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Charity Climb of Kilimanjaro on Kangoo Jumps

      
 

Kilimanjaro, the world's tallest freestanding mountain and Africa's highest, rises from the dry savannah and reaches 19,340 feet (5895 m). You pass through five different ecological zones when you climb Kili, starting with farmland at the base and then through the rain forest which goes up to about 2000m. After the rain forest is the heath and moorland zone, followed by the alpine desert and the glacial summit. It is a fascinating and challenging journey and we began ours on June 22nd this year with our arrival at Kilimanjaro airport and our transfer to our hotel in Moshi.

On arrival at our hotel you get the impression that neither it nor the staff have changed much in the last 50 years. The dining room is furnished in British colonial style the deep red velvet curtains and chair seats complimented by the dark wood of the tables with their crisp white napkins. There are about ten people in the dining room, split into two groups, those who are about to climb the "about-to's" and those who have just arrived back from the mountain the "done-it's". The "done-it's" are easily recognizable by their inability to walk properly. By the end of the evening, the "about-to's" are wondering why anyone even considers climbing Kili. Out of the six climbers who have just returned only 3 made it to the summit. They talk of splitting headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, aching joints, blisters and an inability to breathe. Leah and I decide we'll choose the blisters and aching joints and are grateful that we heeded our tour operators instructions to bring the anti-nausea pills, antibiotics, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, anti-diarrhea pills to name but a few, but most importantly the Diamoz for prevention and treatment of altitude sickness. It was definitely the medicine cabinet we were carrying and not the KJ's which put us nearly 30 kgs overweight at the airport. It could also have something to do with the fact that we are female AND going to Zanzibar to recover after our climb.

When asked by the "done-it's" which route we are taking, we managed to slip in the fact that we were climbing on our KJ's. It was immediately demanded that we produce these weird sounding boots, so upstairs we ran (a different story to our trips upstairs after 7 days on the mountain) and brought the KJ's into the dining room. The "done-it's" slowly shook their heads and looked at us as if we were about to pull the plug on our life support machines. The consensus of opinion was that we were totally insane and certainly should not be climbing via the Machame route. We tried to explain that we had climbed the same route before, so knew what we were in for (we didn't add that we found it so hard we vowed we'd never do it again!) but they still shook their heads viewing us with dismay. I got the impression that they thought I was the world's worst Mother to allow my 17 year old daughter to accompany her mad parent. In order to vindicate myself I explained that we were trying to raise money for an AIDS charity in South Africa, however, their opinion did not alter.

The D-day
So D-day dawns and our bags are overweight. It is decided that the two bags which the porters will carry will be split into 3 bags and another porter will be hired an Machame Gate to carry the extra bag. We will now have a crew of 9 , 2 guides and 7 porters to assist us with our climb. On seeing the KJ's for the first time, the guide asks us if we are going to climb in them, when given an affirmative answer, he shakes his head a gives us a sympathetic smile. The head shaking response is something we soon got used to!

We had been dreading the rainforest as you can literally sink up to your knees in mud, however, since our last climb two years ago the path has been completely redone and the going was relatively easy. "Pole, pole" (slowly, slowly) is heard by everyone on the mountain. You have to climb exceptionally slowing in order to acclimatize climbers and porters die every year from altitude sickness, it's a very real problem. From the comments I received from our guide and Leah I believe my "pole, pole" was a bit too slow. I put it down to too many cigarettes in years gone by! Smoking on the mountain is common among the porters and guides. While the guided climbers are searching for oxygen the porters and guides puff on their cigarettes and seem to be totally oblivious to the fact that their oxygen supplies are diminishing in fact at the summit you only have 50% of the oxygen found at sea level.

We admired all the guide/porter teams tremendously. They rush up the mountain ahead of you to set up the camp ready for your arrival. They carry massive loads but still manage to find a smile. Everything is done for you, all you have to do is carry a day pack and put one foot, or KJ, in front of the other in a general uphill direction.

We decided to do a seven day climb instead of the 6 day climb we did on our last trip. It gave us an extra day to acclimatize and Leah didn't relish the idea of getting altitude sickness again. Everyone who started climbing on the same day as us took the extra day. The youngest climber was 14 and the oldest, at 52, was me. The average age was late 20's, early 30's. It's amazing what things one attempts while experiencing a mid-life crisis. My family were hoping that this Kili climb would cure me, but unfortunately (for them, at least), my daughter and I are now planning a trip to Everest base camp. Perhaps our KJ's will join us!

Wet day 2
The climb at the beginning of day 2 was initially too wet and steep for the KJ's so the porters carried them and out came the hiking boots. I have to confess that when nature calls, it was easier to have the boots on rather than the KJ's! There are obviously no flushing toilets on the mountain, only long-drops at the various campsites most of which are disgusting. One curious thing you notice on the mountain is the proliferation of toilet paper behind bushes or boulders without what you would expect to accompany the toilet paper. We can only assume that the white-necked ravens which are present at every camp dispose of the waste!. Water is at a premium so you only get two small bowls a day in which to wash. After 7 days, no one is nice to know.

The KJ's got a good workout at Shira Plateau where we finished our second day at an altitude of 3840 m. Shira is really one of the most beautiful places on earth. You look down through the clouds to the plains below, with Mount Meru poking its head through the clouds and then you look up and see the Western Breach of Kilimanjaro with its glaciers in full view. It's at this point that you realize how far you still have to go before you summit and most of it seems to be up! At this altitude it gets rather chilly at night, although we have to say that we had wonderful weather throughout our climb. We both woke up with ice on the outside of our sleeping bags and on the outer walls of the tent. A freezing but necessary trip to the long-drop at night is rewarded by the incredibly clear night sky, so full of stars that there is no space between them.

