I recently took part in the UNICEF Climb for Kids Challenge 2014 with 22 fellow Australians. Our objective was to raise funds to set-up a mobile health unit in Ethiopia to vaccinate as many children as possibile in remote villages. Friends, family, colleagues and strangers supported us by making donations, and in exchange we trained and gave our time to climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro.
The challenge started on the 3rd of June 2014 and took us 7 days. This is my diary from the trip:
31st May – I flew from Adelaide, my hometown to Melbourne a day early to catch up with family.
1st June – Met 5 of my fellow trekkers (Henry, Pea & B.B, Sara, Duc and Sarah) at Melbourne airport and we left for Bangkok.
2nd June – Had 16 hours to kill in Bangkok so between our hotel and the city we kept ourselves busy. Managed to catch up for dinner with John, one of the teachers I taught with in Shanghai. At Bangkok airport we met another 14 trekkers including our tour guide Fred and our Doctor ‘Twinkles’ Caitlin at the boarding gate for Nairobi.
3rd June – We touched down on African soil in Nairboi then jumped on a smaller plane to Kilimanjaro airport. There we met the last 4 trekkers of our group before getting transported to our hotel in Arusha. We had a briefing about what to expect over the next coming days re: health, clothing, terrain, weather, safety precautions etc, followed by a welcome dinner.
4th June – D-Day as some like to call it. Up bright and early for a 5 hour jeep ride to the base of Kilimanjaro where the Rongai trail begins and our starting place. A quick lunch, met our porters and guides (an army of 60 people) then backpacks on and a nice warm up walk – 3 hours. It was an easy, steady walk and we even had 3 little girls keep us company for 3/4 of the way. Apparently they walk 2 hours to school and 2 hours back home everyday plus a 7 hour school day and are given no food. Unbelievable! We’d arrive to camp each day to find our tents and ‘dinner tent’ set up waiting for us with hot tea, coffee and hot chocolate. We’d eat early – always a soup followed by a main meal then by 8pm in bed. First night was at the Simba Camp at 2650m.
5th June – Up bright and early for breakfast where we saw our first glimpse of Kili as the sun peered through the clouds. Incredible being above a sea of clouds. Today was a tough 7 hour trek. Relatively steep but difficult due to the weather. It was rainy, wet, muddy, slippery, cold and to top it off, none of us had our waterproof gear because the morning was warm and sunny. Looks can be deceiving! The outcome was arriving to camp, damp! We trudged into our beautiful camp around 4pm and watched the sun set behind Mawenzi Peak.
6th June – Up early to a spectacular sunrise over the clouds which hit Kili making her ‘shine bright like a diamond’. Today we faced a 4 hour trek to Mawenzi, the mountain we could see from our camp. It was steep but not so difficult. We arrived to a foggy camp and we couldn’t see more than a few meters in front of our nose. We had the afternoon free so since we’d formed our friend groups, we hung out in each other’s tents. There was little to do outside due to rain, fog and cold.
7th June – Up at 6am to watch another beautiful sunrise followed by a walk around the camp that we could finally see. The fog had cleared and there was a small, pretty lake with a stunning backdrop of Mawenzi Peak. Today the plan was for us to get acclimatized to the altitude. We were at 3600m at Mawenzi camp and we were going to climb to 4200m, an easy 3 hour roundtrip trek. We all seemed to manage this steep and constant climb quite well and got back to camp feeling good. Just as the day before, the fog, rain and cold had set in and we spent another afternoon between tents.
