed off into the bushes for our first ‘mountain squat’ (the toilet facilities were vile). I quite enjoy a nature toilet.

P1030735

DAY 2

We were woken at 6:30am by the porters knocking on the tent with cups of hot drinks and bowls of warm water to wash. The porridge at breakfast was beyond vile, but the vegetable soup, omelette and fruit were scrumptious. Time for set off!

Whilst the day started cold, the sun felt very warm on you when the clouds cleared. As we got higher, however, we became enveloped in the clouds. I had water droplets collecting on my arm hair and eyebrows. Today’s climb was slightly more treacherous, with more steep rocks that were slippery from the rain drizzle. It was a challenge, but because of our “pole pole” (slowly slowly) pace I was finding it significantly more manageable than yesterday.

Our set off time was 8:45am, and we didn’t stop for lunch until 1pm. Suffice to say, we were hungry (even if I had been snacking on ginger biscuits all day). We had vegetable pasties, more soup with bread and more fruit. The meal portions are definitely increasing, no doubt to meet the rise in demand on our bodies. I’ve heard one person say we burn up to 600 calories an hour. I wonder if that’s true?

After lunch the journey became slightly more climbing based. But it was much shorter, and still very pole pole. I thoroughly enjoyed the last twenty minutes of today’s journey being slightly downhill to the new base camp. We arrived approximately 2pm. We were supposed to go on a nature walk, but it was very misty and cloudy so it was given a miss.

Whilst we waited for dinner, the clouds completely cleared and we not only had a fantastic view of the surrounding camp (and Mount Meru in the distance) but also a stunning view of the peak! Mid-dinner we all ran from the Mess Tent to watch the sunset from ABOVE the clouds. The warm colours of the sun mixed with the texture of the clouds was beautiful. The stars also felt so near, and were so bright! I just wanted to stare at them all night.

DAY 3

Today was significantly more difficult. It was very hard. It was Acclimatisation Day, so we had to go up, up, up to 4,800m. It was only a gradual hill, but with every step upwards there was less and less oxygen. After a couple of hours into the journey I was moving so slowly. Breathing became very difficult, I felt lightheaded and dizzy, and I had a banging headache. The weather was HOT, we had to reapply Factor 50spf at every hour stop. The last two hours before lunch were the most difficult. I had to rest every few minutes as my legs were not functioning and I could barely form coherent sentences. Nat and Alaa stayed with me the whole time, God bless them. I nearly cried at least five times, but each time managed to hold it in. It is too early in the game to be weak. I was met at Lava Tower (lunch point) with encouraging applause from the rest of the team.

I knew that I had to eat, but altitude made me reluctant. I forced myself to eat all of my lunch though, which did help to ease my shakes. Both Matt and Josh were a comfort, each giving me supportive hugs.

Then we began our descent to the Barranco Camp. I had to go very Pole Pole as I still felt terrible. Part of the way down I was struck by a dire need to go for a CODEWORD: OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN. As there was only four of us present, I went behind a huge rock just away from them all. Mid-business, however, approximately fifteen of our group walked right on by a few feet away. In the real world I would have normally been mortified, but the mountain had given me a new perspective on what is important to fret about.

The further down we ventured, the healthier I felt and the quicker I was able to walk. By the time we reached camp I only had a slight headache left, which was quickly fixed by some paracetamol.

DAY 4

Probably one of the most difficult days of my entire life to date. We climbed the Barranco Wall during the half of the morning, whichP1030789 immediately took us back up to altitude. The first half hour I was fairly spry. But then my breathing difficulties kicked in again and I had to make frequent stops every few minutes again. I was once again so exhausted that I couldn’t move my legs. It took me over two hours to reach the top whereas it took the rest of the group less than an hour and a half. But even after reaching the top I had to face a difficult descent down sandy slopes followed by a very steep incline for forty five minutes. I spent lunchtime half passed out on the floor slowly chewing on my chicken and chips.

But then I was faced with the disheartening fact of a three hour climb to the next camp. The minute we set off, I could not breathe again. My limbs turned back to lead. Half an hour after set off, Josh noticed me struggling behind and came back. I swear to God, I would not have made it through this day without him. He was encouraging in exactly the right ways, simultaneously motivating and distracting me. Bless him, he even held me up right whilst I vomited away, and was never impatient whenever I had to make stops (which were literally every few minutes).

