The whole climb up was incredible.
We didn’t start climbing until 4pm on Sunday 1st January as we‘d spent most of the morning making sure we had the right equipment, choosing the porters and packing up the 2 mini buses that took us all to the base of the mountain. We had chosen to do the 7 day Lemosho route which meant a 2 ½ hour drive to register and pay park fees and then another ½ hour drive to get to the start of the trail. So at 4pm, just as it has started to rain we made our first ascent full of high spirits and excitement.
3 hours in, we were starting to think that maybe we’d underestimated how hard this was going to be. We arrived at camp around 7pm feeling pretty tired and had to find our way around in the dark – probably a good thing we couldn’t see the long drop toilet we were sharing with about 60 other people. I’ll spare you all the details of those toilets!
We were shown our ‘mess tent’ where we’d be eating dinner and breakfast each day complete with tables and chairs and had a sudden realisation that this whole experience was going to be much more than an enduring mountain climb. Between 8 of us there were 27 porters and 5 guides. This is the way it works on Kilimanjaro climbs – it’s probably the most pampered mountain climb I’ll ever do. You have a part feeling that maybe you’re not quite hardcore enough and part feeling of gratefulness for a ‘mess tent’ to eat your food and people to carry your bags – after all you’re still doing the climbing every day and sleeping on a 1 inch mattress for 6 nights J
We combined day 2 and 3 from the more popular 8 day route into 1 day for our 7 day route and so walked from Big tree camp to Shira 1 camp and on towards Shira 2. The day was long and hard. It wasn’t a particularly steep climb in fact these camps were named for the ‘Shira plateau’ the flatter bit of Kilimanjaro before you hit the steep incline. However we were slower than the recommended time and the 8-9 hours walk ended being 10 hours. We again fell into camp exhausted with just enough energy to take a selfie at the Mountain sign detailing how far we’d come and how far to go.
A slightly shorter walk – only 6 hours – but one to test how we’d cope at high altitude. We climbed over 100m towards Lava tower at 4600metres only to go over the ‘hill’ and climb back down 900 metres to camp. Ever so slightly demoralising to climb that high and then come down again but it was needed to help acclimatise. This camp was cold – winds blew in from all around and we so we quickly changed into base layer thermals and fleecy clothes that evening. We managed to get some great photo shots of the summit from this camp as it loomed above us.
Day 4 – the Barranco wall
This was our favourite day – we’d heard that it was the toughest but actually it was the most fun. Most of the morning was spent scrambling up a rock face and doing some ‘proper’ climbing. There was one part called the Kissing rock where you shimmy yourself along a thin ledge until you are almost kissing the rock – hence the name – and try not to look down behind you at the drop. The ‘summit’ for this day was quicker and we spent a longer time taking some fun photos of the stunning views.
Day 5 – Base camp (Barrraco camp 4600 metres high)
The scenery each day was stunning and so different from the day before – Climbing from Base to summit you go through 5 different climatic zones and each new landscape was spectacular. It almost felt like an alien landscape at times – the plants and volcanic ash soil were so dramatic.
Day 6 –Summit day
3am we began our final ascent - It was cold, it was dark, we were tired, the kids were moaning and at some point we all cried – but we did it!
The walk to the summit was so “Pole Pole” – which is Swahili for ‘Slowly slowly’ and is used for everything on Kilimanjaro – the guides say it all day long, even porters who pass you carrying 20kg on their heads shout it back to you. In fact I’m sure we were possibly one of the few groups in the history of Kilimanjaro that was told to ‘speed up a little’ as we were a little too ‘pole pole’ and did enjoy our long stops along the way.
Three things kept me putting my feet in front of each other that day – Really wanting to reach the top with my Dad on his 60th birthday. Thinking about all the money I’d raised for Beyond Ourselves and how I had to make it and finally wanting to prove I could do it to all the people that had said ‘ it’s fine if you don’t make it, lots of people don’t cope with the altitude and it’s nothing to do with fitness’. Powerful motivation!
I wanted to quit a number of times but I think after about 6 hours my determination just set in and I thought ‘I’m doing this’. About 2 hours from the top my ever encouraging guide patted me on the back and said ‘You’ve hit the point of no return now Emily’ – This was at the point where I was stopping every 5 steps to catch my breath and thinking will I ever make it and can you camp up here?
We finally made it to Stella point – the crater rim of the volcano and knew we had one last hour slog to the highest point – Uhuru Peak.
It’s hard to describe the emotion I felt as I rounded the rocky outcrop and saw ‘The sign’. I was feeling so exhausted with little breath but knew I was going to make it. My son came running back to climb the last bit with me and then the emotions hit – we were all crying as one by one everyone reached the sign with cheering and singing from the guides. Papa Joe being head of the group got the biggest cheer. You cannot stay long at the top due to the thin air at this high altitude. So we had 10 minutes of photos and 5 minutes looking at the incredible view – over the glaciers and landscape below us but also at the other side down into Mount Kilimanjaro’s volcanic crater!
Apparently ‘Uhuru’ means ‘Freedom’ in Swahili, which describes perfectly the elation you feel at reaching the roof of Africa!