I've never liked travelling alone, it really is out of my comfort zone.
On the 15th August 2014, I found myself on the National Express heading for Heathrow. Although I've travelled to Heathrow on the coach previously, this was this first time on my own, once I got to Heathrow I'd have to find Terminal Three for the flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport.
I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, and to my surprise I found terminal three quite easily. I sat outside and started eating some sandwiches.
The trip to Kilimanjaro was organised by Discovery Adventure, an organisation which has been organising and running such adventure trips/holidays for 20 years. Discovery Adventure had the vision to organise a facebook page for this trip, so most people going on this adventure had met via this social media already.
The first person I met at the airport was Laura, a very charismatic young lady, then a few others who were going on the trip then turned up. The first hurdle crossed, I was in the right place at the airport!
The flight was pretty uneventful, the transfer at Addis Ababa airport was boring, hanging around for several hours before getting the connecting flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport. The first view of Kilimanjaro and its sister mountain was when we were coming in to land!
The first night was spent in a Hotel, the following day was the first day of the climb, a trip by minibus and 4x4 to Machamp gate, at the bottom of the climb.
The first day hiking was through the rainforest which surrounds the mountain. First time in a rainforest and the first time to climb over 3,000ft. The rainforest seemed very much like any other woodland except with some vines!!! The first nights camp was just above the rainforest, first night under canvas for at least 30 years, and not a good experience, the two man tent was had a rectangular floor area, and we'd managed to lay along the shortest sides. In addition, I was laying on two large stones which was sticking out of the ground, needless to say, I didn't get much sleep that night.
The second day's hiking wasn't as easy as the first day's. A combination of lack of sleep and altitude was having a real affect on me. I can remember feeling rotten, and at one stage at 4,300 metres I vomited, better out than in they say! Others in the group were also suffering the effects of the altitude. That night we had a talk by the trips doctor, he told us what happens with altitude, the fact that the body can't get rid of carbon dioxide except by passing it out via the kidneys, therefore you pee a lot more, hence the importance of keeping yourself hydrated. The guides has a saying, that they kept repeating "More Fire More Water" followed by "More Water, More Fire!"
The second nights camping was more enjoyable, we were well above the tree-line, at this altitude there was little vegetation, very dusty, but this did mean, that the porters who took the equipment ahead of us, could clear the ground of rocks under the tents.
The next few days hiking were a blur, probably the most remembered part of the trip during these days was having to get up out of the tent at night and having to go for a pee! One night I think I got up and out 12 times, which was a bit of an experience, firstly because of the cold, -5°C, and if you are sleeping in a four seasons sleeping bag, you sleep with very little on, just a pair of boxers! The idea being that your warmth warms up the sleeping bag, if you sleep with clothes on, then the sleeping bag is cold, and so are you!
So getting back to having to go out for a pee in the middle of the night in -5°C; let's say it was an experience, unzipping your sleeping bag was bad enough, unzipping the tent lets all the cold air in! Then putting your boots on, laces undone! Getting out and getting away from the tent to have a pee was freezing, standing there, paying a call of nature, just in a pair of boots, boxer shorts and a head torch!
Nights in Africa, just 3° South of the equator, are the same length as the days, around 12 hours, all year round. Sun rise was around 6:35 and set around 6:35 in the evening. Since at these altitudes you are above the clouds, the night sky is amazingly clear; the night sky is full of stars! For the first time I could clearly see the Milky Way in the night sky! I couldn't make out many constellations, nothing was clear with all the stars present in the sky, it very much masked the stars which you expect tosee in the nights sky! In addition to them stars being in a "different " place in the night sky!
Day four of the trek was tiring; that night I went to be at 7:45 in the evening, after having food and filling my water bottles up. This was the night before the ascent to the summit. Some 4¼ hours later we were being woken up, to get ready for the ascent; the goal being that we would reach the summit around 9am. The group set out at 1am with head torches on, sunrise was 5½ hours away. That days hike was a blur, some people dropped out at this stage due to illness (D&V had been going around the camp). You didn't have a grip on who was still in the party and who wasn't. I can remember seeing the sunrise that day, then we were fast approaching the summit; the last bit of the hike was overscree. I was fading fast! One of the porters grabbed my hand and lead me onwards and upwards...
The next thing I remember was approaching Stella Point, at this stage I was shattered. I took my bag off and sat down, and started falling asleep! I was woken with a kick from the porter (Shadrach) "get up!"
Then we were asked if we wanted to go onto Uhura Peak, so I did, it was hard going, just walking a few steps before stopping to catch my breath, then a few more steps before stopping again...
I did reach Uhura Peak, just about! I was hoping to feel better, but the altitude was really telling on me, Uhura Peak is some 5896mtrs above sea level, roughly 3½ miles up!
Walking back from the peak, my hands began to tingle! This was a sure sign of altitude sickness, at this stage, Shadrach lead me rather quickly back to Stella Point. My head was spinning at this stage. Shadrach called over another porter, and they rushed me down the mountain at lightning speed, with a hand under each arm. Within a hour or so I was down in Barafu Camp, at 4,600 mtrs. Needless to say, I was the first one back in the camp who'd made it to the summit! The rest of that morning, I slept in my clothes that I'd been on the mountain in. The day wasn't over after some food, we had a decent down to Millennium camp, at some 3,000 mtrs above sea-level.
The last day on the mountain was walking through the rainforest; I'd picked up one injury during this trip, spraining my elbow when I turned over at night in my sleeping bag. During this last day, I was to pick up another injury when I slipped and fell and twisted my right hip, which is the joint which is most affected by my Psoriatic Arthritis. The path through the rainforest is very slippery and very muddy, and I managed to go arse over tit on this, twisting my right hip and bending one of my new walking poles in the process. I picked myself up and continued to walk.
That evening and the following day I really felt the extent of the injury to both my elbow and to my hip! We (the group) went out to Moshi, walked around to a few shops and ending our excursion in the Coffee Union, afarmers' co-operative, rather nice coffee it was too. I had real difficulty getting myself off the chair due to my hip, and injury that was to last for a month.
There's an estimated 25,000 people climb Kilimanjaro each year, of which between eight and ten people die. So, if you go up Kilimanjaro there's a One in 2,500 chance of dying. Another amazing fact is that the life expectancy in Tanzania is a mere 44 years, mainly due to AIDS. I was taken aback to see one of the shops on one of the streets made and sold nothing but coffins.