Monday, 20 May 2013

THE AFRICAN ROOFTOP; CLIMBING Mt KILIMANJARO - TANZANIA


I've always been an outdoors type of kid, a fat kid who may not have been real energetic when I was younger, but I did love being out and about in the great outdoors nonetheless. I'm a lot older now (and in a lot better shape) so being outdoors has been a lot more fun, especially when I've had one of my dogs with me. Relaxed beach holidays have never been an interest of mine. I've been on a few when I was younger - examples of when my Mum would get her own way. I've always wanted to experience countries I go to on active holidays, rather than visit and relax in them, something I think my Dad got me into when he would get his own way. I always preferred when Dad got his own way.


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Before I get into the details I just want to say my initial attraction to doing the climb was not for charity, I won't lie about that. However once I looked into it, it did become a drive for me to do it even more. The previous summer one of the lads in our best mate trio was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Our families and friends raised over £8000 for his teen cancer ward at UCLH. I found being a part of such a good cause as this hugely rewarding, so yeah, I'd say it too was a supporting factor. He's okay now though, sadly his ginger hair has grown back though.


Shortly after starting Uni in Loughborough, I was walking out of my halls one day when I noticed a flyer for a charity sledding across the North Pole for students to take part in. I'm a mad lover of dogs and the thought having my own set of huskies to rule over was like a dream for me, but not something I felt I deserved to be sponsored thousands of pounds to do. I didn't see it as enough of a challenge (not to belittle it). However through the same company I found they arranged climbs of Kilimanjaro and as simple as that my next 'holiday' was chosen with the world’s tallest free standing mountain being the 'resort.'

The only thing holding me back at that point was raising the necessary £2500 to go. This is a good example of how naive I can be, as at first I thought yeah I’d raise that in 6 months, no problem. Well it was a bit of a problem as it was a lot of work and awkward pestering of friends, family etc. I wasn't ready for the deadline to hand the money in and was given an extension of a week. I still failed to get up to the mark by the end of that week but in the end, the day after my extension deadline, a number of businesses showed their support, raising my fundraiser to just under £3000, and I was finally ready in that aspect.


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So the day came when we were setting off - we flew into Nairobi, Kenya, and I remember being quite disappointed, as it didn't match any of my ideas of what Africa would be like. It was nothing but dull, overcast, miles of wide, open, baron land. I think I was also still a bit annoyed though, as I'd had some things from my bag stolen in the airport by the baggage-handling guys.

Paul, our driver from Nairobi > Arusha, at the Tanzanian border
Our lovely spacious bus with no working air conditioning...
As we drove closer to the Tanzanian border and eventually into the country, the scenery brightened up, looking more and more similar to what I’d imagined. At one point a group of baboons came out onto the road - it reminded me of a school run as the larger few stood out and sort of escorted the little ones across the road. Eventually after a 6-hour hot, sweaty and cramped bus journey we arrived at our hotel for the night in Arusha. It was a nice spot, but sitting in a hotel is boring, so I got it in my head to climb onto the roof. It was real easy once I became cool with one of the security guards. The views over Arusha were amazing. The scattered buildings covered in rusted corrugated aluminium went on for miles, until reaching the foothills of some of the smaller mountains in the area.

Arusha rooftops


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DAY ONE - GET GOING
The next morning we had an early start as it was the day of the climb - I was like a little kid, I couldn't wait to get going. Working hard towards something for nearly a year and then it being an hour or so from happening is a weird feeling, a good one though. We got to the Machame route gates, signed our lives away and started climbing; it was as simple as that.

The Kili crew - just inside the gates
The Kilimanjaro Machame gate security - these guys were pretty tough
A few hours into hiking through the thick rainforest, my chest started to feel really tight, I was short of breath and could feel the strain already. It actually felt like someone was kneeling on my chest. I was bricking it. I'd trained really hard to get fit for it and lost nearly 3 stone, I thought I was prepared, but you can’t prepare for an altitude without being at that altitude. Fortunately this little scare eased off and one of the guides told me it was because we had drove up nearly 1000m, so the quick ascent put my body through a bit of strain at first. With not much to look at in the thick forest, the scenery all seemed to merge along the way and I quickly found out that in Africa, 'another 10 minutes' means an hour or so and 'just around that corner' means you’re not even close. We hiked for about 6 hours on the first day, until we reached our camp, just out of the rainforest at 3000m. It was a casual stroll compared to what was to come.


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DAY TWO - Mambo kaka qwe-mama mgwenee!?
We were woke up at around 6.30-7am, I remember it being so cold (again nothing like what was to come though), and jumping on top of my tent bud Georgie, to 'huddle up and keep warm' like our guides told us to do. I done it more so to annoy him really, he's quite a grumpy fella, but it did work! Minutes later the sun was up and the cold was gone, it became real warm pretty quick which was a relief - but it also meant having to carry jackets and overalls instead of wearing them which was an effort in the heat. I was a bit of a sweaty betty.

