Kilimanjaro and Back

11 Jul 2016

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Day 1 – Out of breath

Our starting point was 1,640m above sea level- the Machame Route. That’s more than 5 times the height of The Shard. Within a minute of walking, I was already feeling out of breath.

As soon as we were given the green light, we set off with our eyes firm on the prize ahead, a wooden plank scribed with the words ‘congratulations’, the one plank of wood worthy of a selfie. Our end goal for the day was to reach Machame camp, some 2,835m above sea level or 1,200m up from the starting point.

Day 2 – The toughest day 

Our journey began at 8am. Our end goal- Shira camp, some 3,750m above sea level. That’s more than 12 times the height of The Shard.

Hiking from Machame camp to Shira camp was like climbing up the Shard 7 times, but on a rocky and steep uphill terrain. As the altitude increased and the air got thinner, I was getting more and more tired. For someone who ran up hills during training days, this was a complete shock to me.

The journey took 9 hours and there was a sense of relief at Shira camp. It was without a doubt the most challenging day of my life.

Later that evening, I discovered my oxygen level was 62% to 74% and my heart rate 114 bpm. I needed to be at least 80% and in the 80s bpm. Coming in and out of the tent was no easy streak. Let’s just say, those 5 short seconds was like a 5-minute jog. In order to increase my oxygen level, I needed to consume another litre of water (5 litres) and start a course of Diamox.

Day 3 – The deal breaker

Today is the deal breaker- the journey to Lava Tower. It is 4,600m above sea level, that’s more than 5 times the height of Burj Khalifa. Apparently, if you suffer from altitude sickness today, the chances are, you will not be making the summit night.

Due to my already low oxygen levels, I needed to spend the next 8-9 hours of this journey concentrating on my breathing. I didn’t want to take any chances and I knew this was going to be one hell of a challenge.

When reaching Lava Tower, the entire Kili family was ecstatic. This was the biggest and most important test yet and we all made it. I had no idea what my oxygen levels were, but I couldn’t wait to find out. That evening I found out it was 75% – still not good enough. The clock is ticking. Only two days until summit night.

Day 4 – Bare Hands

It may not sound like it, but day 4 was the most fun. Our end goal of the day was Karanga camp via the Barranco Wall, where we had to climb up the mountain with our bare hands. This was a short journey maybe 3 hours long.

That evening my oxygen level finally came through above 80%, but my heart rate was still 114bpm.

Day 5 – D-Day

We set off very early in the morning for Barafu camp. It was a short journey and we arrived around 12.30pm. We had lunch and dinner and then rested until summit night- 10.30pm. Barfu camp is 4,700m above sea level, that’s almost 6 times the height of Burj Khalifa.

10.30pm – time to prepare: My water bladder was wrapped around a few layers of clothes, with a couple of heat pads on either side; all tucked inside a thermal sack and placed in my day bag. I had to insulate it as much as possible as it can get anywhere between -10 to -20 degrees Celsius. My pouch was loaded with liquid foods, an energy bar and Fisherman Friends mints. I had 3 layers on my head, 2 around my neck, 4 on the top and bottom and 2 around my hand and feet. We were all accompanied by a porter each; the porter with me was called Manuel.

The time- 11pm – time to conquer this little big rock. I continued with the same breathing technique as I did on day 3. It was pitch black and all you could see was light from the headlamp of some 60 odd people. Look down and all you could see was a never-ending trail of lights, like an army of giant two-legged headlamp-wearing ants swarming their way up a rock. The wind was so strong and the air freezing and every nose on that mountain were running like tap water. It was so cold, that the moment a drop of spring water from your nose landed on your jacket, it would turn to ice. Have you ever seen a frozen waterfall, that’s what some people’s philtrum looked like.

Day 6 – …Continued

The walk felt like it was never ending, you couldn’t see that far ahead. My fingertips were beginning to freeze and I mean really freeze. I had to stop every now and then and rub the tips together in order to keep them warm. I had climbed uphill for 4 hours like this and throughout that time, I didn’t dare ask Manual how far away I was from Stella point. His response would’ve been: “not far”. Ask a porter how far Timbuktu is, and he’ll say “not far”, followed by the magic word “pole pole”. Eventually, I did ask how far we were, and Manuel’s response? You guessed it, “not far”. At this point, my water bladder / hydration system had frozen. I was incredibly tired and I was feeding on Dextrose energy sweets and the liquid food I had. I was stopping for a quick break at any opportunity I could. However, about 30-40mins later I could hear cries of joy coming from the distance, I tried looking but I could see nothing, Stella point was only around the corner. Stella point – 5,685m above sea level. When I arrived at Stella point; with some of the team, you can imagine, after more than 5 + hours of uphill climbing, in -10 to -20 below freezing point; against crazy winds, just how incredibly ecstatic and relieved we were to get here, and very very tired indeed! The sun began to rise, it was around 5.30-5.45am. I felt this sudden surge of adrenaline rush through me. I marched on as though I had only just started for the day. The end goal- Uhuru Peak. 5,895m above sea level, that’s more than 7 times the height of Burj Khalifa. As I was walking along the crater, I realised I was walking too fast. Manuel was still some yards behind me. But I didn’t want to stop I was on a high. I reached Uhuru peak at around 6.20am, I dropped my stick and congratulated the rest of the kili family. The feeling was so overwhelming. These 6 days was the most physically and mentally draining 6 days I have ever experienced. And its sheer difficulty is what made it all the more worth its while. The air in Kilimanjaro is at its thinnest at Uhuru peak, this is where people are prone to becoming delusional, dizzy, confused, not with it. So you can understand if I tell you, that I cannot remember who took the solus photo of me beside the wooden plank scribed with the words ‘congratulations’.

The journey was not over. I had 3 hours of downhill, sandy and rocky terrain ahead. That surge of adrenaline rinsed every ounce of energy left in me. I was so tired and zoned out that at some point I was sand skiing and I didn’t realise. The end goal for the day… Nandos (if only).