Climb every mountain...

The team:

Amelia ‘Grubby, Jobby’ Christie

Tim ‘I swallowed a film encyclopedia’ Waite

Peter ‘windy’ Barder

Joanne ‘share the love’ Tann

Caitriona ‘she can do it’ Holdsworth

Caroline ‘I’m not fluent in Swahili’ Loden

Zoe ‘just shut up and deal with it’ Smeeth

Sean ‘walk like John Wayne’ Dowdeswell

Lisa ‘the sleep walking inspiriation’ Davis

Ian ‘it’s my anniversary’ Crossman

Isla ‘the drug baron’ – Doctor

Simon ‘of Arabia’ – Leader

The Trek

16th June, London Heathrow 5pm.

8 of the 10 trekkers met at Heathrow airport – 6 from Maris Interiors and 2 from Giving Africa.  Subtle checking out the size of each others bags and doing last minute – did you pack this chat! The final 2 members of Maris were meeting us at Nairobi airport.

Kenyan airlines gave us a fairly smooth flight, though the in-flight entertainment was a little hit and miss and the film choice fairly terrible!

17th June, Nairobi airport

Transfer in Nairobi airport at 10am Nairobi time.  Here we met up with our 2 fellow trekkers and our group leader Simon.  Simon has years of experience of altitude climbs, mostly in South America but also a fair few times up Mount Kilimanjaro so knows his stuff! 

We transferred safely onto our little aeroplane to Kilimanjaro airport where we were met by our group Doctor Isla.  Both Isla and Simon were up Kili the week before, so had fresh experience and were reassuring about the weather!

After a 45 minute bus transfer, enjoying the Tanzanian landscape, waving children and straggling animals we arrived at Hotel Ameg for our first night.

Kit check by Simon and Isla was surprisingly successful with very little removed from our bags and no one missing anything vital. 

After a late lunch we had the afternoon free to mill around, though we were mainly just itching to get started. 

18th June - Day 1. Start height 1773m end height 3000m

Not a great start by Lisa and I as we both thought each other were setting the alarm and therefore wake 10 minutes before departure time.  No time to wash hair and bag packed in record time – certainly not as organised as we had hoped to be!

Another 45 minute transfer to Machame Gate where we have a last check of kit, a few having to haggle for rather fetching sun hats from the local traders and filling up of 4lts of water to last us the day (4 lt minimum to keep hydrated!).

After a warm up, Bruno – one of our guides – leads us ‘pole pole’ (slowly slowly) up the first trail.  We laugh at quite how slow the walking is – the laughter stops fairly soon into the first and second days!

The path started off as a groomed trail – which rapidly turns into more rugged track.  The surrounding Tropical rainforest is beautiful to see but very humid and foggy, we’re all rather hot fairly quickly.  Lunch stop is a packed lunch with rather delicious chicken wings, chicken sandwich and Zoe’s favourite – little bananas… the beginning of a splendid array of foods that the ‘rafiki’ (friends in Swahili) provide us.

After lunch the walk starts to get a bit steeper and its quite hot work.  The first signs of altitude start with a bit of a thumping headache (certainly not dehydration related after drinking 5 lts that day).  Straight onto Diamox that night as the headache gets worse – thanks to Peter Barder for providing most of the camps supply!

First night is at Machame Camp after about 7 hours walking in total.  No sight of the Columbus monkey and not much wildlife at all except for birds.  As we reach the camp we see our first sight of the top of Kili – a seemingly unachievable distance away.

A welcome snack of popcorn before supper (no hands in the bowl though as hand hygiene a priority – as stressed by the wonderful Dr Isla).  A snooze in the afternoon helps to get rid of the headache and then the first meal of a rather delightful meat and vegetable sauce with rice.  All finished off with the ever-popular Milo.

Sleep comes in 2 hour bursts – which at first seemed rather bad, but you soon realise that that is a good nights sleep!

19th June  - Day 2.  Start height 3000m end height 3,800m

Awake at 6am to a beautiful sun shining and straight into a rather steep walk.  It all seems a lot easier today, which is mostly due to the sun and ability to actually see around us, rather than stuck in a misty forest.  Headache still there but painkillers keep it at bay.  Breathing starts to get a bit laboured, but we have plenty of snack stops to rest.  Loo stops along the way whenever a suitably sized shrub or rock can be found to hide behind.  The mountain rules are to not leave anything behind, but sadly many tissues can be seen lying around.

Scenery changes rapidly up through the heather and moorland to the Shira Plateau, which we continue across to Shira camp, which has incredible far reaching views across the Tanzanian countryside. A bit of scrabbling across and up narrow rocky paths but we are kept going by a few games of ‘who am I’ – my choice of Scooby doo keeps everyone guessing for a while!

Arrive in camp at 1.45pm for a late lunch and gentle afternoon of rest.  Definitely getting chillier now and thinking about bringing out the super duper warm gloves!  Walking around camp a few places of reception mean texts and calls to England go through updating on the first few days.

20th June - Day 3.  Start height 3000m, end height 3,900m

We climb steeply all morning to reach our highest point yet of 4,600m at the Lava Tower…. A steep lava formed tower that provides a stunning stopping place for lunch.  Soup again for starter – carrot, pumpkin, courgette and our favourite… cucumber are provided for most lunches and suppers – a welcome warming start to each meal.  Altitude really starting to kick in for a few more people with a bit of nausea and bad headaches – my headache is the worst yet and it takes a lot to manage lunch.  Poor Lisa starts to get rather ill and proves to us all that it really is mind over matter for the rest of the trip.

