Becky's Kili Trek DiaryMarch 19 2013

Day 1 – Monday 18th February

Well, all that prep (or perhaps lack of) and fundraising comes down to this – the night before Ruth and I leave to climb Kilimanjaro. As it stands I left the UK with £6420 in my justgiving account. No pressure then….

The flights were uneventful – Kenya airways bog standard and decidedly average. After some pretty impressive views from the plane (and a quick stop in Nairobi airport) we landed in Kilimanjaro airport where we were met by a ‘team Kilimanjaro’ driver. We literally have no idea what to expect. The hotel in Arusha is quite charming really - surpassing all my expectations. It even has a ‘lounge’ area and small (freezing as we later found out) pool. The room is large and clean and our luggage has arrived (unlike some others at the airport who have been told they will climb a few days later than planned as they await their stuff!) For us - so far, so good.

I am writing this in the evening as Ruth is re packing her bag for perhaps the 4th or 5th time. I think this could be ‘the one’ so shortly we will celebrate with another cup of peppermint tea (sad I know). We are both exhausted and ready for a long sleep before the ‘epic climb’. We spent most of the day relaxing, panicking about whether we have brought the right stuff, wondering if we are going to get altitude sickness and anxiously wondering who our fellow climbers will be.

Then we met them….. it was brief so only time will tell but initial impressions are a) it’s a shame our group is now only a 4 as it was supposed to be a 6 b) Andy, 33, from London seems like he will have some good banter, comes across easy-going and chilled and c) Alec, 23, ‘from Estonia, really from Russia but living sometimes in the Netherlands’ is going to be VERY hard work. His initial babyface smile is almost certainly a trick as soon he revealed his arrogance (he’s a seasoned climber don’t you know) and offended Ruth almost immediately about her lack of gaiters. Watch this space……

Day 2 – Tuesday 19th February

Day 1 is over. It’s been long. Its 10pm and Ruth and I, having killed the spiders in the tent, have ‘bedded down’ for the night in our sleeping bags. We look like a couple of worms (some of you may use different words). It’s really noisy here and all the porters are chatting and banging pots and pans around. I hope this is the only night we are with so many other people, its crammed here – I am hoping that we will all split tomorrow to do different routes. We are doing a variation of the Lemosho Glades route and it is a relatively unspoilt trek compared to some of the others. The trek is 5 days up, 2 days down...it’s considered one of the best routes because it allows enough time to acclimatise and give us a maximum chance of completion. If I don’t complete it I do not know how I will show my face at work ever again….

We had a rather shoddy start to the day as our alarm failed. Because everything is on ‘African time’ we really hadn’t bothered with the mass panic in our room, fast shower (the last one for 8 days - this should not have been so rushed!)  - we were 20 mins late to meet but our guide Harold wasn’t even there yet! We even managed a quick cheeky omelette and toast – result. Our belongings had been split into two bags and we had our day bag freshly packed ready to go - extra layers, I pod, camera, first aid and water etc.

We drove with one quick stop off to be ripped off for some chocolate and crisps (I have already packed 55 tracker bars, 10 frusli bars and some other biscuits but apparently require more ‘just in case’). After 3 hours we get to the base of the mountain, stopping to weigh in out bags and sign the register for the national park. I was hoping to look for Katy’s name but it was pretty chaotic and even getting to write my name was a chore. Think that was a rather romantic (and naive) idea as she did do this 3 years ago. 

Finally after a lunch (soup and a salad sandwich) we set off. Straight away it was stunning and a sign of things to come. We had to stop a fair bit to let the amazing porters rush past (carrying everything on their heads - very humbling). Alec and Andy were entertaining in different ways as we begin to get to know each other. Andy has a lot in common with Ruth as he is a film technician so they had a lot of common ground and we all share a passion for travel. Alec is bizarre – one minute he is walking along talking to himself and cursing, seeming to throw a strop over nothing and the next he is enthusiastically talking about something of interest (geography, plant life, Russia). Hard to make him out at this stage.

