IN Magazine's - Kilimanjaro Trek 2011 -
AH NHS Trust is a charity driven by Mr Ashraf Patel, a breast surgeon, who has given a large portion of his working life to fundraising for cancer patients. The trust funds important clinical trials, provides drugs not available on the NHS, supports nurses and other services which make life for those coping with cancer just that little bit easier. To date iN Magazine has raised £178,000 for PAH NHS Trust Charitable Fund, with more fundraising expeditions on the horizon. But back to the Kilimanjaro thirteen. Told in the words of Zoe Hopkins, the climb’s chief organizer, this is their story…
Just the flight from London to Kilimanjaro was itself a bit of a challenge, with pit stops in both Amsterdam and Tanzania before we got anywhere near the mountain. Having reached our final destination disaster struck as Emma Markham-Cook, a nutritional therapist and one of the iN Magazine trekkers, realized her bag, and as a consequence all the kit she needed for the climb, was missing. Amidst the tears and worry that her attempt on the mountain might be over before it had begun, crisis was averted as Really Wild Challenges, the company who had helped orchestrate our travel, knew of an excellent hire company. It was just lucky that Emma was wearing her boots. We arrive at the hotel and have the day to recover before setting out. Early that evening we had our first briefing; it is 26 degrees, with reports of snow on the top. All of the expedition team, bar five, have brought Diamox an anti-mountain sickness drug, to help with the altitude. We are all very nervous.
We arrive at Umbwe Gate, the entrance to the Umbwe Route. As the more challenging climb the Umbwe route is not a busy as the others to the summit, meaning we had fewer expeditions to share the incredible scenery and path with. As we signed in, each of our porters load up with twenty five kilos each. It doesn’t matter how large or small, each porter carries the same weight, as well as their own very light day sack which will have all their possessions in. I tried to lift one of the porter’s bags and I couldn’t do it. We are talking some serious weight.
The first days walking was mapped out at a steep incline. As we set out the heavens opened. Soaked through, we reached camp seven hours later. We were tired, wet and hungry. As our bags were placed into our tents, we soon realised Emma’s hired bag has gone missing, and we have been left with a porter’s bag instead. This being the second bag in two days Emma was feeling quite disheartened. Luckily she had her sleeping bag with her and we all donated clothes, whilst Really Wild sent a search party down to retrieve her bag.
The rain did not relent all night; I awoke to a damp sleeping bag and hair that resembled an afro having a bad day. Our tea arrived just in time for a break in the rain; we could hear all the birds from the surrounding tropical jungle. It was beautiful. But wow, today was challenging. We scrambled up the side of the mountain, clambering up roots and pulling ourselves up by branches till we reached the ridge, before climbing down into the Barranco Valley. As we descended, we caught our first sight of the mountain. And although the sheer scale was intimidating, the view was breathtaking.
With the exception of one the team being sick and two others suffering from headaches, the team seemed strong. From Barranco we had already seen two emergency descents. I expect it won’t be long before we start seeing symptoms of altitude sickness from those not taking Diamox. The scenery altered before our eyes, moss laden rainforest transforming into sparse vegetation. We set up camp under the Barranco Wall at an altitude of 3900m.
At camp we surprised Kasia and Alex Allchorne, the only couple on the trek, with an extra special Valentine’s dinner from the mess tent. I bet they have never looked so fetching on Valentine’s Day. The evening ended on a high as the missing bag arrived on the back of the porter they call the ‘The Lamborghini’.
We wake to ice and snow on our tents and prepare for our acclimatization climb to Lava Tower, 4900m. Last night was cold and sleeted most of the night. Many of the team are finding it hard to sleep at this altitude; I am feeling physically weak and tired. We climb steadily for 7 hours, my speech is slurred and I feel drunk. We were now trekking in snow and ice.
Head Guide, Jonas Rutta, President of the Explorer’s Club Tanzania and sponsored by the National Geographic, brought us to a circle where we were given yoga-esque breathing exercises, asked to walk in a straight line, and to stand on one foot with our eyes closed and to touchour noses. It sounds easy but at 4900m it’s no walk in the park.
Today was so cold, with a wind chill of -20. The weather is so changeable, switching from icy wind to blazing sunshine within moments. Six of the porters have snow blindness, several of the team are showing signs of heat exhaustion and those not on Diamox are showing symptoms of mild acute mountain sickness (AMS). Today we climbed high and slept low.
Today is the day we climb the Barranco Wall and descend into Karranga Valley. Luckily the rain and sleet stopped for our ascent. The wall is at a 90 degree angle and there is only one way up. A few team members found this exhilarating, others, like me were happy to get to the top.
The acclimatization day at Lava Tower has worked wonders. There are a lot of ‘Are we there yet?’ jokes and banter amongst the team. Today was a positive day, I feel fit and well, have a slight altitude cough and co-ordination is good.
The thunder and lightening last night is followed by a bright morning. We have snow under foot and it is very cold. The pace is slow and the oxygen is sparse. Liane Fahey really struggled today, her hips were killing and her headache was relentless. There was a lot of talking gibberish just to get her to Barafu Camp.
Barafu camp resembles something out of Star Trek. I remember that Rosie Coxshore from our Kilimanjaro attempt in 2009 nicknamed it ‘Camp Hell’. And hellish it was. We camped in the snow, and met in the mess tent for a briefing. Our options were to summit a day earlier, leaving at 5am that morning. We all agreed the conditions looked good, so decided to go for it. We all had an early night, with the hope of being well rested. Tomorrow was a big day.
Sleep? What sleep. I shivered uncontrollably all night in spite of my -20 sleeping bag. We woke at 4am and had a small breakfast before the ascent into the morning darkness. The sun broke over Mount Kibo which was breathtaking. Standing there, as the sun rose, we all took in the view and felt like the luckiest people alive. It is a moment that we all will remember forever.
The going was steep, icy and difficult. And the weather was as tricky as our footing; it went from 90 degrees to snow fall to white out, we even had thunder, in fact the only thing the mountain didn't do was rain on us. Lianne Fahey took a bad turn 150m from Stella Point, which is on the rim of Kilimanjaro’s crater, her headache was so bad, she was struggling to stand and was being sick. Our doctor was concerned as she was showing symptoms of cerebral edema, a potentially deadly swelling of the brain, and the decision was taken to take her down off the mountain.
On the last section up to Stella Point the ascent was extremely steep and the combination of snow, ice and screed really tested us both physically and mentally. Emma started hallucinating, my head was banging, and all I could think about was breathing through my nose to fill my lungs. Things looked shaky for Emma and Kasia, who were both suffering and the group began to fragment.
As we got to the rim of the crater, our porters had brought us food and drink to give us strength for the final leg. Richard Lee was sick; we were happy to see Kasia, Alex and Emma had made it but all three didn’t look great.
As the mist cleared and the blue sky appeared, I could see the sign marking the summit across the ash pit, approximately one hour away and the highest point. We shuffled single file towards it, the glaciers were so close, their huge might striped with turquoise blue. It was an incredible sight to see. It turned from bitter cold to another white out as we followed the rim to the highest point.
We approached the sign and Jacque whispered in my ear, ‘Go on Zo, you've made it.' As it stood tall and proud surrounded by coloured flags flapping in the wind, all we could do was slowly walk up to it and place a kiss on its wooden frame. We had made it.
On Thursday 17th February 5pm, myself and 11 IN Magazine readers conquered Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.