Day 3 is a long day
We climbed up to 4,600 m and back down to 3950m. The motto on Kili is "climb high and sleep low" in order to acclimatize. We were walking through a semi desert region on this day, full of boulders and what seemed like a series of very steep uphills and downhill's. At the end of this tough day, we arrived at Barranco and viewed what appeared to be a vertical cliff this was the beginning of tomorrow's climb. Sorry, the KJ's would be carried up here by the porters. At this altitude, it becomes a massive effort to do anything just getting in and out of the tent exhausts you. Our appetites were also dwindling at this stage and we had to force ourselves to eat in order to keep up our strength. However, Leah and I were the lucky, everyone else is complaining of headaches and nausea at least we were only exhausted. One guy had already gone back down the mountain due to altitude sickness.

Day 4
Day 4 dawns and we send the KJ's ahead while we crawl up the wall. At one point while maneuvering myself along a very narrow ledge and trying to hold on to any bit of protruding rock, I asked the guide if anyone has ever fallen off the wall. He relied yes, people die, especially in the rainy season.Thank goodness, it wasn't the rainy season.

This is where we have decided to add our extra day. It's a short day's climb but strenuous with steep up and down hills. We slept at about 4,200m on this night. I have to say I'm exhausted but Leah is holding up well and gets exceptionally cross with me when I won't get out of the tent in the evening to look at the stars, moon and Mount Meru. Our fellow climbers are all battling with headaches, nausea, vomiting and generally feeling awful. At this stage none of them can comprehend why we are doing this for a second time and with KJ's. We are advised of good mental institutions in the States by a group of medical students!

Day 5 & 6
This day begins with the depressing realization that tonight is summit night. You get a feeling of impending doom especially if you've done it before and you what lies ahead. We arrive at Barafu Camp (4,600m) at lunchtime which gives us until 11.30 p.m. to try and relax before we begin our summit attempt. The area is totally devoid of any vegetation and is rather like a moonscape. The only life we see is a little mouse that lives under a rock by our tent we can only assume that he lives off food dropped by the climbers.

We manage a little sleep which pleases us, as sleep at altitude is difficult. At 11.00 p.m. we are woken with 'bed-tea" which we will warm us before our climb. We are wearing so many layers of clothes that we look as if we have gained about 10 kgs each. Only the two guides go to the summit with you and they kindly offer to carry the KJ's up the mountain for us to put on when we reach Stella Point. You climb at night for 2 reasons, 1) the scree is frozen which obviously means you don't slide back down as easily! and 2) if you could see what you were climbing you just wouldn't do it. As we descended by the same route we can agree with both reasons. As we slid back down the mountain we couldn't believe we had actually climbed what appeared to an impossibly steep mountainside.


As we climb, very, very slowly, it gets colder and solder and the water in our insulated water bottles freezes. Leah tells me my nose is blue and she can't feel the toes on one of her feet because the toe warmer hadn't activated. Leah's fingers are totally numb even though she has hand warmers and is wearing two pairs of gloves. Perhaps I shouldn't have let her come Leah's nails go blue in temperatures of 25 degrees C. What is she gets frost bite and loses her toes and fingers Terrible Mother. While I'm considering Leah's loss of digits, she is getting impatient at my slow pace, as is the guide. I keep on having to stop to get my breath which, of course, is making everyone get colder and colder. It's at this point that I decide I must go down the mountain and join the 6 others who have already turned back, before my daughter loses her toes. However, Leah and the guide won't hear of it, so on we go doing the Kili shuffle. It's still dark and every step is a massive effort. I try to concentrate on my feet and on my breathing and clear everything else from my mind. After what seems like days of climbing we see a glimmer of light on the right hand horizon what a difference the rising sun makes. I am still battling with every breath and every step but at least as it is getting light we must be nearing Stella Point, which is on the crater rim.

Leah and the head guide went on ahead as we neared Stella Point. Leah told me later that nature was urgently calling her and there was nowhere to hide on the upward slope so she had to get to the top and find a rock to hide behind. Not many people can say they have answered nature's call at 19,000 ft. This last upward stretch is a killer. The assistant guide, Bakari, knew I was battling and he went in front of me and immediately knew at what pace (if you can call my incredibly small slow steps a pace) I could continue and stamped his feet down loudly so all I had to do was concentrate on putting my feet in exactly the same spot he did. Bakari was enormously patient with me I owe him a lot. I eventually made it to Stella Point and was delighted to see that I wasn't the last one there. We rested at Stella and began to feel vaguely human again and so donned out KJ's for the last stretch to the top of Kilimanjaro 19,340 feet. You are so exhausted at this point that it is only when you look at the photographs afterwards that you appreciate the beauty of the glaciers, views and crater.

Leah started to feel ill just as we left the summit. She had spent much longer at the top then I had and the altitude was beginning to take its toll, so it was time to descend as quickly. For me that was easier said then done as you slip and slide down the loose scree. On reaching Barafu camp Leah collapses onto her sleeping bag with her feet sticking out of the tent and falls asleep instantly. Neither of us want to eat, so after a little rest, I pack up the tent as Leah is still not feeling well and we begin our hike down to Mweka Hut (3,100m). It's been one hell of day!

Day 7
The porters and guides are exceptionally cheerful on this downhill stretch as their task is finished. They just have one more camp to set up and then it is down the mountain the following morning and back to the hotel. At the parks gate, everyone who made the summit is queuing to get their certificate and the topic of conversation among the climbers is mainly flushing toilets and showers. Everyone agrees it was hell and they'll never do it again however, that's what we said two years ago, so who knows!

 
 






       
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