Dinner was served at 6.30pm- cucumber soup and a huge plate of potatoes with random bits of avocado. There was some suspect looking meat on offer which I swopped with Alec for his avocado. A wise wise move – apparently the meat was not so good. In my tent now I am on my third tracker bar, hunger is not going to be an issue for me with my vast supply.

In summary, a good day. I am not sure how this is going to pan out but I am excited. (Oh, and massively thankful to Katy for the sleeping bag – I am toasty!)

Day 2 – Wednesday 20th February

Last night I was rushing a bit and over breakfast today thought of a load more things that happened - for a start we saw monkeys. Also, I am not sure I gave the surround justice – we were trekking through rainforest and it was beautiful, so lush and green and every which way another breath-taking view. Our guides are called Harold and Victor and the head porter Justin.

Anyhow, day 1 was a success and we seemed to quickly gel as a group and also with our guides. Although we have not had much sleep (that camp was packed so we had around 4 hours) we were still in good spirits this morning over our porridge. It is pretty unfortunate that this is served in metal bowls as you do feel a little like its prison food – we quickly named it gruel. To be honest though, the fact that someone has carried this on their heads to us makes it impossible to leave any.

Today we climbed from 2600m to 3500m to Shira 1 camp. This was actually harder than expected and all day long you are getting covered in a thin layer of dust and dirt. The rainforest gives way to shrub land and big rocks that we have to climb. I will NEVER again take the mick out of people that use walking poles. The walk got steeper and steeper and there was no defined path – just rocks and thick vegetation that Harold expertly winds his way through with us following.

The trek seemed to go on forever and the last part had a lot of relentless rock clambering which was tough. To put into perspective how hard – we walked 7.9k today and it took 5.5 hours. A couple of times - one when my ‘camel toe’ (a cheap camelback) leaked all over everything in my bag and another when I was attempting to use the infamous ‘she-wee’ in a bush- I did think to myself ‘what the hell am I doing here?!’

We got to camp and as I write my legs are a little achy and I am drained and dirty but also happy to have done day 2 with very little drama. The views as we climbed were pretty incredible and the thought of the sponsors made the tiredness worth it. We also got to see the mountain in all its glory for the first time. It was scary, stunning and extremely daunting. I have to admit I am now really nervous of the days ahead. Today was tough and it’s only going to get harder the steeper we get and then you have to chuck altitude in the mix.

I mention I am dirty -this is AFTER a wash! Our fingernails are black and we are all covered in this red dust. Harold tells us tomorrow will be the same rocky terrain but assures us it is a slightly easier day – a lot of up and down to help with acclimatisation. This camp is pretty baron and sparse with the relentless dust of course – literally EVERYWHERE – you can’t keep clean for 5 minutes. The shrubs are small scratchy things. It’s not a pretty area. Tomorrow we get to camp for an acclimatisation climb before dinner and bed. Bet I get sick.

I have been suffering from headaches all day but I have kept them in check with paracetamol and in general, the camp is in high spirits. I was a little short of breath too earlier but Harold assures me this is pretty normal. Touch wood, we all seem on the whole ok. The summit is anyone’s guess as you can’t plan for altitude. When we rounded the corner earlier and say the mountain looming and as Alec started cursing in a thick Borat accent I did have to agree with him that it is ‘quite big’ (not his words). He got named Mr Flower as every now and then, amidst the sparse shrub land he will spy a rare flower and be off on one excitedly chattering about its history and how it is specific to Kilimanjaro.

Day 3 – Thursday 21st February

I am writing todays entry from Moi Hut camp. In the last 10 mins it has started hailing. Literally boulders of hail. But it’s boiling and the sun is still out. Bizarre. I am just so grateful this has just started and was not happening as we walked/climbed today. I may have lost the will to live. We have just had our soup and veg lunch and Ruth and I are snuggled in our tent.

