CoffeeCakesAndRunning The mountain that inspired me - Kilimanjaro

The mountain that inspired me – Kilimanjaro

Sometimes, you can’t explain to people why you had “the dream“, why you felt compelled to do something, why you trained relentlessly and why you pushed yourself both physically and mentally to achieve that dream, why you committed a large amount of your not so ‘spare cash’ and a good chunk of time to doing something that excited you, that challenged you, that exhausted you, that made you cry, laugh, despair and most importantly of all to think  – and, when you completed it, that motivated, compelled and inspired you to make big changes to your life.

Kilimanjaro was “the dream” for me and as a result of doing the climb I made significant changes to my personal life after I returned home from my trip.  The changes were difficult and painful, but for the best for all concerned, and although they mean that financially my life has changed significantly, my new downsized/impoverished life is so much richer in the things that matter to me, the things that make me happy and that drive me to continue to work towards doing things in life that make me smile, that challenge me and that I have a passion doing.  Writing, is one of those things and I’m pleased to share with you that I am now Travel and Features Editor for Food e Mag dxb where, along with Ishita of Ishita Unblogged the Editor of the magazine, we hope to share with you the passions of a whole host of talented Food and Travel writers/bloggers from across the world who write about the things that inspire them.

Please do take a look at this beautiful magazine and of course, read about my trip to Kilimanjaro in which I learnt the valuable lesson of Attitude and not Altitude which was published in the February issue of Food e Mag dxb.

At the summit !  

It’s about 8 am, I’m tired, no strike that, I’m exhausted, I’m breathing heavily, I’m freezing cold, I’m aching all over and my head is hurting as the sound of a thousand drums are banging away inside my head – despite all of this, I have the biggest smile on my face and I’m proudly pulling the British Flag out of my rucksack with frozen fingers. Where am I ?? I’m at Uhuru Peak,  the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the fourth highest mountain in the world, the highest free standing mountain in the World and the highest mountain in Africa and I feel alive, more than alive, jubulant and ecstatic with a huge sense of achievement.  I did it ! – no actually We did it !

A slightly drunken tweet ….

How did I get here ??  New Years Eve is always a time for reflection for me, and after losing a lot of weight in 2011, on the first of January 2012, I made a public commitment on social media (after one too many glasses of champagne) that I would climb Mount Kilimanjaro as a personal challenge.  I’m a woman of my word and having committed I knew I had to go through with the climb.  I’m a great believer that Nothing in life worth having comes easy, and so I had to work hard to get fit and ready for my challenge.  I started by focussing on my fitness levels with an average week consisting of twelve plus gym classes per week, typically 2 classes per day, sometimes 5 in a day when I wanted to test myself for endurance. Closer to the time, there were plenty of injections and health precautions to undergo as well as a big spending trip at the local outdoor company and a ton of reading and researching to do – bedside reading had never been so good!.

And so it began in a pub garden in Moshi 

I flew to Tanzania alone in August to join the tour company I had booked the trip with. I was  excited, anxious, a little scared but with a determination to reach the summit if at all possible. Three Brits, Three Brazilians, One Canadian, Five Americans and one Tanzanian meet in a beer garden, no not the beginning of a joke, but the forming of the group I would walk with, we called ourself Di Mojo – which means one team from across the World.   The night before we started our trek, our guide Bruce told us that this was a trip about attitude not altitude and that if we followed everything he told us to do, he would get us to the summit.  A group of strangers, from across the world but brought together by one common goal, we all committed right there and then to reach the top.

Six days up and two days down ….

As we started to climb, we each began to really commit to reach the summit, whilst the days had a routine to them, we would get up, have breakfast, break camp and walk, eventually stop and make camp again, each day came with challenges and obstacles for us.  Some days there were aches and pains, blisters and injuries.  Some days relentless icy rain and we were soaked and cold with no opportunity to dry our clothes. Some days lack of energy or headaches and the affects of altitude hit us and even a sense that we would never reach the top. Somedays it was a sense of deja vue as we spent most of the day climbing and gaining height only to descend later in the day further along the trail (climb high, sleep low is one of the best ways to acclimatise, but it can also demotivate). 

Each day, as we looked at the beauty of the summit above us or as we reflected on our day, weary and wrapped up in sleeping bag whilst wearing every item of clothes we had packed, we individually and collectively committed to summit, to reach the heights that we had never been to before and for each of us to achieve our own individual dream to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Summit Night ..

Summit night came, and just before midnight we started our frozen eight hour ascent up the final stage of the mountain. Fuelled with a few custard creams and a hot mug of tea we started our walk. Zigzagging clumsily on frozen scree, we walked virtually non stop, continually upwards, with nothing to fuel us but frozen water and frozen energy bars that we carried in our backpack, but with a strong inner commitment to reach the top. My summit night, though gruelling and somewhat clumsy, I had about two hours when I couldn’t get my body to do what my mind was telling it to do, was easier than some we saw as we slowly climbed the mountain.  Lots of people were taken ill at the side of the mountain, most suffering with terrible altitude sickness which not only debilitates and makes the climb really tough mentally and physically, but which can be a medical emergency if not treated correctly.

The mighty Kilimanjaro tricks you a bit, it’s not until sunrise that you see the top, the point to which you have been walking towards all night but couldn’t see, only for you to realise that actually there’s another hour or so of walking until you finally reach the summit.  When you actually get to the summit, you get to appreciate the mountain in all its beauty, there are huge glaciers and a volcano crater to explore, but that needs a lot more energy and time and sadly this wasn’t part of our itinerary. You get to take photos at the legendary summit sign, though I’m sad that the new sign is quite modern and not as beautiful and time ravaged as the old wooden sign, you get to queue to have your photo taken too as you get a realisation that actually quite a few other people reached their goal too.

At the time of summit the fact that you’ve achieved your dream doesn’t really sink in, there’s too much going on and your body is both mentally and physically exhausted. You know you still have lots more walking to do that day (another ten hours or so in our case) and the next day too – although for us this was a slippery six hour downhill slippery slide as it had been raining and the mud was treacherous and challenging .  Finally before getting to the gate and getting your treasured Summit Certificate, we had to navigate our way past a group of enterprising young lads aged about eight years old who were keen to see what we could donate to them in the shape of food, chocolate and our equipment as it seemed like they had a little side business going on, cheerful and happy as the were, they did have little machetes in their hands to help persuade us LOL.  

When it finally sinks in, maybe as you have the first beer at the camp Gate whilst the porters “serenade” you with a hearty rendition of “Jambo, Jambo Bwana” song or when you take the first shower in over a week back at base camp hotel in what was really just a small trickle of water compared to my power shower at home, realising that you have achieved a dream that you trained and worked hard for is the best feeling in the world.

For more details on my Kilimanjaro trip and in particular my Preparation, Route and Equipment or what it’s like to do the climb to take then do take a look at my other articles on my website or feel free to message with any questions.