Day One: The Long Haul to Africa.
Cleethorpes UK. 1mtr ASL (Above Sea Level)
I wake at 7.30am. I say wake but to be honest I wasn't really asleep. I think I spent the night thinking about today being the big day that I would meet my fellow trekkers for the first time. I cannot decide if I am nervous or excited. One thing to take all this off my mind is to have a last meal before I leave for Heathrow airport.
So off I head to Peggie's Diner for a breakfast bun. Bacon, sausage, beans and mushrooms with a splash of red sauce spilling out of this rather large bread roll. With a cup of tea it doesn't take too long for it to disappear from my plate.
With time knocking on I head back home for the last checks on my rucksacks. The main rucksack weighs in at 16.07 kilos with my day bag weighing in at 8.9 kilos. I grab my passport, visa, malaria tablets and not forgetting my Grimsby Town shirt and my Marie Curie t-shirt. I am now all set to go. Not before saying my goodbyes to Angela and Oscar (the dog) who seems very excited as he knows he'll get away with sleeping on the bed for the next 11 nights.
I set off at 10am so I give myself plenty of time as the fog is pretty thick in Cleethorpes and I have to drive a supercharged Kia hire car (0-60 in 12 minutes) Not exactly the Mercedes Benz that I wanted but never the less thankful that Sarah Wilson has sorted the car from Europcar for me.
The first decision I have on my hands is which route to Heathrow should I take, A1 or M1? I decide to head down the A46 to land on the A1 which ends up being the right decision as the M1 is shut near Newport Pagnel. The fog causes problems until it clears at Grantham Services so now I can get my foot down and test the performance (lack of it) of the Kia.
I arrive at Heathrow airport at 2.15pm only to spend the next hour looking for the Europcar rental return. After driving around the whole of Heathrow I finally stumble across where I need to be. After a few checks that I haven't knocked any wing mirrors off etc, I jump on the connecting bus and head to T4 (terminal 4). This gives me a little time to think, and yes I still have mixed feelings of excitement and extreme nervousness about what I am about to do. The decision I made 10 months ago to take on this challenge is finally upon me and there is no turning back!!
I now enter T4 and I'm sure I look like a lost sheep (last time I was here Heathrow had 3 terminals). This place is so big! I find where I am supposed to be meeting the Action Challenge staff. I have 15 mins to spare which I spend watching the many cultured people walking past. My phone starts to ring and John (Eyre) is only 2 minutes away. (I only know John through the odd phone call and e-mail as he also works for Tata Steel, but at the Leeds branch)
Suddenly, I am surrounded by a group of strange people wearing Berghaus and Craghopper gear who look vaguely similar to myself.
I introduce myself to a gent called Jay (Jason). He is on the same trip and doing the trek for Cancer research as his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just as John arrives a couple of Action Challenge staff surface with a clip board.
Hew (sporting a ponytail and a dodgy beard) seems to be the leader of the group as he takes our names and asks us to check in. Along with Hew is Alan (8ft tall) who is quietly spoken and is the group doctor. John and I check in and decide to stick with the giant Doc, as being with the doctor may have its advantages. We have a few hours to kill and we get chatting.
|B722 Kenya Airways|
John is sat on the row in front so with my wine gums at the ready he is a perfect target. Ha
I sit in a row of 3 seats which I share with Jenny who was born in Scotland, from York but now lives in London (I'm confused as well!) and an Irish lady who's name I don't catch at first. I don't catch it the second or third time either and not wanting to ask a forth time, I take the opportunity to ask Jenny. Unfortunately Jenny is in the same boat as me and is also struggling to catch the lovely lady's name. If we can't catch someones name how on earth are we going to summit this rather large hill we are to climb? So I leave it to Jenny to find out, and within minutes we have the name of Norrie. I find out that Norrie had already conquered Kili a couple of years ago and that Jenny had trekked up Snowdon, Nevis and travelled around Nepal. I am thinking I need to get out more and wonder if my odd hike and jog in the evenings will be enough for me to last the duration of the climb up Kili.
We are now well up in the air and my personal entertainment system (the ones in the back of your seat) is not working. Great! Just as I think about complaining, tea is served and on the menu is either chicken or beef. I see everyone is giving the chicken a go so I gamble and opt for the beef. Good choice too as the beef stew is pretty good for an airline meal and I'm sure better than the dross that the Pear Tree in Cleethorpes would ever serve you.
The lights go out and everyone is getting some sleep. I am still keeping tabs on Alan the Doctor as I could be needing him within the next few days.
We are flying over Cairo and the on-board computer (not mine) is showing another 4 and a half hours to destination. So it is stiff neck time for me to have a go at getting some much needed rest.
Day Two: Sleep Please!
|Welcome to Kenya|
We have a nice 4 hour wait for our connecting flight to Kilimanjaro Airport and with us not really knowing what to do we just hang around in the sweaty warm transfer room. At least I am able to spend my first few dollars purchasing a couple of bottles of ice cold water for me and John from one of the many stalls that are lined up along the corridor.
|John blending in with the locals|
So a few hours pass and we say our hello's to everyone who is in the group. It is now time to head to our flight but not before the security checks which seem as high as everywhere else. So off comes the belt whilst holding my trousers up with one hand and emptying everything into those plastic trays with the other.
We are all having a small joke saying that our connecting flight will be a small propeller plane from the war. We aren't far wrong. I think this must be the smallest plane that I've ever travelled in and yes it has propellers!We chug off and start to fly over Kili which everyone wants to get their first glimpse of. Unfortunately the weather today is not too kind to us as it is pretty hazy and kili is covered in clouds. The pilot speaks and mentions that we are flying at 16,000 feet. (This is still lower than the summit of Kili!)
Everyone seems to be getting excited now and we land at Kilimanjaro 'International' Airport which is tiny.
After another few checks, mainly the showing of our Yellow Fever Certificates and Tanzanian Visas we grab our main baggage and jump on one of two minibuses that are waiting for us.