We got going on the route pretty fast, this section had far more obstacles then the bit in the forest, and the heat made it pretty intense - I know a lot of the group had a hard time day 2. Plodding along I got talking to one of the guides quite a lot, Ele. He was a real sound dude. I caught him looking at my 'California Republic' cap and thought it'd be cool to give it to him, which made us ‘brothers’ as he'd say. He kept saying 'I'm the California King!' which was quite funny. Just after he tried teaching me some Swahili - 'mambo kaka qwe-mama mgwenee' -the spellings a complete guess but it means 'what’s up my brother from another mother?' After that every morning he'd come over and we'd say that and then do some sort of hand shake man hug type of thing. We were boys. My Dad always told me that little gestures like that can mean a lot - you'll see where this helped me out later on.

Me & Ele - My brother from another mother
There were some amazing views on the way, especially where we set up camp for the evening. When we arrived the skies were pretty clear but as sun set, I headed over to one of the cliffs and watched the clouds roll in on the mountain below me - such an amazing sight. The majority of the group took time to rest once we'd arrive at each camp, but I looked at it as why lie down when I can go off and explore? Which is what I did. A few of the lads fancied a walk too so we headed over to some cliff and looked about a bit. We found loads of stone piles, which are stacked by climbers of Kili each time they pass though. These became more and more frequent the higher we got.

Our second camp - pretty picturesque
Gerald, one of our guides, beside some stone piles
As dinner was cooking we were treated to some guide and porter entertainment as they sung the Kilimanjaro song and a few others while dancing, dragging some of the group out to dance with them, luckily I wasn't one of them.

Jambo!
Jambo Bwana!
Habari gani
Mzuri sana
Wageni!
Mwakaribishwa
Kilimanjaro!
Hakuna Matata!


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DAY THREE - Lava Tower, pass out and carry on
The next morning was the same procedure, wake up, eat and get going. It all started off really well, the terrain was rougher, but nothing to complain about. Up to this point, apart from a tight chest right at the beginning, I'd had no altitude sickness or anything else to complain about really, but that quickly changed into being the most uncomfortable and ill I can ever remember feeling. Each day you ascend for the majority of the day then descend towards the end to acclimatise.


Walking up to Lava Tower

Eventually made it.....
Day 3 was the day we ascended the greatest height in one day and boy I felt it. Our point of descending was on the other side of a large rock formation called Lava Tower. The altitude sickness snuck up on me and I didn't notice until lifting my head at one point, after which was hell. The closer we got, the worse I felt. We were pretty close to the tower, maybe a half hour walk. In a nut shell; my body was tired and aching from hiking for nearly 3 days solid, my shoulders and back were in bits as my backpack was pretty heavy, I felt sick and had stomach cramps, it was really hot but at the same time extremely windy, my lips were dry and spilt, but worst of all was the pounding headache making my head feel heavy and me really delirious. At one point I was really dizzy and stopped to lean onto my poles but it didn't go to plan, my legs gave way and I sort of passed out. Gerald, one of the guides, quickly helped me, pouring water in my mouth and helping me up, and it was back to the climb.

Mentally this was the hardest bit of the climb for me by far, due to altitude sickness and nausea - I took this photo so that if I ever feel rough, I can look back at this and know without a doubt I felt worse there.
Lava Tower
My and Georgie - Feeling better at this point
Surprisingly, shortly after we reached Lava Tower and started to climb down the other side, my headache and sickness eased off pretty fast, which was a relief. The scenery became far nicer due to a small stream running down a crevice in the mountain side. It was really weird to see where the stream had frozen over on the surface but the water underneath was still running down. It made the ground look like it was moving, I thought it was pretty cool. Eventually we reached our camp at the base of Barranco wall. This was my favourite camp. You can probably see why.

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DAY FOUR - Don't fall or you will die!
As beautiful as the camps location was, it was pretty daunting lying beneath the huge rocky wall we had to climb the next day, but at the same time I was raring to go. Barranco wall was the first chance we got to actually climb, or as we called it 'spigging' - spider pigging, rather then hiking. One thing I'll never forget was just before we began climbing Isaac, our main guide, gave us a little advice. It went something like this;
'Be very careful climbing up the wall, make sure not to fall because if you do one of two things will happen; you'll either die straight away, or you will fall and still be alive, but die before we can get you to the hospital'
…it was a lovely thought to start the day.

Barranco wall on the right of the picture
Spigging up Barranco was definitely my favourite part of the climb. I found it far more challenging but also a lot of fun. There were a few points which as Isaac said were 'die if you fall' areas but for me those were some of the best bits because of the risk and adrenaline rush they involved. If I'd had it my way the whole climb would have been like that.