We are now at 4100m and its getting serious! Whist I was feeling ok today, Ruth had some shortness of breath and was slower. Hers just came a day later than mine and soon we are both used to it. The nights are getting colder and last night we layered up in 3 socks, 2 trousers, 3 t-shirts, a fleece, a scarf and a beanie. On night 2. Dreading nights 4 and 5!

Anyway we kept the pace slow which was actually really good as the views were spectacular. The views I thought were unsurpassable on day 1 were easily beaten today. The terrain today was rocky and is becoming more and more baron. Ruth described it like the moon which is pretty accurate (not that I’ve been to the moon of course) Halfway through today I stuck on the I pod for the first time, until now we have been chatting and getting to know each other. I found it was a little easier to get in the right frame of mind. In fact the I pod and the odd joke about my ‘camel toe’ seemed to be very influential reasons as to why I got through today!

Today I realised I have underestimated this thing – they whole ‘if Chris Moyles can do it’ attitude of people (myself included) has made me belittle what it actually is. And that is HARD, dirty and freezing (at night). You are constantly knackered and sleep deprived. We are really dirty now and I could do with a shower, a little bowl of tepid water with a load of baby wipes doesn’t cut it. Having said all that it is the most amazingly beautiful place I have ever been and clearly these memories and views will stay ingrained in my memory forever. If Chris Moyles did it like this - camping, filthy and knackered -  then fair bloody play to him!

At the moment I am writing this before our altitude walk – we are going to test our bodies and see how we get on. We are all feeling it a little now, the headaches are more constant and we have had the odd ‘dizzy moment’ between us. Victor our guide is certain we are going to all summit and keeps telling us we are a strong group (bet he says that to everyone). Alec keeps telling us how if we do not make it we will return home, disgraced and people will point and stare saying ‘look, that’s Becky the massive failure’. Motivation indeed.

Day 3 – Thursday 21st February - Later

Ok so it was hailing earlier, then rain, torrential rain. Ruth and I were having a doze in the tent whist it was tipping buckets and then before we knew it we were woken up to go walking. Great. Turns out this was as hideous as we thought it might be. In all our gear, including waterproofs, we donned our poles and set off. Soon the sideways rain that was pelting us in the face turned to freezing snow and we trudged in silence up the very steep ridge. Occasionally we had to use our hands to pull us over the boulders. It was labouring and draining and not at all fun. Once again, I was questioning what the hell I was doing.

However we made it and when the sun came out and showed us the spectacular views we were feeling quite emotional. Trudging back to camp we felt pretty elated that we had not suffered too much and we had ‘done’ it. As I write this I am in my sleeping bag worrying like mad about whether I am going to make the summit. The closer we get to the day and the more we talk about it, the harder it is to rationalise how cold, steep and air-less it is going to be. Oh, and we have to do it in the dark.

Day 4–  Friday 22nd February

If anyone had asked me how I was feeling this morning it would be a very different answer to now. We are now at Pouf Camp (lots of mileage with that but I can already see my sisters eyes roll so I will leave it well alone) It’s the afternoon, the sun is out, lunch is devoured and Ruths mini speakers are getting some good use. We walked today for 5 hours and on the whole it has been a good day. It has been up and down (to help acclimatisation) and the mountain has been there all day silently mocking us.

This morning I was not feeling the same. I hardly slept, the cold has really affected my neck (I had whiplash last year) and caused me some serious discomfort last night. I have to admit that I did greet this cold windy morning with a little homesick cry - Ruth gave me a hug with the right balance of sympathy and ‘man up now Bex’ followed by a concoction of herbal drugs to get me going. Andy had been up all night with a dodgy tummy and Alec, well, Alec was just moody. My mood soon lifted once we got going and the stunning views put pay to any bad feeling I had. All morning the mountain loomed over us looking stunning and scary in equal measures. To the left, the vast expanse of Kenya really making us feels quite insignificant. The land continues to be baron and ‘moon like’ and we are all never more aware of the task ahead.