We head off to the hotel which is situated in Moshi. This is the first time most of us have experienced Africa by road. It is mentioned many die on the African roads each year and you can see why. Not the best vehicles to travel in and the roads aren't much cop either.
Finally we arrive at the hotel (AMEG Lodge) which boasts a few living huts, a pool area, gym and more importantly a bar. We check in and head to our rooms.
We have a little time to try and catch some sleep before we meet at 5pm for our briefing.
As much as I try to sleep, the spare 2 hours are spent worrying if everything from my kit list is in my bags and if I have brought enough baby wipes for my trek! I also have true excitement rushing around my head and it suddenly sinks in that I'm in AFRICA!! Who cares that I haven't slept!
We all meet for dinner and have a fantastic beef curry only to be told that it is probably 'goat' that we are eating. Suddenly I lose my appetite but it doesn't take away the fact that it is rather nice.
Our main guide Hew, Alan the Doc and Frank who is the mountain guide all introduce themselves and talk us through the do's and dont's. Hew goes through his kit bag and tells us what we should take up the mountain with us. (Yes I have over packed) I end up leaving a few things in a hessian bag that is to be left at the hotel. It's an early night for me as I seriously need to catch up on some sleep. So I snuggle safely under my mosquito net, my mind and my heart both racing. I look at my watch many times in the night and realise that tomorrow has already arrived.
(s003.33437 e037.32457) 930mtrs asl
Day Three: The Rain Forest.
6.45am and as you can guess sleep was pretty non existent. I make the last adjustments to my packed gear, spray the deet repellent spray and lather myself in Factor 50 suncream.
We all meet again for breakfast which consists of cereal, potatoes, fruit salad, with tea and coffee. The mini banana's are lush! We have our final weighing of our bags and now we're all ready to go.
8.30am, it's checking out time and the temperature is soaring.
We all climb aboard our minibuses for our bumpy 3 hour ride to the bottom and to begin our climb up 'Mount Kilimanjaro'.
I spend most of the three hour drive in a state of mild euphoria and disbelief. It is finally happening! Have I got what it takes? I guess I'll find out soon enough.
We visit the National Park entrance where we will end our epic trek in 7 days time. We spend 30 mins here whilst Hew registers us all onto the mountain. In the mean time we are getting barricaded by sellers with their merchandise. We haven't even started the trek and they are trying to sell us hats and t-shirts!
I have a quick read of the stern warning signs.
We are now back on the road, passing small tin houses were small children run to the side of the road to wave at us driving past. The small villages seem miles apart but this doesn't stop women walking miles with large bunches of bananas balanced on their heads just to cash them in for money to feed the family.
Now we all need a pee stop. It's like a scene from a stag or hen do as all the girls run ahead behind the trees whilst the boys just sprinkle away on some poor mans crop. The men don't seem to be too bothered as Martyn gives some nuts away to them that he has kept from the flight in.
We arrive at the foot of the forest where we are greeted by our support crew! There seems to be between 70 and 90 porters and assistant guides congregating in the forest. Are all these men for us?
It must be nearly a full village that has joined to help and support us in our collective desire to climb a ridiculously tall mountain. Insane!!
We soon polish off our sandwiches and crisps and then it is time to top up our suncream, repellent spray and fill our water bottles so we can begin our journey.
Not before we have a group photo. (Look how clean we all look)
So off we trot up the Rongai route at a slow steady pace. It isn't long until I hear the shout of 'are we there yet?' which makes me chuckle as they take the words right out of my mouth.
As we are making our way through the forest the porters carrying all the camping gear, food, and our main bags on their back and heads stride past us echoing the words of 'Pole Pole' which in Swahili means slow slow. This is the case for the majority of the trek as the key is not to burn ourselves out. It's not a race after all.
It wouldn't be called the 'rain' forest without a spot of the wet stuff. We first hear cracks of thunder in the distance so we all stop, cover our bags and dig out the waterproofs and right on cue the heavens open. This only lasts about 30 minutes which is good as it sure clears and freshens the air up.
After four hours of gentle walking we suddenly emerge from the forest trail into our campsite for the night. There are tents everywhere, including a huge mess tent that can accommodate more than 25 people. A small army of porters and helpers are dashing around us, unpacking bags and equipment. The temporary toilets look utterly terrifying and it doesn't take long for the girls to decide which are the men's and which are the ladies.
In the mess tent we are greeted with popcorn and ginger biscuits and lots of them.
I have a chat with brother-sister duo Gordon and Jenny about taking Diamox. It seems to be a big topic during our first trek as to whether we should take diamox or not as it seems most are taking it. The doctor suggests that I take it as he makes the point that if I fail to summit and I haven't taken the drug then I'll never forgive myself. I want to be stubborn and not give in to the drug. I feel like I'd be cheating as it would dilute the whole "man versus mountain" experience..
The main reason I don't want to take it is because the side effects sound terrible. Continually pissing and tingling for 7 days does not appeal to me, so for now I go with my heart and not my head and decide against it. (for now).
We re-visit the mess tent for our first main meal on the mountain. What a treat we have in store. Ginger seems to be a part of every meal in one way or another and the first course of soup and bread doesn't disappoint us. Ginger and Carrot soup not the combination I would personally go with but it was gorgeous and everyone seems to enjoy it. 2nds please!! We are now fed our main course of boiled potatoes, veg and battered fish. Simba the stomach engineer shouts Bon-appetit(y) which makes me giggle as he adds the 'y' onto the end.
We all get stuck in and we are all clearly amazed on how they can cook this fantastic food on a mountain in the middle of nowhere for so many people! The meal is followed up with fresh fruit.
We decide to introduce ourselves in turn to everyone obviously saying our names and why we were here. There are some great moving stories and I have great admiration for all of the group.
It is getting dark quickly and most head to bed for the first nights sleep in their fresh clean tents. I stay outside with a few of the group and it is starting to get really cold, but this doesn't bother us as we see the clear skies for the first time. What a sight everyone else is missing..... It is the first time I have focused on the night sky in the southern hemisphere and the views are fantastic. The Milky Way is clearly visible along with the bright planets of Venus, Mars and Jupiter. I could look at this all night as it is so calm and peaceful but there was a mission to achieve and we have an early start.
