Firstly I want to thank everyone who has sponsored and donated to my Just Giving page to raise money for the Oakley Waterman Caravan Foundation. It’s an amazing charity that focuses on giving families with children who have life threatening illnesses some respite throughout their treatment, a place where they can stay and enjoy some quality time with the whole family.
The idea to climb Kilimanjaro was in fact my oldest daughter’s idea to keep me fit and healthy. Not only has it done that but it’s also inspired me to help others on a regular basis from now on. Climbing the highest free standing mountain in the world was not an overnight decision – my training started around nine months before I left and was a complete change of lifestyle at age 59.
We flew over to a town called Arusha in Tanzania on Boxing Day to start the climb a few days later with a company called Team Kilimanjaro. A team of seven friends from both here and Australia were hoping to arrive at the summit seven days later via the Rongai route with a team of 27 staff consisting guides and porters who looked after us the whole way.
The climb itself started well, the sun was shining and everyone was pretty pumped for the ascent to the first camp. We walked through some beautiful rainforest terrain with locals living and farming the land around us, and gorgeous lush green everywhere we looked. We spotted black and white proboscis monkeys and gave chocolate to the local children. The porters had our tents ready for us when we arrived in the dark at 2626m, arriving just in time before the rain started.
That was the last time we were dry until the last day, with the weather conditions getting steadily worse and worse every day. The rain was undoubtedly the hardest part of the climb for everyone, we were literally wet every second of the day, with no respite from the damp and no way to dry our clothes. Our tents were wet as the porters assembled and disassembled them in the rain. However soaked we were the porters were worse, but they always greeted us with warm tea and even warmer smiles.
By day three we arrived at 4303m and had to start acclimatisation walks each evening. Team Kilimanjaro have a ‘climb high, sleep low’ motto to help avoid altitude sickness. This meant climbing an extra 100m up generally quite steep rocks, again in the pouring rain, and then coming straight back down again.
Day four was New Year’s Eve and Team Kilimanjaro gave us a bottle of champagne to celebrate. The whole team was excited about the new year and our impending attempt to summit. We had descended to 3936m to acclimatise for the tough days ahead and, despite waking up on New Year’s Day in complete fog, no-one could stop smiling as we started walking towards the school hut at 4722m and our base camp!
The summit was hard, we started walking in single file at midnight in pitch black with only head torches to light our way. The track was so steep we had to walk in zig zags. At one point we gazed up to the sky to admire the stars and commented on how beautiful they were. The guide laughed and said they weren’t stars, they were other climbers’ head torches. That was the craziest moment of the whole trek. They were so high I couldn’t believe that’s where we were headed!
It took us just over eight hours to finish the climb to the summit, Uhuru Peak at 5895m. We all cried tears of joy at the top, it was very emotional. None of us would have made it without each other’s support, or that of the guides and porters, who felt like friends at this point.
We managed to stay at the summit for about half an hour before the cold became too much and we started our nine hour descent. We saw many people being taken down on stretchers and felt so proud of our whole group for making it to the top together.
Coming down the mountain was certainly no walk in the park and this was where the real pain started. My ankles, hips and knees took such a battering that I almost begged the mountain gods to let me walk back up again. Five and a half days up and just one and a half days down, the beer at the end was well deserved and tasted so good!
The statistics are slightly out of date but around 45 per cent of people who attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro actually succeed. The joy we felt was indescribable but it certainly didn’t hit for another day or two just what we had achieved and how hard it had been.
Thanks again to everyone who helped raise money and support the Oakley Waterman Caravan Foundation – you have really made a difference to many people’s life’s. Together we have raised over £5,500 and that number keeps rising!
I’ll be turning 60 this year but are my mountain climbing days over? Of course not – next stop Mount Kenya!