Day 5 –  Saturday 23rd February

Last night we were all a little more upbeat as a group and the most magical thing happened which I think will be the highlight of my trip (aside from summiting of course!!). We left the mess tent knowing that we had to layer up some more before trying to sleep. We were staring at the stars and saying our goodnights. The mountains serious presence felt so very close now and the spectacular sky was breathtakingly clear. We were picking out stars and wishing we had some (even basic) astronomy knowledge. Then out of nowhere, a huge cloud engulfed us, leaving us in a silver fog. It was amazing. We realised how very high we were – literally in the clouds. It was freezing and once we scrabbled around for each our sleeping partner (luckily I found Ruth straight away) we head off to bed on a serious high feeling quite literally on top of the world. This paragraph will never do it justice but it was truly a moment I will never ever forget.

Harold told us yesterday that the sunrise at this camp was one of the best so we woke up this morning (another terrible sleep) at 6am to sit on a rock on the dark and wait. Kenya stretched out before us as far as the eye can see and we waited for the sun to rise over it. It was the best start to the day ever – peaceful, stunning and a little surreal. Pretty emotional stuff! 

Although Andy is still not 100% we have generally all been good today -acclimatisation has finally happened for us it seems! We set off late (8am) and the trekking today has been pretty ‘easy’. I worry we have been lulled into a false sense of security as we arrived here at camp (Third Cave) by midday. Victor keeps bantering about summit and referring to it as a ‘piece of cake’ with icing on the top (snow). It’s beginning to look more daunting and high even though we are closer but perhaps that’s just because we know what’s coming. This camp is really chilled and I think it’s to encourage us to relax before the walking we have tomorrow. In an hour or so we go for another acclimatisation walk (my fav!). Tomorrow we head from here (3900m) to School Hut camp (4750m)

Day 5 –  Saturday 23rd February  -Later

We just got back from our 2 hour trek – it seemed a bit pointless to me - we walked for 2 hours up in the direction of school hut (tomorrow’s destination) to come back again. I guess it was for Harold and Victor to monitor our pace at this altitude. We had a bonding moment and a motivational speech from Harold so all was not lost. The thing that shocked me a bit was the terrain – now it has gone from baron hardy rock to ashy, sandy loose scree– imagine a deep gravel driveway and that’s what we are trying to walk up. The main thing to note was the laboured breath – it was hard to get into a rhythm, I know the I-pod is going to be essential if we end up on this for the whole summit night

 

One more thing to note at this stage– 55 tracker bars was a tad too many and I have given 25 or so to the porters. My choice of clothes for this trip has been, so far, a good combination. I was led heavily by Katy and seem to have a good mix of clothes. Tonight we are trying out a new thing too – foil blankets under our mattresses as we expect it to be seriously cold!

So the next entry is going to be ‘the one’……..

Day 6 –  Sunday 24th February

Tricked you! Thought I’d sneak in another entry before we leave. I am sitting on a rock overlooking Kenya at 4750m. The trek to here was hard-core and I am already exhausted. It’s been steep, uneven rocks all the way – there were a few slips. Harold and Victor continued their motivational chat – gratefully received. Pole Pole (slowly slowly) has been a theme of the week, never more so required. Last night it got cold quick – the wind was bitter and continues to be so today even though the sun is out. My hands are badly burnt making tasks difficult. 

We share this camp (school hut) with only a couple of other groups and we got here first -Harold is chuffed about this and to reward us we set off straight away on another bloody acclimatisation walk. I think a ‘walk’ that will actually require a lot of climbing. We are all feeling good – Alec has now separated himself totally from the group including the guides and I think he is suffering but not wanting to let on – he has been ignoring all their advice to drink water and when we managed to get signal phoned his parents – later he came out of his tent (imagine Borat) saying ‘my parents tell me, Alec, you must take down that mountain or not come home’. Nice.

