We had planned for over a year and a half to go to Tanzania in September and attempt to Climb Kilimanjaro. We had been training hard, lots of hill walking and being up Snowdon most weekends – We had chosen the Shira route taking 8 days in total on the mountain. We didn’t really want it to be just the two of us and we did want to see a bit more of Tanzania too, Other than the mountain – so we opted for a UK-based tour company ‘Explore’. Which used local Tanzanian tour groups & guides to have the best knowledge and info of the local area. Organising us a safari in the Serengeti and a short stay in Zanzibar too.
The Shira route is the longest on the mountain, but is the best in terms of acclimatisation we were advised. We Flew with British Airways from Manchester to London, Kenya airways from Heathrow direct to Nairobi and then with Precision air onwards to Kilimanjaro airport. It was a long tiring journey but so so worth it with no delays…
We met up with the rest of our group in Kilimanjaro airport. There was 15 of us in total, plus our tour leader ‘Max’. It was an amazing group of like-minded people and a variety of ages, ranging from 22 – 59. We transferred on a mini bus taking just under an hour to ‘Moshi’, a local village where we would spend the night resting before we headed to the mountain to begin our adventure. We stayed in lodge style rooms, very basic but did the job. Weather was not very warm, although it wasn’t cold either, just very cloudy!
Next morning was here before we knew it, we had a good breakfast in the hotel then got briefed about the day & route ahead. We then loaded into three jeeps and drove to the Londrossi gate to commence our attempt for the summit. We all signed in to say we were entering the mountain, having a peek at the celebrity comic relief signatures too as they did the same route. Had a bit of lunch to fuel us for the walk ahead, whilst the porters weighed in our bags and shared out there loads before we soon got going.
The first day was so, so dusty, not too energetic either. The aim on the mountain was never to be out of breath always walking slow and controlled. So you could acclimatise well….. Walking poles were very helpful for this, I had never really used them properly before, but couldn’t imagine doing something like this without them now. ‘Pole, pole’ in Swahili we kept getting told by the porters, meaning ‘slowly, slowly’ in English.
We got to Shira 1, the first campsite to be surprised with our tents all set up and the tea cooking – the porters we had with us were amazing, they always left camp after you and get there before you. We had around 40 porters for our group of 16! Impressive support team hey!
Food was surprisingly good on the mountain we always had tea & coffee followed by some kind of soup then a meal. The chiefs did so well to make the food they did! We even had chips one night, imagine lugging those potatoes all the way up the mountain. We ate in two huge yellow, mess tents. Also a nice surprise was we had porter loo’s that came with us on the whole trip – not many groups had these! Camp life was great and I really got into it, quite miss it now actually. You got into such a routine of eating tea, chatting a little in the mess tents and then an early night. As soon as the sun went down it was extremely cold, so the best place was to be in your sleeping bag…
You rose early about 6.30am with the porters banging your tent asking whether you wanted tea or coffee, ha! Followed shortly by a bowl of warm water to wash with in the first few camps – this soon stopped at around camp 4 as it was too cold in the mornings and it would just freeze! Days on the mountain consisted of waking 6.30am, breakfast 7am, packing everything away in your tent for 7.30am and then get walking. You would walk till lunch time when you would arrive into your next camp. Porters would have everything all set up and lunch cooking. You’d have some lunch and then a couple of hours rest to purify your water etc (Tip: Best water purifier which we found was ‘Aqua Mira’, you put 7 drops of part A & 7 drops of part B and shake then leave for 40mins – so much better than iodine or chlorine as ‘Aqua mira’ had no taste. We got it from Amazon)and head off on an acclimatisation walk. The idea was climb high and sleep low!
I think the coldest night was at Lava tower campsite 4100m, it was an open sight, winds were strong and temperature got to -10 all our water in the tent for the next day had frozen and my partner said I had icicles on my hat as i slept from the condensation of my breath. Thank god I didn’t need the toilet in the middle of the night there thats all I can say!