I am sharing a tent with John and by the time I finish messing about with my sleeping bag and jotting down notes for my blog he is fast off snoring out loud. With myself being a light sleeper I now know this is going to be a long sleepless week.
(s002.98381 e037.44842) 2664mtrs ASL
Day Four: A Tough Mothers Day!
6am - I am already awake, in fact I'm not too sure I even had any sleep, but I receive a wake up call anyway with a milky cup of tea from Simba.
I think the fact that our tent is built on an incline on top of some rubble doesn't help. Oh and I forgot about John's snoring. Surely I'll get immune to it all soon.
We receive instructions to pack away our kit bags and congregate in the mess tent for breakfast, but not before I have a morning wash with the hordes of baby wipes I have brought with me.
Packing my kit bag away is a nightmare. Trying to roll up my mat and sleeping bag whilst in a 2 man tent is probably harder than summit night is going to be. I start to imagine how difficult it's going to be packing up when the air is thin and the altitude starts taking effect. This is hard work!
As I stand outside the tent I stretch my limbs. I can finally see 'Kibo' (the main volcanic peak of Kili) clearly with the rays of the sunrise bouncing on the amazing giant mole hill, and amazingly it has snow on the top! It looks so far away yet in a couple of days time I hope to reach the summit of this spectacular sight.
Breakfast is served and the high standard of food continues from last nights meal. It all starts with a nice hot porridge (in which half a jar of honey is added) then its bacon, egg, toast, fresh mango and pineapple. This is giving Peggie's Diner a run for its money! How they produce this quality of food miles away from anywhere is beyond me!
After breakfast we have 15 minutes to get ready for today's trek. The porters demolish all of the tents and the tardis toilets are left standing all alone. We all fill our water bottles and water bladders up. My bladder pack says it takes 2 litres of water but somehow I struggle to pour a litre and half bottle of water into it without spilling water everywhere.
I can feel a tingling sensation on my heel and I haven't even taken any Diamox yet!
Oh no.... not a dreaded blister already? Surely not? Luckily I have enough plasters for the whole group and after a splodge of Vaseline and a cover of plasters, it seems to do the trick as I catch the bugger before it gets too bad.
I realise I'm not really enjoying this as much as I should be. I think to myself 'I should be embracing every moment of this potentially life-changing adventure instead of just mindlessly counting down the hours until we reach the next camp'. This is tough going and the small camp we are heading towards for dinner cannot arrive soon enough.
When we do finally arrive at our half way point we are greeted with hot chicken soup, pasta and veg. A few guys notice I am starting to struggle so early on and have a good chat with me which motivates me for the second half of today's trek.
The terrain isn't getting much better but I stick with it. I'm now in the middle of the group walking alongside the two little chatter boxes 'Anna and Elaine' who really help me by entertaining me with their weird and wonderful conversations. It passes the time and everything seems a lot easier.
We stop for a snack break and have a chance to take some photos of the fabulous views.
At this point a couple from the group are able to call home to wish their mums 'Happy Mothers Day'. As much as I try to get a reception on my phone the only thing I get from the outside world is a text from my football gaffer Andrew Graham telling me who is in the squad for our Sunday League game. So if I can receive messages surely I can send one? This is not the case! I am starting to get mardy and a little emotional as all I want to do is make contact with family like others can. (My mum would be over the moon!)
The next couple of hours are a blur as I drop towards the back of the trekking group again and have a bit of 'me' time.
|Can you see me?|
Time for dinner. Simba's crew have made us french onion soup, beef (goat) and green beans with rice and veg. I'm starting to think that I have never eaten so healthily and this is all being prepared on a mountain! Impressive!
For some reason I leave John to head to our tent and get himself into a deep sleep and no doubt a snoring fit whilst I stay outside with the head torch checking out the fantastic star formations again. I have one last attempt to get some reception on my phone and with luck (I must be standing in the only place that would work) I finally manage to get a signal. I manage to send a text home to Angela, and to my mum to wish her Happy Mother's Day. A text flies straight back. It's made my mums day to hear from me and its made mine too.
After a tough and emotional day trekking I am overwhelmed that I am able to send a couple of texts. I switch my phone off and pack it away to preserve the battery as its proving to be not much use up here.
Tonight's the night to dig the long johns out as the temperature is due to drop to around 0 degrees.
Kikelewa Caves Camp
(s003.05297 e037.44781) 3683mtrs ASL
Day Five: The Mawenzi Swap Dance and AMS?
Again I am awoken with a hot cuppa at 6am. Today's itinerary states a slightly easier day of 'only' 6-7 hours of trekking. I feel better knowing this and the fact I made contact with home last night puts me in a great mood.
I have a conversation with John about the diamox tablets. John gave in to them yesterday morning and I have concerns regarding one of the side effects. In the middle of the night I find that its not unusual to hear John shuffling about in his sleeping bag. However last night I happen to open my eyes to witness something that will scar me for life!
John was having a severe side effect from the diamox. This is called having to wee a lot! Yes to my horror he had found an empty Oasis bottle that he had kept since Heathrow airport and was draining his python into this plastic bottle. It was a sight I really didn't want to see. Luckily I made out I was still asleep and turned my back on him. I am sure this will not be the last time I will have to experience this.
I think long and hard about it and I decide its time for me to give in to the drug. I really don't want to be kicking myself about the fact that I didn't make the summit just because I suffered from AMS (acute mountain sickness). So off I go to seek out the doc just before breakfast to start my first dose of diamox.
This morning at breakfast we are all given some strange looking porridge. It is a strange brown colour with a sandy texture. We all stare at it and wait for someone to take the first mouthful. I don't take the risk as again I pour half a jar of honey into it to take the rancid taste away. This isn't one of Simba's best sellers. Luckily there is plenty of toast and fruit for everyone to delve into.