After lunch we descend down to Barranco camp and the combination of walking slowly and downwards makes us all feel a bit better.  Descending down through surrounding ravines with microclimates and lots of birdlife, we arrive in camp in the late afternoon.

Evening meals have a bit of banter and catch up on the day, though slightly subdued due to the cold and altitude.  I certainly get to bed early purely to start getting warm in the sleeping bag!  Diamox has an annoying side affect of needing the loo a lot – but thankfully I was one of the lucky ones and didn’t have to make the freezing trip to the loos during the night. 

The loos were very civilised for being up a mountain! Chemical portaloos and a tent to protect our privacy!

21st June - Day 4.  Start height 3,900m end height 4000m

Another beautiful, if early, wake up – cup of tea bought to the tent at 5.30am with the aim of leaving by 6.30… we were always a little late!

A very long day of walking today with over 11 hours on the trail.  The first challenge is the Barranco wall – a seemingly never ending and steep climb with most of it scrabbling over rocks and teetering on the end of the wall.  After just over 2 hours we make the top and we all agree it was strangely the most enjoyable part of the trip so far.  We have a well-earned snack break at the top and get the sun cream on as the sun hits us. The views at the top are again breathtaking and far-reaching.

We steadily climb for the rest of the day – pole pole being the operative words as the altitude really starts to affect breathing and tiredness catches up.  After the joy of the morning the rest of the day is rather difficult and everyone is anticipating the upcoming summit climb later that night. 

Camp is at Barafu where the tents sprawl over a 30-minute walk along the ridge.  After a slightly earlier supper we all head off to try and get some sleep from 7 until midnight where we start the final ascent.

On and off sleeping for us all – some sicker than others – and finally we are at the end stages.  Its takes rather a long time to wake up, get water filled and start the scramble up the rocky/slate crater at the start of our ascent.  Simon is incredibly chirpy and singing Top gun songs and other 80s wonders to keep us going – how does he do that?!  With only our head torches to light the way, the walk becomes a bit of a blur as we look at the boots of the person ahead of us.  Lisa shows us that falling asleep on your feet while walking truly is possible and Jo leads us in a brilliant pace up the hill – as slowly as we possibly can to try and conserve energy and get us up.  For 6 hours we trek the steepest and most demanding part of the route in the dark, which broken finally by a glorious sunrise – bringing a most welcome distraction and more importantly warmth to our bodies.  The last climb up the scree to Stella point is the hardest on the breathing and when you take one step and slip back two it becomes rather disheartening.  Finally we all make it to Stella point, which is the rim of the crater andstands at 5,700m.  After a lot of hugs and congratulations we pick up our tired bodies and start the final hours walk to the highest point of Uluru at 5,895m.  We all make it which is exceptional and another emotional, if not slightly teary, round of hugs and photos.  We stay for only a short while as the altitude affects the bodies more as the minutes tick by and then head back down to camp.  The view of glaciers, Mount Meeru and volcanic valleys is quite breathtaking and its hard to imagine anywhere else you could see such things.

22nd June - Day 5. Start height 4,000m – Summit at 5,895 and return to 3091m

After getting the top, we then have a further 9 hours to get down!

Running down the soft scree slopes was at first fun and then thoroughly exhausting! Every now and again you hit a rock and were sent flying sideways.  The legs started to burn for the first time during the trip, but you ignored the pain as the desire to get back to camp was so strong.  After 6 hours going down we staggered into camp and fell fully clothed and booted onto our beds for a quick half hour sleep.  We all had neglected the water intake and suncream under our noses! So were suffering a little from dehydration and burn, but were elated that the hardest part was over.  After a late lunch we then had a further 3 hours down into camp, arriving late at just after 6pm.

The hardest 36hours I’ve ever done, but the sense of achievement was overwhelming.  The mood over supper, although exhausted, was of elation and such satisfaction that we had achieved the climb and done it for a fantastic school in Burkina Faso.

23rd June - Day 6. Start height 3,091 end height 1,700m

Down to Mweka Gate (different gate that we entered) with the most painful bit of the trek during the last 4 hours of walking.  Going down numerous rocky paths, bends and steps put strain on the knees and calves that had until that point been relatively pain free.  Sean gave a good example of a John Wayne walk at the end and the wonderful cooks and rafiki that had looked after us so well on the mountain treated us to a most delicious beer and chicken and chips meal.

On Reflection

Highlights: Most definitely the sunrise during summit night – it gave us all inspiration to keep going

Lowlights: 6 hours walking in the dark, hardly able to breath and only the person in front of you to look at!

What makes a good trip and top tips:

·      Having the right kit and good quality too (so you don’t have to wear 8 layers at night and still be cold….)

·      Wet wipes, Loo roll, toilet tissues – you get the idea!

·      A pair of socks for everyday and one to sleep in and a good buff for the dust

·      Someone taking a video…. Mr Peter Barder was chief video maker (though some of the names of the video were a bit dubious??!!).  Having not even seen the video yet, I know that it will be brilliant to have a reminder of quite what we did and how we all felt – the memory is already becoming a bit of a blur…

·      An exceptional and motivational leader who says it as it is but knows just how to keep you going when the going gets tough!

·      An experienced Altitude Doctor who is constantly checking with each walker and you know you can go to her with any problem – no matter how embarrassing! And supply you with the essential drugs!

·      An amazing Team Spirit – whether it is there before the trip or develops during … keeping an eye out for each other and having the right pace maker up front – go Jo!

·      Having a great cause to support - Giving Africa’s work in Burkina Faso is for the poorest children in the world.  Tanzania givesa brief insight into the lives of some African people, but also shows what great strength of spirit and community they have even in the face of true adversity

Caroline Loden

Giving AfricaJuly 2013