We eventually got to the summit night camp and rested, we had tea at 4pm loads carbs really – potato stew and pancakes, then went back to our tents to rest. Just a case of lying there with your eyes shut for most people till 11pm. I did manage to get a few hours of sleep in from lunch till 4pm so i wasn’t to bothered – although the stress on rest at this point couldn’t of been enough! We were told to put your thermals on and a few layers now and the rest at the bottom of your sleeping bag to keep warm. 11pm was very cold and dark and everything was a lot harder to do then. To be organised and bags packed, with lots of snacks on us was the key….
We were due to set off from camp at 11.30pm for the summit. Head torches on and poles in position….
I was all set but my partner was not feeling very well at all, he had an upset stomach (last thing you need at -7 on the mountain). He dosed himself up on Imodium but it wasn’t doing much good. But he still persisted – We had two Tanzanian guides with us this night and our English one ‘Max’, along with six assistant guides which were well acclimatised and experienced porters. These porters were monitoring us every step of the climb, always checking everything was OK. Helping us with water out of our bags, as the platypus tubes had frozen solid, even ones with thermal covers on! You didn’t even feel like eating at that altitude, but needed too. Mainly to keep energy levels up. I was just sucking Lucozade glucose tablet sweets all the way.
Three hours had soon passed and everyone was getting tired, we were walking on pure scree. Every step forward we were sliding two back. This is how it went for a further seven hours and we had only ascended 3km… It was the hardest moment of my life. But I was so focused on the persons feet in front of me, as the only light was off my head torch. Every time I looked up I would lose balance and just see other head torches winding the way higher and higher up the mountain. This was so off-putting, soon i realised head torches were turning into stars…
Guides were telling us “not long now, nearly at Stella point” as people were nearly asleep on their feet. shouting “We were an hour away” apparently! I felt my legs were not mine, they were just like jelly. We both persisted on, my partner was not feeling very good at all at this point. But he kept popping Imodium’s at every grumble! He had an amazing assistant guide with him though walking behind him. People in our group soon started flagging and becoming unwell as the altitude and sheer exhaustion set in. People were having nose bleeds, experiencing sickness and fainting spells. It was not good! I just tried to keep focused on the top and kept trudging on – thinking it can’t be too much longer.
Finally we arrived at Stella point the top of the climb before a short, gentle walk round to the summit – there was about eight of us still together out of the original fifteen. My partner and I slumped on a rock, back to back and just both cried of sheer joy and exhaustion. The moment was unbelievable, we looked out and the sun was about to rise there was an orange/red glow along the horizon like nothing I have ever seen before. No one could talk, not a grown man around without a wet eye. The guides were hugging us and saying “well done” apparently just around the next corner was the summit sign.
They didn’t let us rest long and moved us on walking again – what seemed like forever was only about another 45 minutes to the summit sign. We already felt so accomplished, we had to dig deep to find a boost of energy from within to do the last bit of the ascent, the air felt so thin. The glaciers near the summit were stunning, just wish I had more energy at the time to appreciate them properley. People passing us were congratulating us! It was a fantastic feeling!
We finally got to the summit sign at 6.30am, 16th September, 2009. It was the best feeling in the world – I just hugged it, and to my amazement I turned around to find my boyfriend Craig on one knee. Where he then asked me to marry him & I said yes! Once I found the words to be able to answer the poor guy – I think it was a combination of shock and altitude taking it’s affect. It was all too much to take in, it truly was the most amazing thing in my life so far and I highly recommend the experience to anyone who is slightly thinking about it.
It did only take us two hours to get down, which you mainly slid most of the way through the scree! We soon reached camp again to a warm welcome from our support team.
We used ‘Ashante tours’ once in Tanzania, ‘Explore’ was the UK-based company we booked through. All fifteen, plus guides made it to the top of Kili (we can know call it this) that morning, pushing through all difficulties had on the mountain! Well done to everyone – what an adventure!
That is how I become ‘Mrs P’…