We seem to climb at quite a pace today but thankfully the terrain isn't as bad as yesterdays trek as the land is more barren. There are some fantastic views and knowing that camp isn't too far away everyone seems to be in a buoyant mood.
My knee is still giving me some hassle and I just hope this doesn't hinder me in the later stages. We can see our camp in the distance in the Shadow of the peak of Mawenzi. We are literally walking into the clouds. The temperature plummets like a stone and I suddenly realise I don't have any gloves in my pack.
The camp seems so close yet so far away and we can just make out that there is some kind of lake/tarn/swamp. This gives us all a lift and we seem to speed up just to make camp quicker. I am now starting to feel some side effects from the diomox tablet that I had taken earlier. No I am not pissing into Oasis bottles but feeling pins and needles in my fingers and around the heels on my feet.
On arrival at camp we can hear some loud noises echoing through the valley. This turns into some sort of calling sound. When closer we find all the guides and porters who ran ahead to throw this small village up so quickly, all waiting for us to arrive.
This is such a fantastic part of the day as not only have we reached camp but we are also getting serenaded by these friendly men.
I only catch a small bit of the song and dance so I have to turn to Alan (the Doc) who lets me have a copy of this video.....
This is a great moment for everyone to witness after a few hard days trekking.
The sun returns, beaming hot, so I need to re-apply the suncream. We all just chill out and chat about the past few days. It is time for me to grab my Grimsby Town shirt for the first time and take a couple of pics. I hear a shout from one of the Porters...... 'Newcastle!!' I beg your pardon? I set him straight though. I tell him that Grimsby are a bigger club than Newcastle, that we are on the up and Messi wants to join us. He is well impressed! Bet he can't wait to tell his mates all about Grimsby Town FC. Phhhhtttt!
We all head for lunch and on today's menu is minestrone soup, beef - ham and veg, then pineapple and melon to finish off. (Bon Appetitty!)
|Not a bad effort.|
Its amazing how quickly the temperature drops when the sun disappears. I suppose we are pretty high up being at 4331mtrs above see level.
Simba shouts everyone for dinner. It seems only a couple hours since we had lunch and I'm not sure if anyone is even remotely hungry. However after we are told what's on the menu we all manage to make some space for what was coming up....... Steaming hot vegetable soup with lentil bread then a large portion of the superb spaghetti bolognese finished of with some fresh oranges.
We have a quick briefing from Hew about tomorrow which thankfully sounds like it will be a little easier as it's the day to acclimatise more to the altitude. Hew mentions to our group that he is well chuffed with everyone's spirits and its the first time he has led a group to this stage without any illnesses and major problems. Best news though is to find out we have a lie-in in the morning. A 7am start!! Yay!!
Big West Ham fan Martyn gives us his rendition of 'I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles'. The morale within the group is great.
My fingers and feet are really feeling some side effects from the diamox. Constant pins and needles are now starting to annoy me. This annoyance is not helping with the fact the food I'm eating is going right through me as quick as Usain Bolt doing the 100 mtrs sprint. So with my bad back, bad knee and loose bowels I get Nurofened and Imodiumed up.
As we are camping in the shadow of Mawenzi, which has plenty of snow on, we are all in for a pretty cold night as the temperature is due to drop well below freezing tonight. So after another long day I stand outside and chat to Gordon, James, Jay and Tom whilst (again) gazing at the blackened sky that is filled with the spiral galaxy of the Milky Way. We are all amazed at how clear everything is as we can even see a few satellites circling the Earth's orbit. Amazing!!
Everyone seems impressed by the power of my head torch as it can send a bright beam across the camp. (Thanks Uncle Nigel for the winning head torch!) I head off to bed wearing my long johns, leg base layers, body base layer, t-shirt, woolly hat and neck scarf. I ensure I keep my phone and camera wrapped up in socks and stuff them into my sleeping bag to prevent any damage from the cold.
Mawenzi Tarn Camp
(s003.08011 e037.45650) 4331mtrs ASL
Day Six: AMS or not AMS?
We are woken up at 7am and after not having the best of nights I could really do with staying in bed for the whole day. It was so cold last night, the diamox made me leave the tent for a pee in the middle of the night, and then I couldn't seem to warm up again once back in the tent. I'm thinking I should start taking a leaf out of John's book and pee into an Oasis bottle!
We are all looking forward to today as it will test our ability to conquer any effects that the altitude may throw at us. We all know that tomorrow is going to be a seriously tough day so today is the day to acclimatise and relax for the big push tomorrow. The sun is shining and so we start the day with breakfast which consists of porridge, egg and bacon with toast and Mango for afters.
We set off walking at a very steady pace. The terrain is mainly large rocks and boulders so it is more of a climb than a walk.
I don't appear to have packed enough layers because when the sun disappears it's bloody cold! After a good couple of hours of pulling ourselves up rocks, we reach approx 4600mtrs above sea level. The air feels really thin and we are well above all of the clouds which is amazing as the only time I would normally see this view is out of a window of an aeroplane.
Both peaks of Mawenzi and Kibo are in view but Kibo still looks so far away. We are to conquer this within the next 36 hours, so with the fantastic views it was rude not to take some photos.
This is deemed to be the scenic route which it appears to be. When we are descending back down to camp we walk past my stone sculpture that I had constructed the previous day. I am amazed it's still here and I take great pleasure in telling everyone this too. We arrive back to camp and we have all afternoon to catch up on sleep or to just hang about and rest.
Sleep or rest is not what most of us end up doing. James, Darren and I return to trying to break records at stone skimming across the tarn (swamp). We end up counting about a dozen skips of the stone which we believe cannot be far from the record in the Guinness Book Of Records. ( I have since found out after returning home that the record is in fact 51 skips!!! WTF!!)
We have worked up quite an appetite so luckily lunch is served. Today we have potato soup, fried chicken and boiled potatoes with beans, but to be honest its not really doing anything for me. I just seem to pick at it. I really thought I was hungry but I seem to have lost my appetite.