So I have accepted we have a job to do to do tonight, it’s here, there is no hiding. Let’s go acclimatise….

Day 6 –  Sunday 24th February - later

Right then, so I get altitude sickness. Awesome. Our walk took us to 5000m and it was hideous. I had a vice like squeeze on my head and every step I took made it worse. By the time we got to turn back I cried with relief and as you start the descent it starts to dissipate as quickly as it starts – very strange. That was an hour, in the daylight and sunshine. Tonight, that’s the first hour of 6 or 7 in freezing temperatures. Now I am truly scared.

I am not worried now we will not summit -unless something drastic happens as we are too close now. But I do question how much pain it’s going to take to get there. I keep looking at the stunning views to remind myself of how special this whole experience is. But there is no getting away from Ruth’s shoes being too small, my neck relentlessly aching, Alecs moody-itis and Andy, well he’s been pretty quiet so not sure how badly he is suffering….. 9 hours to go. Arhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

Off to sort my summit clothes out now and have a general panic. Getting woken up at 11pm for gruel and to set off.

Day 7 – Monday 25th February

WE DID IT!! All four got to the summit with some serious help from Harold and Victor along the way. I really have no idea how to describe the past 16 hours of my life! In my mind the whole process of summiting has been a total contradiction. It was both the best and worst thing I have ever done, I was happy yet in agony. I fluctuated between thinking this was amazing to then questioning what the hell I was doing.

We donned our clothes (literally all of them- 3 trousers, 6 tops, 2 thick socks as well as foot warmers, hand warmers, a buff, scarf, 2 hats) ate some gruel and set off at midnight feeling in high spirits (aside from Alec of course – by now we know he is just ‘ticking this off the list’ and not actually enjoying it at all).  Ruth and I leaned quite quickly we had overdone the back, hand, leg and foot warmers – we had literally put them on every available bit of skin and had spent a lot of time sticking them all over each other’s bodies. As we began to walk I was sweating harder than I had in any of the strong days of sun and had to start contorting my body to rip them off me!

The walk was immediately taxing due to the altitude and every step was laboured. The ground underneath was that ‘quicksand’ consistency and we were on the serious go slow.’ Pole Pole’ was never more relevant. Occasionally there would be a huge bolder but on the whole it was small rocks, flint and scree. This was all being done by headtorch. I haven’t concentrated so hard on anything since school – I was talking to myself quite a lot and focusing entirely on Alecs backside (not a nice backside I tell you) to make sure my pace was correct.

To begin with we were the only group in sight and an eerie peace was amongst us. We got into a silent rhythm and tackled the first couple of hours stopping every now and again for water.

After some time we looked up to see a load of ‘glow-worms’ zigzagging up the mountain (other groups going pole pole up the mountain) – some VERY far into the distance. We had reached the point where all routes meet. The strangest thing happened to me shortly after – no headache, no sickness but a case of ‘drunken legs’. My brain was working perfectly but couldn’t seem to let my legs know how to function so I was ‘all over the place’ as one would say about someone with too many wines inside them. Almost everyone at one stage had me on top of them and a couple of hours before the top Victor took my bag, worried I would topple over and disappear down the side of the mountain.

The higher we got the harder it was  - even though at times it felt we were almost at a standstill it seems we were still pretty fast, often passing other groups while they waited for someone to vomit or have a cry. Not that motivating so I ended up looking at the ground when we passed other people for fear of catching someone’s stricken face.

Gillman’s point felt like a trick (5681m) – I was exhausted and my body did not love what I was doing to it. You round the corner and suddenly see a sign – In delirium I forget there are two points before the final summit and burst into tears of happiness thinking we had made it. I soon realised this actually meant around 2 hours to go and felt like turning round and roly-poling down the mountain, taking out all the glow-worms like skittles. Victor soon shut me up by telling me not to let everyone down and with no time to dwell we bypassed all the elated photos being taken by other groups (why were they so cheery?!) and trudged on.