8th June – This was the day that was going to get us to Kibo 4700m (base camp)… and not only! Up early as usual and headed off on a 5 hour trek across the Saddle, through the tough winds that didn’t give up the entire time. We arrived to Kibo exhausted around 1pm in time for lunch. The group had divided into 3 and I was part of the second group who had slowed down because one of the ladies had bad asthma, however we all arrived in one piece. We had a brief on what to expect on that night’s summit walk and you could feel everyone’s nerves. After lunch we went to sleep for 4 hours, woke up for dinner at 5.30pm then back to sleep till 11pm. At 11pm we had to wake up and get ready for the big trek. About 11.30pm we set off from our camp, rugged up in our snow gear (i had thermal pants, 3 pairs of socks, ski trousers, 2 thermal tops, 1 fleece, 1 down jacket and 1 wind breaker/rain jacekt), in the pitch black, and in a single file we followed our guide. It was instantly steep and our group had split up. The guides divided themselves between us. I felt unwell quite soon off and I remember getting to our first break point feeling nausea and not seeing clearly. My friend Duc from Melbourne became my summit buddy from there on and we spent the entire 13 hour trek together with our guide Sev. I don’t even know how to put into words how I was feeling, mainly exhaustion. I took 2 nausea tablets with a hot cup of tea at the first stop and slowly trudged forward. If you looked up the mountain, all you could see were head torch lights that seemed to go on up into the heavens. I honestly thought I’d never make it. Half way up I got diarrhoea and not only once, no, I got it twice! Sorry to share this with you but this is quite a common occurrence when it comes to altitude. I for sure wasn’t prepared for it. Imagine, pitch black, freezing cold, I had to give my walking sticks to my guide, take all my layers off as quick as possible (not easy when you can’t feel your hands) and do my business while on a very steep cliff with your 2 mates next to you. Fun! Admittedly I felt better after but i couldn’t take more than 20 steps without having to stop and catch my breath. We did this routine all the way till we reached Gillman’s Point, the first checkpoint on Kili. When I saw the sign from below I found some extra energy that I must have stored somewhere for safe keeping and made it. The three of us hugged. It was overwhelming. I started to cry. My camelbak bladder had frozen so I couldn’t drink any water, all I wanted to do was sit down and rest but Sev told us we hadn’t reached Uhuru Peak yet. It’s funny, you see the sign and automatically think it’s the one you’ve been googling for the past year, but no. Another 1.5 hours walking to go from Gillman’s Point around the top of the crater to Uhuru Peak. It was absolutely freezing, -25 degrees with windchill but honestly the cold was the least of my worries. My main worry was that I wasn’t going to make it because the exhaustion had taken over. By this time we’d been walking for 8 hours, up up and up. It would have been ok if the last part was flat but it was steep. Of course it was! All you could see were massive glaciers to one side and a huge crater on the other. It was one of the most spectacular sceneries I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t stop saying WOW. Sev had taken my pack and linked arms with me and we counted 30 steps then stopped and this routine continued to the top. Just before we reached Uhuru, we bumped into the 1st group that had gone ahead and who were on their way back down. They were shocked to see us and thought we’d descended because the last time they saw us, we weren’t looking too great. That was the necessary kick that got me to the final sign post. The mother of all mother peaks, Miss Uhuru herself! 5895m!! I collapsed on the floor. Complete and utter exhaustion! Never have I ever felt so tired in all my life. After sitting for 2 minutes (because you can’t sit still for too long – too cold) I found this energy from I don’t know where, perhaps from the packet of chewy caramel Tim Tams I’d brought from Australia, to take some photos and I even did a video blog entry. We were at the top no more than 10 minutes and we had to descend.
9th June – It was 8.30am at the top of Kili and we had to go back exactly the same way we came. Psychologically I wasn’t prepared for another 3.5 hour trek back to camp. This time our group had doubled as we’d met up with our tour leader, doctor and their guide along the way. The sun was well and truly up by this time so the cold wasn’t bothering us too much. Actually as we passed Gillman’s Point and were on the steep slope down, it turned out to be too hot. With all the layers of clothing that we needed to ascend, by this time half of them could have come off but there was no place to put them so we slid down the dusty, grey dirt. It was almost as if you were skiing down the mountain but there was a lot of strain on your knees. 3.5 hours was more than enough. You could see the camp in the distance but it never seemed to get any closer until finally at 11.50am we stumbled in to camp. All I could manage to do was unzip my tent and fall head first onto my sleeping bag. I slept for 1 solid hour before getting woken up for lunch. Honestly all I wanted to do was sleep but the plan was very different. After lunch we were packing up and walking 4 hours down to our next camp at Harombo at 3720m. We weren’t able to sleep at Kibo another night because there wasn’t enough water for our troop. Already our porters had carried 500 litres of water for us for the previous night. Thankfully the walk to Harombo was downhill and relatively easy. It’s part of the ‘Coca-Cola’ route which is the tourist track. We strolled into camp which was decked out with bungalows and real toilets as opposed to our usual campsite and long drop, outdoor toilet.
10th June – Up bright and early for our last day. Our wonderful guides and porters put on a dance and song for us to thank us for visiting their country and we in return sung a song that one of the ladies in our group, Pea had written. I’m not sure if any other group had sung for them but we were so honoured to have had the guidance, support and help from the entire team, we felt it was the least we could do. They also divided all our tips between everyone, we said goodbye and were off on our last leg. We walked through a lush rainforest with waterfalls all the way down to the entrance/exit gate of the National Park. Our final goodbyes to everyone and then we were back on the bus and off to the hotel.