Norrie, James, Gordon and I go for a wander after lunch. We have a small climb over some rocks and stop to admire the view overlooking the campsite. At this point we decide to challenge all the other rock statues in the area. We spend a good hour and a half building this mean sculpture dragging some large rocks to add onto this masterpiece. I don't seem to be doing my back any good! We stop for a small break to admire it and finish it off with the last rock. It stands a good 5 1/2 feet tall and some of the others from the group come over to admire our structure too.
|What a Plank!|
The sun soon disappears behind the peak of Mawenzi and it suddenly turns cold again. With our extra layers, down jackets, hats and head torches we head into the mess tent for dinner. Again it isn't to my taste and I don't eat much. Today's menu consists of veg soup, brown rice with cauliflower and veg mix and pineapple for afters. It couldn't of been much worse for me as again I pick at the meal. (still probably better than the Pear Tree though).
Hew goes through a briefing of the next couple of days. We are told to expect the hardest night (and day) of our lives. He reminds us that we are doing this for charity and we are being supported by our friends and family back home. We are assured that our determination and desire will drive us on. All this info being given out by Hew and Frank regarding the next couple of days seems pretty scary.
Hew lets slip that he has never had a 100% success on summit day and has vowed that if and when he does, he will shave his 7 year old beard off. Now if that isn't some incentive for everyone to make it what is! ha.
Again I seem to be having some strange side effects but this time I have a cracking headache and my whole face is twitching. Yes I have pins and needles in my face! It is so annoying!!
Seeing as though we have such a long day ahead of us tomorrow we head to the tents before 8pm so we can hopefully wake up feeling fresh for the big day.
Oh, I must add that again the doc comes to my aid and gives me a couple of ear plugs to help me drown out Johns snoring and his peeing in the bottle sketch. I hope this helps!
Max hight 4700mtrs ASL
Day 7: A long old dark day.
Today is going to be a very strange day. Technically speaking, this is the day that we will begin our assault on the summit, however we are going to trick our bodies into thinking that it's all happening tomorrow instead. Like I said, it's odd.
Today's itinerary states we are to first walk 6 hours to Kibo camp, have a few hours sleep and then begin the trek to the summit in darkness at 11.30pm to (hopefully) reach summit for sunrise. Then we will descend back to Kibo camp stopping for breakfast and then another 6 hour walk to the Horombo Huts. All in all, the next day and half will see us trekking for around 15 hours! This is going to be tough!
So at 6am, John and I join the others in the mess tent. We are all pretty excited about what we could be achieving in 24 hours time.
For breakfast we are given that horrible brown porridge again. I was hoping we wouldn't have to see it again. Everyone seems to pick at it so I'm not on my own. On the plus side we also have some eggs and sausages which I make a sandwich with and splatter with chili ketchup!
We start to leave Mawenzi Tarn behind us as we climb out of camp through some rough terrain. It soon levels out and we can see Kibo camp in the distance. It looks so far away as we still have over 3 hours to reach it. The terrain changes to scree which is fine broken rock similar to what you would find the surface of the moon to be like.
This is tough going as the sun is shining but because of the distance above sea level that we are at, it is pretty cold. I still have to use factor 50 as the sun is still lethal! The scree is like walking on sand and I start to suffer with my back again. Thankfully the doc has some of the best painkillers that you can buy.
We approach the wreckage of a plane that crash landed approx 3 years ago. This is a very airy moment as we are told that the aircraft had 4 passengers on board at the time of the crash and that 3 died. Parts of the plane are scattered within a 150 mtr area.
The wings are pretty intact and the cockpit near by. The wreckage has been left as it is too difficult for anyone to attempt to recover due to the distance we are away from civilisation. This has now obviously become an iconic feature along this part of the trek.After a few moments reflecting on the plane crash we head on and I start to feel really light headed. This is probably due to the lack of food I've had, then right on cue one of the porters produces a box of Snickers and Mars bars. Bliss!
Only an hour from camp now and the group have split up a little. I am near the back of the group were we are trekking at our own steady pace. A porter helps me with my rucksack by taking it off me for the last hour. We must be a good 10 minutes behind the main group when we come across some fresh buffalo poo. To me it doesn't seem that fresh! We can see where the herd of buffaloes have passed, by the prints of their hooves which would of been during the night.
We finally arrive at Kibo camp! We can see the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro pretty well and looking at it I think how the hell can we get up that! It still looks so high and walking up in the dark to the summit may not be such a bad idea as at least we don't have to see how far away we are from it.
It is time for lunch and the others are already in the mess tent waiting for us, so we head straight in for lunch and have a right treat. For starters we have tomato soup with a cheese sandwich. Then comes the Cornish pasties. Not quite the same as home but never the less they are a breath of fresh air as I haven't eaten much during the last few meals. They are served with lentil pancakes and veg with pineapple and banana for afters.
It is now 2pm and we all need a much earned rest. We are to have dinner at 5pm which everyone has to attend. The air is really thin and with all the side effects that the diomox throws at you I still feel a little dizzy so I head to bed to try and catch a couple of hours sleep.
The weather suddenly turns and we are hit by a hailstorm. The tent is freezing and I have to change into the gear I am going to head up to the summit in.
The weather suddenly turns and we are hit by a hailstorm. The tent is freezing and I have to change into the gear I am going to head up to the summit in.
The camp site is a busy one as there is a few other groups so all the porters have met up with friends for the first time in a week. They don't seem to stop talking and the few hours seem to last forever. We all rise at 5pm for dinner and I haven't had a wink of sleep.
We all meet in the mess tent. It is approx -1 degrees and the sun hasn't set yet. None of us seem too hungry as the potato soup and spaghetti are served.
Hew goes through a quick motivational speech and a few do's and don'ts. We all head back to bed at 6pm as we have to be up and ready at 11pm for the last big push.
(s003.81691 e037.38935) 4733mtrs ASL
End of Day 7 & Day 8: A Long, Dark and Dangerous Day.