The sun was rising by now and you knew as soon as you could stop and take it in the views would be out-of- this-world-stunning. This (the I-pod which was working, and the thought of EdUKaid) kept me focused and we all had a slight new lease of life. We reached Stella Point (5756m) and we are rewarded with a beautiful glacier to the right, covering the whole mountain side and looking as surreal as anything whist the sun was rising over to the left. The ‘walk’ (aka almost crawl) from here to summit took only an hour but felt like a day. It felt like a trick because you were at the ‘top’ and it was pretty flat – just a long bloody walk!

Summit was a strange feeling- we expected a lot of hugging, high fiving, crying and a serious sense of euphoria. But in fact it was a relief interspersed with disbelief that we were there and a smattering of pride. Again, the contradiction – I was elated but drained, happy and sad and totally exhausted but buzzing with adrenalin. After the obligatory photos we looked around and there are no real words for the beauty that was surrounding us. The dusting of snow was illuminated by the sun and each way you looked was another breath-taking view. The nights of poor sleep, headaches and the dirt paled into insignificance.

Our elation soon gave way to the knowledge that what goes up, must come down. After about 45 minutes at the summit we began the descent. Splitting from the boys (we needed the loo and it took an age to find a suitable spot) we went down the scree run (much like skiing but with dust and dirt and the odd bit of flint smacking you in the face and blinding you – not enjoyable). I slipped over onto my bum more than once and given we had done just a bit of walking that day I was not feeling particularly jovial about the whole thing. 

We finally ended up here (5 hours later) at millennium camp suffering from sheer exhaustion but extreme elation. I think tonight, even though I am disgustingly filthy, a bit bruised and battered, I will sleep like a new-born.

Day 8 – Tuesday 26th February

The last day! All I thought when I woke was that later we can wash – that’s the most exciting thing ever….. As I predicted I had the best night’s sleep in that tent. No spider, cold, noise or neck pain was going to wake me up.

We woke early as Harold and Victor were keen to ‘beat other groups’ from other camps to the gate to exit. We had a 5 hour trek through jungle which I was quite looking forward to. The final (more gruel) breakfast and we were off for the final time in our stinky, dirty clothes This was the quickest I think we have exited a camp, all knowing there was a shower in it for us at the bottom.

As the moorland turned into rainforest and the sun began to streak through the trees we were all very happy. The pain in the joints was excruciating (most notably the knees). However we were rewarded by seeing loads of monkeys – literally 20 or 30 of them in the trees above us. One peed on Victor which was hilarious. Even Alec cheered up as he compared different tree barks.

Finally we made it to the gate and boarded our bus back to Arusha in quiet reflective moods. There is not much more to say on this day other than we have tonight drunk 3 bottles of wine (Andy, Ruth, Victor and I – Alec joined us for 10 mins to complain about how dusty the sleeping mats in the tents were on the climb and soon after went to bed). What a day. And what a shower!!!!!

So there it is, Kilimanjaro ‘taken down’ as Alec would say. It was surreal. A true testament of my friendship with Ruth. Totally worth the pain for the money raised for EdUKaid.  A total contradiction in many ways but I am very proud of us and glad I have done it.

Now to the charity…..

*****

EdUKaid

I am not going to write a diary of my time at EdUKaid as I did so last year. We had a truly wonderful week visiting the schools, seeing ones completed that this time last year were in disrepair and of course seeing my favourite little boy in the world, Jabir. Below are some pictures of the schools before and after EdUKaids help.

As well as spending time with the charity we did have some ‘down-time’ and saw Hippos on the Mozambique border and had a couple of chilled evenings with a  bottle of wine to reflect on the past 2 weeks and wonder what our next crazy fundraising idea will be.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me and supported me, particularly Aimia. Katy – thank you for saving me a fortune by loaning me pretty much everything and also for all the advice and support before we left.

Now onto next years trek/climb/cycle/run……..

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