12 of us made it to the top of Kilimanjaro.The top of Kilimanjaro is called Gilmans Point and 12 climbers achieved this. There is the opportunity to go on to Uhuru Peak after this – an extra 100 metres above sea level to see the glacier up close, however after spending 7 hours climbing a Snowdon high sand dune, you had to be seriously fit to carry on.
Summit night is a gruelling climb up what can only be described as a nightmare!. It is a very steep climb up scree – your feet constantly disappear into the scree and it is very slippy. One major slip and you would roll all the way back to the bottom. The oxygen is in short supply – we had tanks strapped to our backs and it is pitch dark as we set off at midnight.
One of the advantages of setting off in the dark is that you cannot see where you are going, once the sun rose, being able to see the steep climb ahead was mentally challenging.
Anne Coughlan and Ann Coriam had completed 5 days of uphill walking over rocks, ridges and craters. There are no specific paths and you have to really concentrate on every step to avoid accidents. The lead guide Jackson told Ann that she was not well enough to climb the summit – a decision that was not easy to make. Anne C would have made it to the top but was advised not to as she would have needed a lot of help to get down due to the dangerous nature of the terrain. Most of us had suffered in some way from altitude sickness from headaches, to facial swellings to sickness, nausea and bad tummys! Sun burn from being close to the sun even with factor ‘cardigan’ on was rife.
My hands were really badly burnt – I still have the scars a week on – this followed by temperatures of -21 on summit night meant severe pain and a worry of frost bite. You could see ice forming on the coats of the people climbing in front of you, and water that was wrapped up in fleeces froze in the bottles
Josie Hodrien was the first ‘casualty’ to be sent back down on summit night after suffering from sickness she was dizzy, couldn’t breathe and passed out whilst sat down. Second to be send down was Linda Parry who passed out from standing on the mountain and had to be carried down to the base camp – Kibo Hut. We found out the following day that she was stretchered all the way back to the hotel as they could not control her mountain sickness and the only cure is to get as far down as possible. The hotel was still high – the height of Snowdon
7 other people were taken down off the summit that night from other groups.
I can honestly say that the first 2 days walking were tough and demanding, however nothing prepares you for the rest of the climb. The summit night took every ounce of energy, both mental and physical that I had, if it wasn’t for the guide, Meke, I would never have made it. (other climbers have similar stories from their guides) I was last to summit and collapsed in a heap. You forget everything on that mountain and just take each step for survival – it may sound dramatic, but that is how it was. One step in front of the other, it is all about mental power rather than fitness although you need that too. What kept us going was the team spirit and knowing why we were doing it – we all agreed though that it is hard to put in words how it feels to take on the challenge, it is only when thinking back that you realise what a dangerous position you put yourself in, health wise, by taking on the challenge. This was obviously magnified by Linda’s illness.
Jenny, Lorna, Jan, Carolyn S, Yvonne and Jessica decided to carry on to Uhuru peak whilst the rest of us contemplated the journey back to base camp. The only way to get down is to ‘scree run’. With legs like jelly after a 7 hour climb, baking sun and no oxygen, you literally have to run down the mountain. Like skiing on dust! George, A Masai Warrior guide, rook my coat and rucksack, took my hand and ran me down the mountain for 2 hours. Once back in camp, we had 2 hours of sleep before a 5 hour descent to the next camp – needless to say there was not much chatter over dinner that night.
When we used the words, challenge of a lifetime to describe what we were doing to raise funds for victims of DV, I don’t think we actually realised how tough it actually would be. Literally putting your life on the line – we joked that if Kilimanjaro was in the UK, it would have red tape all around it and it would be condemned due to health and safety. One of the porters who does it several times a year had to be taken down for altitude sickness, one of the guides got typhoid – 2 of our climbers got eaten alive by mosquitos – luckily they are taking malaria tablets
The positives are that by June every climber has to have raised their target of £4400 and this will support those victims that need it most – the whole reason we took on the challenge.