Simba wakes us up at 11pm in total darkness, I blind him with my head torch as I grab a nice warm milky tea. I am trying to work out how much sleep I have had and I don't think I can count the minutes on both hands. It is so cold and putting the last items of clothing on in the dark, in sub-zero temperatures feels wrong. My body is screaming at me to get back into my bloody sleeping bag but I press on regardless. I pile on my thermal underwear, my liner sock, extra-thick summit socks, tights (yes tights!), long and short sleeve skins, Marie Curie t-shirt, GTFC shirt, fleece, my bulky down-jacket, waterproof jacket, ski gloves, woolly hat, 2 neck scarfs and not forgetting my hand warmers! I look like the Mitchelin Man.
Jay throws me some energy bars so John and I now have enough to last us a full week on the mountain. I should be excited about what I'm about to attempt but I feel so shattered I could just go back to bed and let the others go without me.
We head to the mess tent to warm up with some hot tea and chocolate. I try to eat something. I manage a slice of dry toast and I really can't stomach anything else. My appetite has finally gone!
We all grab our packs and get ready to set off with our water bottles stuffed in our spare socks to try and prevent the water from freezing. We huddle together in the freezing darkness ready for the call to start walking.
The hardest night of our lives is about to begin........
Of all the days that I've made notes of on this blog, this is by far the hardest. It's not just because it was an incredibly long day (15 hours walking) with lots of things to talk about, it's because I don't remember half of it! Perhaps it was so awful, my memory has simply blocked it out, or perhaps, like child birth, it's a pain that you soon forget (so I've been told)...
Within a few minutes I am burning up. I seem to have too many layers on but its only midnight and the later in the morning and the higher we get it will be getting even colder.
What is truly miraculous is that for the first couple of hours we manage to stay together as a group. I was worried about large gaps opening up between us but every time we stop for a break I'm relieved to discover that we are still packed together, giving each other plenty of support and encouragement.
I start to suffer and I'm not on my own. A porter (Johnson) takes my rucksack to give me some comfort and stays by my side encouraging me all the time. Martyn and Karen drop back from the pack and I start to flag.
I am again thinking 'why are we doing this in the freezing cold darkness?' I do believe that the real reason why you climb to Kili's summit in the dark isn't anything to do with the temperature freezing the scree or anything technical like that. No, it's because if you did it in daylight, and you could actually see the top, your mind and body would refuse to even try. There are some dangerous drops either side of us as we crawl up this hill!
I look ahead into the sky and think I am seeing stars but in fact its other people heading up to the summit with their torches. There are some people from other groups passing us in the opposite direction as they are coming back down early. I'm not sure if it is because they are struggling with the altitude or if they have just pushed their bodies as far as they can so they cannot go any further? I am feeling the latter but I am blessed with a few very short breaks. My water in my camelback has already frozen but Johnson is doing a grand job supplying me with fresh water and helping me up.
I would love to tell you that the one thing that kept me going that night was the thought of all the people back home who had sponsored me. If I'm really honest, the thing that really kept me going was the anger (yes, anger!) I felt for all the people who hadn't sponsored me. For over an hour I'm consumed by so much anger and disappointment (you know who you are) it fires me up to keep on going. This was getting me emotional as I wanted to do this for both of these reasons. I had come so far and surely I couldn't fail now. I gritted my teeth and from somewhere I found a little energy and gave it my last push!
We get a shout of 15 minutes to go and the rest of the terrain is rocky so Johnson at times has to pull and drag me up. The sky on the horizon is getting lighter and a tint of dark red is forming. We must be close now!
We hear a few porters cheering and with Johnson's help to get me up the last few boulders, I am there!! Right on cue for the sunrise to poke over the horizon.
This is well worth getting up and starting so early for. WOW!!! The views are stunning! The floodgates open and tears of joy are streaming down my frozen cheeks. All this training, preparation, sponsorship and hard work has paid off. The pain of getting to the top is immense and I have pushed my body past any limits that I thought it could reach
I don't have the energy to celebrate at the moment. I have used all my energy. Everything is frozen up and a few of us just slum out on some rocks. We go around each other to congratulate everyone and a few teary hugs are shared.
We have done it! We have conquered Mount Kilimanjaro!
We have done it! We have conquered Mount Kilimanjaro!
Wait! We are missing a few people. Pat has slipped back to help his wife Karen and Martyn is further behind with Alan by his side.
I have a look down and we can see them in the distance still soldiering on up the mountain. It is a great sight to see and to think that all of us might make it a 100% success rate is a great feeling. Especially when we turn and see a nervous Hew grimacing with fear that he may have to say goodbye to his beard.
It is so cold (-20). We cannot hang around too long so out comes the camera and off comes the jackets. I am wearing my Marie Curie t-shirt and GTFC shirt under my layers.
John and I decide to leave and head back down to camp. I have used all of my energy to reach the summit within the last 6 hours but it dawns on me that I have another 3 hours to go yet to get down!
Johnson guides John and myself to climb steadily back down the rocks we have only just pulled ourselves up on 20 minutes earlier.
5 minutes into the descent we meet Karen and Pat who are still heading up. We give them lots of encouragement and tell them they are only 5 minutes away and cheer them on. Looking further down we can see Martyn and Alan slowly walking up. They are also nearly there and again this is a great sight to see that everyone is in fact going to make the summit.
We carry on and with the sun creeping out we are starting to warm up, despite the air still being freezing cold.
We get off the rocky area of the summit and start on the loose scree. This is as hard as climbing the bloody thing as it is so dangerous under foot and I keep on slipping and sliding. Johnson is leading the way and cutting the corners of the paths we have trekked up on. Because of the near vertical slopes, we end up 'skiing' down the loose scree which has to be done with great care.
