Travel Writing Awards Entry

 Arriving into Nairobi airport was the beginning of an adventure from living in London to climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa.  After spending a couple of days in Nairobi we caught the bus, well a mini van to Moshi in Tanzania.  At the Kenya/Tanzania border it was off the bus and into the passport control office for an entry stamp and visa. Driving in Tanzania was certainly a lot bouncier than Kenya as the roads have loads of pot holes.  We were fortunate enough though to see Mt Kilimanjaro and later told that there are only about 20 days a year when it can be seen clearly.

We were dropped off at the office of AfriGalaxy in Moshi which is the company we arranged our climb from London with.  After settling the account they then drove us to our hotel with fans, restaurant, cold drinks, clean rooms, comfortable beds and warm showers (the last until our return after Mt Kilimanjaro). 

The next morning after breakfast we were picked up and driven to the base of Mt Kilimanjaro where we met our guides and porters.  These guys are really fit and don’t put a backpack on the back but instead carry it on their heads!  Because the porters carry all the food, backpacks and firewood, all we had to carry was our day pack with our lunch and drinking water.  After signing into the park, we took full opportunity of the flush toilets and toilet paper before setting off ‘pole pole’ (Swahili for ‘slowly’). 

The first day walk is through beautiful lush forest hearing the birds singing and the monkeys playing as they followed through the trees overhead.  Lunch break was very dignified at a picnic table alongside the track and consisted of a sandwich, egg, fruit and cake.  Arriving at Mandara Hut campsite at 2,727 metres above sea level mid-late afternoon left us enough daylight for a short walk to Marangu Crater and a view over Tanzania. That night we enjoyed the sunset and photographing the colobus monkeys with their elegant long black and white tails and a three course meal before bed in small A-frame huts with mattresses. 

We climbed Mt Kili walking slowly, ate 3 meals a day (and three courses at that) and still managed to loose 5 kilos.  The guides and porters do all the hard work… we just had to walk, eat and sleep.

After a scrumptious breakfast we continued walking pole pole with a gradual gradiant. The slow walking pace is the challenge as at that altitude the slower you go the less chance of altitude sickness.  Lunch was once again at a picnic table and a long drop toilet with the best view in the world looking out over top of the clouds.  The next camp site is at Horombo Huts at 3,700 m with small sleeping A-frame huts and a big communal A-frame hut.  This is definitely luxury tramping.  Everywhere is very clean.  Tourism to the villages around Mt Kili is their livelihood and guides and porters recognise the need for conservation.

On the third day we took full advantage of a rest day which enables the body to acclimatise, allowing us a chance for a short stroll up to Zebra Rocks and the saddle at 4,400 m before heading back to camp for lunch.  Horombo Hut is the only place where the beer costs about half the price of the water!  Sunset up at this height is amazing and breathtaking.  It is like being on top of the world watching the sun go down. Once that last ray disappears the temperature certainly drops with it and gets very cold very quickly.  We played cards and talked by candlelight sharing experiences with people from all over the world and together with the smoke from the cooking fires and the soft rambling of foreign voices, all very relaxing.

The fourth day after eating breakfast (a challenge at this altitude) we set off pole pole.  The gradient is not steep and the path is well marked and passing a number of people with jubilation on their faces as they return from the peak is a huge incentive for us heading up.  Leaving behind the bush for barren dry land where if you looked closely only micro-organisms can survive at this altitude. Every motion became slightly more difficult as the air got thinner and the messages took longer from the brain to the legs to travel. Lunch today was a short stop on barren rocks trying to shelter from the breeze.

Arriving at Kibo Hut at 4,750m mid-afternoon at the base of the scree slope has very basic facilities.  After a couple of hours reflecting on the task ahead which is to begin at midnight, trying to eat food which is a challenge without an appetite and a couple of hours sleep knowing that very soon the attempt to reach the top would begin. Awoken at midnight by our guide, very cold we bundled ourselves up in warm gear… long johns, gloves, hat, jacket and overtrousers to begin the ‘pole pole’ climb up the scree slope.  The path is a zig zag course and it was quite good that it was dark as you could not see how steep the track was.

It is amazing how altitude affects everyone differently.  All bodies react differently to the altitude.  It certainly is a bonus having the support of each other to keep on going when your brain goes “I am going to make it and the legs are going “yeh right but only if you give me oxygen!”  Reaching Gillmans Point at 5,680 m above sea level about an hour before sunrise was an overwhelming sense of achievement.  Only one of us felt able to carry on which he did and reached Uhuru Peak at 5,896 m above sea level.  ‘Uhuru’ in Swahili means ‘freedom’… maybe the freedom of knowing you have reached the point and can turn around!  The look of exhaustion on his face when he got back to the hut summed up exactly how he felt. 

Coming back down the scree slope looking out at the sun rising over Mawenzi Peak I realised that today was definitely the most challenging and something I am happy to share with everyone else on the mountain as they are all there to achieve the same goal. 

The last day is definitely the longest day.  From midnight up to the peak and back down to Kibo Hut for breakfast, photos and reflecting on the accomplishment before carrying on down to Horombo Hut.  We were then the ones with jubiliation on our faces!  The last day from Horombo Hut back to the entry gate, receiving a certificate, saying goodbye to new friends and experience an overwhelming desire to do it all over again (after a nice hot shower that is!)