The Kili Crew on top of Barranco wall

Once at the top the landscape was very boring. Wide expanses of bleak arctic desert, which made any distance walked seem insignificant. Soon my dizziness and headache came back. I wasn't in near as much pain as the previous day, but I did feel far more delirious. At one point I think I must have stopped walking or walked off or done something odd because I remember Ele coming over and saying 'come on brother, we've got to keep going, they will help you.' He knew I was hallucinating.
It soon became chilly as we arrived at our final camp, Barafu hut. It was far colder there then any of the previous camps, you could see snow scattered about, a little taster of the icy night to come. Apart from sleeping at night, this was the first time I actually took time to rest and went straight to sleep before and after dinner.


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DAY FIVE - Naps on Africa's Rooftop
Technically this was still Day 4 but we climbed through the night into Day 5.
So at 11pm we were woken up to be ready to climb for 11.30pm. It was the first time I'd actually got into a deep sleep the whole trip and to have to get up for another 8 hours of hiking through the night was brutal! It had gotten far, far colder, and the wind had picked up due to a storm that had blown over while we were napping. It literally made the thought of climbing 10 times worse with the summit being so hostile.
I did my best to try and brush that all aside and just get on with things as I had been previously, and it did work for about an hour I think - I couldn't be sure of timescales by this point. Anyway it got to the stage were my energy was just gone. I still had the drive to keep going but my body was saying 'on your own mate.' Then my head torch broke. Being tortured by freezing cold winds in complete darkness just wasn't what I wanted. Regardless we all kept going, having frequent, short breaks where we'd huddle together to keep warm, and literally nap for 3-5 minutes, then carry on.
I'd brought unmixed jelly cubes with me for boosts of high sugar, to give me energy but soon these became futile and this is where being cool with Ele helped me massively. He pulled me to the side and turned me away from the group, I basically collapsed onto the rock when he pulled out a bottle of Coke, which he said he'd put even more sugar into. He told me to take a sip but when he looked away I downed about ¾ of it. A few minutes later I was doing good again, as in I was now actually awake, my body was still exhausted though. Cheers Ele!
As expected this new found energy too ran low as the sun began to rise and the windy storm eased off. We were very close at this point, and being able to now see where we were going became my motivation as I could see my goal, the summit. At the same time I was still very weak, but I think my mate Holly was finding it pretty rough going. Funnily enough keeping my eye on Holly and asking her if she was okay kept my mind off my exhaustion and headache. At one point her legs gave way and she fell back onto me, I remember when we got down she apologised, I was laughing because if I hadn't been focusing on if she was okay and focusing on myself I think I would have found it a lot harder, so cheers Holly!

Sunrise on Africa's rooftop
Finally we reached Stella point, which was just below the summit, and this is where things got a little freaky. As soon as we got there, two porters were holding this women by her arms, her head lay to the side and she was dribbling, her nose bleeding and her feet dragging behind them. She'd obviously been hit pretty hard by the altitude sickness. After that however, Sam, one of the lads in our group, who had gotten quite a bit ahead of me and my little pod, was too being guided down by a porter, dribbling and completely delirious to what was going on.

After a quick break we progressed towards the summit, where it became really icy. The summit was surrounded by huge glaciers and snowy slopes, which lead off into big flat expanses of cloud. It was such a real sight. I summited at 08.31am I don't really know what to say about summiting or how to sell it, should I say. It was obviously an amazing experience, one of the best feelings I've had in my entire life, but at the same time I was so delirious and unaware really of where I was, that it was very surreal and hard to explain. I suppose it one of those 'had to be there' type of things.

Holly & Me at Uhuru Peak - The summit of Kilimanjaro
Although it was full of such beautiful sites, and such an amazing experience, climbing Kilimanjaro was the hardest thing I've ever done by a long shot, physically and mentally. Its something i'll never forget and at no point regretted signing up to, but I have to say I could not of done it without this guy, gave me support all the way - R.I.P Kevin
You’re only allowed to stay at the summit for about 15 minutes, and that’s all we got, I don't think I could have lasted much more. Due to the way the group progresses in dribs and drabs from Stella point it meant I got a good lie down once back there waiting on the others to come back down. I think it was about 30-45 minutes but like I said I couldn't be sure. This part of the climb is something that always makes me laugh about when I think of it, as climbing down is obviously a lot faster, but moving quickly when dizzy meant I fell over a lot, especially as we climbed down what were basically narrow sand dunes. Almost every time I would fall over, I would instantly be fast asleep and stay there until one of the porters would shout at me or drag me up. One of the girls with me thought it was funny to take pictures of this.

Bedtime...