Johnson's English is pretty sketchy but John and I are finally bonding with him after hardly a word was really said between us whilst heading up.
|Johnson and myself. (You can see his old torn boots)|
We find out it is the 9th time that he has reached the summit. The shoes he is wearing look a few sizes too big with the soles hanging off them. He is also wearing an old tatty shell suit which has a few rips. He clearly doesn't have the correct gear to be climbing a challenging mountain like Mount Kilimanjaro. We find out that this is his living and it pays for his family to live for a couple of weeks. There are 6 people living in his home which is no bigger than a garage that we have back at home. He misses his two children who are 2 and 5 years old. Unfortunately when he gets back home, in 4 days time, he still won't manage to spend much time with them as he will be heading back up the mountain to guide another group so he can put some food on his family's table.
We head back into camp and all the porters are waiting for us and cheering when we head into the tent area. I so much want to call home and announce what I have just achieved but I still have no signal.
We wait for the others to head down so we can give them all a warm welcome back. Martyn, Alan, Tom and Mike are the last back into camp and the whole place erupts into cheers. We all hug each other and talk about our own little trip that we have just completed.
We cannot stop for long as we have another 4 and a half hours to trek to the next camp. Another 4 hours!!!! Are they trying to kill me??
We have a quick lunch of leak soup and toasted sandwiches before packing all our sleeping gear ready for the next 4 and a half hours of trekking!
I fill my water bladder and bottles and we head off to the next camp. To make things worse it starts to hailstone and the wind is picking up. Thankfully this doesn't last too long and we are soon taking our layers off as the sun starts to burn. We are now quickly descending.
The first 2 hours are great as it is a steady trek down a gravel track, then the terrain changes again to a rocky uneven path which means we now have to be careful. This is proving pretty difficult as we are all beaten and very tired.
Gordon, James, Elaine and Anna find a small stall that sells some beer but I give it a miss as I cannot stomach it. (Yes shock horror!)
We have a few hours to chill before dinner.
I try my mobile again and at last I have some network coverage so I finally call home to Angela and the dog. This is a pretty emotional moment as it is the first time in 7 days I have managed to make proper contact with someone outside our group of trekkers. It is fantastic to tell someone who isn't here that I have actually made the top! I'm not staying on the phone for too long at £1.86 a minute but I make sure I ask how the Mighty Mariners (GTFC) have got on. I am hoping Angela has got all the results and scorers waiting for me, but no she doesn't have a clue. I am non the wiser. Grrrrrrrrrr.
We all meet for dinner and we are fed french onion soup with bread, and coconut rice with beef and veg. As we are all together we give Hew some money to share out as tips for the porters and guides.
Before I head to my tent I go looking for Johnson. Without this man's help it would be very unlikely that I would have made the summit. He helped carry my back pack from half way up on summit night, provided me with water and snacks when my energy was low, pulled me up some difficult rocks when I felt faint and a little nauseous but most of all he encouraged me and motivated me when I needed it most. I owe a lot to this man and this is the last time I will probably see him. I have a little chat with him and tell him he is a great gent and father. We have a secret handshake and pass over a personal tip from myself and tell him to buy something nice for his children. I also give him my beloved Grimsby Town shirt. He says he'll be wearing it and telling his friends that Messi wants to join and that they will be in the Premiership beating Chelsea very soon.
He is a very happy man and I am pleased I have made his day as he made mine a few hours earlier.
The heavens open and it is time to hit the sack.
Summit = 5896mtrs ASL
Horombo Huts Camp
(s003.08011 e037.45650) 3730mtrs ASL
Day 9: Coming down for a Celebration.
I have just had my best nights sleep for days and I am woken up by Simba with the last cuppa on the mountain. I'm still feeling weak and exhausted but at least this is the last time I'll have to fight with a sleeping bag or a bloody kit bag for the foreseeable future. I will not miss the smelly tent at all.
After breakfast, which miraculously includes egg and sausages, it's time for the tipping ceremony to take place. It is decided by the group that James would make a speech, he does a fantastic job of conveying our thanks to the guides and porters who have supported us so well on this trek. There isn't a dry eye in the camp when the porters show their appreciation by singing the Kilimanjaro song (below) and dancing for us, and it's a moment that I will never forget.
I can't begin to express just how brilliant and kind they were to us throughout this incredible journey.
Frank's gang of guides were amazing, offering advice, encouragement and good humour at every turn, while the porters never failed to impress me. I'm still conflicted by a lot of what I saw but when I discovered that our tips provided them with a months wages in one single day, I began to make some sense out of the madness.
We all set off for our last 6 hour hike.
Within minutes disaster strikes. We have trekked up to the summit of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world with no real problems and on the last big push back to park gates Martyn stumbles on a loose rock and falls over with a big thud. I am right near him and it looks pretty bad, I am thinking he has knocked his knee out of place. We have to move on and we leave Martyn accompanied by Alan the Doc. It isn't what any of us want to see and we are all concerned for his well-being.
Within an hour Frank and myself who are heading the group see this long guy approaching us with this one wheeled (unicycle like) stretcher. Where has he come from? We put two and two together and decide it must be for Martyn.
Just before the half way point we enter the rain forest. With it being overcast we avoid any rain which is bliss.
Being at the front we see monkeys in the trees, we have to be very quiet not to scare them. This doesn't last too long though as a group of Chinese/Japanese cannot keep their voices down and scare all the monkeys away before they can grab their precious cameras. Serves them right! Ha!
We hang around for 20 minutes at Mandara huts which are approximately the half way point. We are waiting for all the others to catch up. Guess who comes along on a one wheeled stretcher?
Martyn is swarmed by 7-8 porters who are not hanging about as they push him with speed down the mountain. He seems OK as he throws a two fingered salute to us all. It may be a bumpy ride but Martyn has the right idea.
With Martyn running (loosely put) ahead we head off for our final descent through the forest. We bump into a few more of our monkey friends before finally making the national park entrance.
This is it....... Its all over.....
We all rush to the souvenir shop and have a bottle of ice cold Coca-Cola which tastes better than anything I have ever experienced from the past week.We all collect our certificates and we are awarded with some champagne to celebrate our achievement.