1000600_10151888752773615_1833180107_nWhen I finally managed to reach camp, I felt so ill that I passed out in the entrance to my tent. I was completely in the way of my bunk mates, but bless them they climbed on over me uncomplainingly. I did manage to drag myself to to the Mess Tent for dinner, but it was a dire struggle. I sat on the edge of the tent, just waiting to be sick another time. The porters forced some soup upon me, and I remember quietly sobbing into it as I choked down small mouthfuls of soaked bread. Within five nibbles though I had to fall out of the tent and vomited over the cliff ledge. Never in my life have I felt so frail. I hate being weak. The porters immediately forced more food upon me, and I managed to keep down about a quarter of a plate of pasta.

It was another struggle back to my tent, and it took me a ridiculously lengthy amount of time to dress ready for summit. But once I did, I lost consciousness. Within the next four hours I vividly dreamed of climbing the summit. It was so REAL, including all of the stops that I would likely have to make. It was gutting to wake up and realise after a minute that I was still in that damn tent.

SUMMIT NIGHT

‘Breakfast’ at 11:30pm consisted only of biscuits, and I choked down some Ibuprofen to try and ease off some headache. We were all wrapped up in every layer physically possible.

It was time to set off for the summit!

But within five minutes up from the Mess Tent I could not breathe again. I did not even make it another further five minutes out of the camp. I was ready to loose consciousness from lack of oxygen again, and my legs literally did not move without super human struggle. I was helped back to my tent by two porters, and my first reaction was to call my mum. And I just burst into tears talking to her. She tried to comfort me, but I cried myself to sleep for over half an hour. And then continued to cry every time I woke up.

DAY 5

At 8:30am, the porters who stayed behind made me breakfast, and I hung out with a group of them. By about 11:30am the majority of the group had returned from the summit. But whenever people try to comfort me, I keep on crying. I know that it isn’t my fault that I couldn’t make it. But I still feel very disappointed in myself. And I also feel as though I have let down everyone. Ten months of preparation to fail…

But I am so proud of everyone! The team has done amazingly. It just feels like an anti-climax for me.

After a 3-4 hour descent to our final camp at 3100m, I feel as though I understand better why last nights failure hit me so hard. Climbing this mountain and all its fundraising has become my identity over the past ten months. And being a person who accepts nothing but the very best of myself, I can’t help but feel disappointed when it didn’t happen. I just have to remember to reassure myself that I raised a fantastic sum for an amazing charity and overcame two days of horrendous illness to get to where I was at Barafu Camp (4600m).

“From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success.”

DAY 6

WE’RE AT THE BOTTOM!

Bless my porter, Gideon. He was so happy when I gave him so of my mountain things (two t-shirts, sleeping bag liner, fleece trousers and a water bottle). To be so grateful for second hand items covered in the dirt of six days up a mountain really throws into perspective how rich our lives are in comparison.

****

The rest of my African adventure included a 2-day safari and a holiday in Zanzibar (with tours around Stone Town included) and it P1030895was beyond amazing. Despite the challenges and illness faced on the mountain, I do not regret any decision I made to start the climb. The sting of my ‘failure’ is still sore, but I have such fond memories of this trip and the TEAM BRUOXFIELD to not be troubled too much by it. I cannot believe that it is over….

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About Hooch

BA Film & TV at Brunel University Dancer Love Bon Jovi and Garrett Hedlund
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2 Responses to What is it really like to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

  1. I cried with you that night too Hooch and worried for almost two days till I heard from you again that you were down safe and recovered. So very proud of all you’ve achieved in your life but never more so than now. You overcame so many things in this trip, from new foods (to survive) to taking yourself to your bodies absolute limit. Glad you’re home safe and well and have the most amazing memories from a trip of a life time. Thank you to Brunel Uni and Child Reach International for giving you this once in a life time opportunity. AND WELL DONE ON YOUR FUN-RAISING TOTAL OF £5500+

  2. Bless you darling hooch for writing all of this, it helped me relive what is still a very precious memory. And reaching the summit is only the tiniest fraction of that memory: it does not define the trip or the worth of the trip. You did a stunning job and you took your body to the limits of what it can do and beyond! You experieced the amazing views of Kilimanjaro and I could vizualize some of the things you mention so clearly because we did the same route – I am really glad someone else I know has all of that in their heads now too. I so wanna meet and chat!

    I am soooo proud, you are like a Lara Croft NINJA! You climbed Barranco Wall! You reached the LAVA tower. You got to poo behind rocks, emergency poo! These are the things you will never forget!! I remember on LAVA tower day touching each rock on the path as I felt so delirious I thought I was pocahontas and I could sap the energy from the rocks to keep for myself………. I got some weird looks.

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