Somehow we caught up with Isaac, even though we left before him, he said he'd took a short cut but I didn't really believe him, I'm not sure how he got ahead. He told me I could wait with him for the last few behind us, and sent on the porters along with the girls I was with. He said they would be a while so the two of us lay down up against a rock and went for a sleep. My rock was the most comfortable thing I slept on my whole time in Africa. Eventually Isaac woke me up, we'd been asleep for an hour he said, and a few minutes later the others arrived. We then carried on until we got to Barafu again.

When we arrived the majority of the group were getting ready to move on again to our camp for the night which we were told was an hour away, but like I said earlier about African time, it took about 3. I didn't go with the group, I held back and had a sleep, Isaac told me I could walk with him later on, which I didn't mind, he was a funny guy to talk to.

A while after Isaac and me began walking down to the next camp. We spoke about a lot of different things; We told each other about our families, he told me about his daughter studying to be a doctor and his son being really good at maths. I'll never forget his face when I told him that I had a pet dog who is allowed in the house. I couldn't imagine not having a dog at home, but he wasn't impressed, we were worlds apart I suppose. We arrived at the camp and I was straight to bed.


Isaac goofing around earlier on in the trip....
In total we’d climbed from 07.30am – 05.00pm, then from 11.30pm – 8.30am, then again from about 09.00am – 03.30pm, then 4.30pm – 07.00pm. Taking away the two sleeps and lunch Day 4, in total it was roughly over 25 hours of walking in a 36 hour period.


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DAY SIX -
Even though we'd summited, there was still a lot of hiking to do, and going downhill on rough terrain is pretty hard on the knees. It was surprising how quickly we were back in the rainforest again, at which point we were pretty much left to our own devices. On the ascent we had porters and guides by our side but this wasn't as monitored we made our own way along the paths.

Before we reached the bottom, we could hear we were there with the noise of the porters playing guitars and singing the now familiar Kilimanjaro song. We were greeted by our porters and guides and the bottom in this small hut, and given the opportunity to buy bottles of Coke, Sprite, beer etc. which were like heaven. Once everyone arrived, had sat down and rested a little, we walked another short distance into a small farming village in the foothills of Kili and had our first real meal in days. While here I also swapped the majority of the first aid kit my Mum had packed me, for two hunting knives and a spear. Apparently paracetamol is a good currency in that village. We then loaded our stuff onto the bus and headed back for our hotel.


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I just want to say a quick thank you to everyone who supported me on this trip. To everyone who chose to sponsor me, I literally couldn't have done it without you, and I am forever grateful. All my friends and family who showed support you were amazing, especially my parents, the old pair, who helped me more than I could have asked, thank you. Now, on to the next one!



Hope you enjoyed the post! Feel free to ask any questions!


- Jamie


This should put Kilimanjaro's size into perspective... (5895m)


7 comments:

  1. Nice story ! I am going to climb it this September for charity with University of Warwick. How did you obtain the donations from companies ?

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    1. If you approach people in the right way, which in terms of businesses is often offering them something in return for sponsoring you, such as taking photos holding their logo/business' name on the summit, they may be more inclined to support you.
      I wish i could help you out but I'm currently a broke student, sorry, but good luck with your climb!
      - Jamie

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  2. Such a lovely blog, im climbing Kili in 6 weeks, and this has given me such a fantastic view of exactly what it is going to be like, although, i don't know if im now more excited to go or completely scared! :) Is the Barranco wall really that bad?
    Well done on your climb, and thanks for sharing your experience! :D

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    1. Thanks Em, nice to know you like the blog! - but no don't be scared, it wont kill you but it is tough there's no doubt about it. Barranco wall isn't that hard, nor too tiring, like I said it is dangerous but at the same time very fun - my favourite part - just keep calm and you'll be fine, good luck!

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  3. Thats amazing!! Im climbing kili the same time as Em. I'm really excited yet so scared that I'm not going to be able to do it. It is amazing that youve shared this because nobody has actually tells you what its like thank you!! To you have any tips on training now or anything that you would recommend!!! Congratulations on reaching summit!!

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    1. Hi Kelly, thanks for the comment, good to know you like it! in terms of training, I trained quite a lot, I lost a lot of weight, had to lose a lot of muscle, got my fitness up to a good standard etc, but at the same time some of the people who climbed it with me did next to nothing (not to say they were unhealthy in the first place) - what training you do for it is really down to you, you can never know how the altitude will effect you until your actually there.

      Some train really hard and are really fit but there body reacts in such a way to the low levels of oxygen that they find it harder then some who are not so fit, its not all about the fitness is what I'm saying basically, but of course feeling fit and strong does make the physical work easier. Funny fact - smokers find climbing the mountain easier because there lungs are used to being put under strain breathing in less oxygen

      Good luck with your climb!

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