Just before we jump onto our bus back to the hotel, John and I pop to a local souvenir shop outside the gates which is guarded by some big blokes with guns. I buy a t-shirt and a Kilimanjaro plaque for the exchange of $10 and my sunglasses. Deal or what!!
I suddenly realise I could of done with not trading in my sunglasses as we have a two hour drive with the hot sun beaming down on us.
After the bumpy ride we finally make it back to the hotel. We have a group photo just like we did at the beginning, except this time instead of us all looking fresh we all look shattered and dirty after not showering for over a week.
We check in and oh, the simple joys of life: a bed, clean sheets, clean clothes, and even though the lodge has the worst shower in the world (barely a trickle of hot water can be coaxed out of the tap), it feels like I've checked-in to heaven.
Pizza and chips are waiting for us and they are easily washed down by the Kili beer.
I am finally able to get some wifi so first thing I do is get the latest football scores. We have been away from any news and we are wondering what may of been happening in the wonderful world whilst we have been trapped up the mountain.
I finish my beers and head off to get changed for our celebration meal and drinks.
It is the first time I have looked in a mirror for a week. I am sporting a scruffy beard and a burnt nose.
It doesn't take me long to get ready so I head back to meet James and Neil who are still propping up the bar. We begin to drink the bar dry (and we deserve it). We wait for the girls to arrive who are taking their time. They are ganging up on Hew to make him shave his beard off for the first time in 7 years. Hew and the girls arrive and he looks a different person to the one we got to know as our leader. We cannot help but take the urine.
Our meal is served on a buffet basis and consists of a spicy soup, pasta, chicken madras, rice and naan bread. The curry is mild for a madras but is immense!
Hew makes a speech after dinner and praises every single one of us, then out of the blue, the quiet John stands up and shares his experience of the trek which has us all in laughter.
The chief guide Frank then mentions that he has over 80 staff working with him for our group and it is the first time he has known a group of over 20 trekkers have a 100% success rate on reaching the summit. This is a great achievement by all of us. I'm sure I speak for everyone here when I say I wouldn't have made it if it wasn't for the fantastic guides, porters and fellow trekkers that I have shared the last week with. A big shout out for the Irish contingent who were full of beans from the moment we started trekking right through to the end. I am pleased to have met everyone whom I now consider as good friends and I hope to keep in touch with them all.
Glacier Bar) for a few more drinks and to shake some moves on the dance floor. I have to post this picture of Anna, James, Hew, Gordon and Elaine. But that's not it..... Look closely and you'll see John peering over Hew's shoulder. Classic!!!
The rest of the night is pretty much a blur............
Day 10: Long way home.
I awake feeling pretty good with not much of a hangover. I must be immune to Kilimanjaro Lager.
We all have to check out for 10am so the packing begins.
I decide to leave a few things in a bag that will be given to the porters on the mountain. I leave them a fleece, my walking poles, an England t-shirt and because I am told I have enough of these at home, I also leave them a pair of Lacoste trainers.
The bus isn't picking us up until 4pm so it is going to be a long day waiting around the hotel as we are told not to go outside the grounds on our own.
A few of us decide that we would like to visit the local market town of Moshi. Hew tells us to be very careful and to hold on to all valuables. He orders us a guide (Mushy Mushy I call him) to go with us. So, John, Frank, Pat, Karen, Norrie, Anna, Elaine, Alan, Jay and I head out into the hot bustling town.
We park up at a nice quaint souvenir shop away from the main street. We have a nice look around the air-conditioned shop which has some fantastic garments and ornaments.
We then head onto the main street. Straight away I feel uneasy. We start to get followed and hassled by beggars and sellers. Maybe this trip was not a good idea after all. I am not only sweating with the heat but with the fear of not knowing what is going on around me. Our guide keeps on shouting at the people following us. We stand out like sore thumbs (typical British tourists) I feel so uncomfortable it is unreal.
We head into the market and it is amazing to see everyone at work in this tight narrow market full to the rafters with people buying their meat, rice and groceries. Pat then tries taking a photo of a meat stall and has his hand and camera grabbed by an unhappy man. He starts shouting at Pat and Pat apologises so he finally lets go.
This is getting pretty scary and a few of us just want to get on the minibus and go back to the hotel. We head out and back towards the bus but the beggars and sellers are waiting for us. I think I am being too polite to one young lad who is trying to sell me a football top. I am getting fed up of him trying to sell it to me so I keep talking and asking him different questions. (Yes I know I should just ignore him) This obviously gets his hopes up about getting a sale. He ends up being quite nasty and offensive but luckily we are back in the air-conditioned shop were we started. I end up buying a couple of bits and head back to the hotel.
I am glad that is over with!!
Back at the hotel it is pretty much time to leave. Elaine collects some money off us all which she presents to Hew to donate to his charity, an orphanage in South America. Hew is overwhelmed by this and thanks us all.
I forgot to mention that George is staying a little longer to enjoy a safari break with her boyfriend Ben who has arrived a couple of hours before we leave. We all say our goodbyes to them both and head out to the sweaty minibus.
We arrive at Kili airport and after a quick well needed cheese burger we are all ready to board our plane to Narobi.
Not before visiting the toilets in the departure lounge though.....
After an hours flight past Mount Kilimanjaro (shame it is pitch black!) into Narobi we have a 3 hour wait for our connecting flight back to Heathrow.
I wander off with the girls for a spot of duty free shopping and to get advice about which perfume to buy Angela. After all, I've come all this way so I have to take something back for her. I pick one out, she best like it or she's in trouble!
We board the plane and I am pleased I have bagged a window seat because I am shattered and hope to grab some zzz's. I must have lost a few hours of the flight due to sleep because we are soon landing. We arrive in London at 6am to a typical cold sunny morning.
We all get through passport control and collect our luggage. Martyn has his daughter and wife waiting for him with congratulation balloons which is lovely.
We all say our goodbyes with hugs to end a fantastic, tough, emotional roller-coaster of a mission to climb the worlds largest free-standing mountain. MOUNT KILIMANJARO!!