My Kilimanjaro Adventure

In yesterday's Wednesday Wishlist post, I briefly mentioned how my adventure in Africa eight years ago still spurs me on to do achieve things I sometimes feel are impossible. Whenever I feel I can't do something, thinking about how hard I had to push myself to get to the top, and remembering what it felt like to really put 100% of myself into something somehow makes whatever it was I couldn't do seem so much more achievable:

"Will it be as hard as Kilimanjaro?" 


"Go do it then, you've climbed a mountain - you've got this!" 

So, in the spirit of Throwback Thursday, I thought I should re-post some of my African adventure. Be warned, I was nineteeen, my haircut was questionable and I get increasingly puffier as the pictures go on - I could blame the altitude - a lot of it was down to pasta!



When I started uni back in 2007, I of course went along to the standard freshers fair. Amongst the multitude of free spatulas and leaflets about foam parties and vodka ice sculptures, there was a stand from Childreach International. I eagerly rushed over (having wanted to go to Africa and help out in a school since I was young) and within a few minutes I had signed up to "Climb Kili 4 Kids" in aid of the charity. This sounded perfect, just raise £2000 for the charity by getting sponsored to climb Kilimanjaro, and off you go! After the climb there would be the opportunity to visit some of the schools the charity supported, and go on a safari trip, another of my bucket list dreams. 

Needless to say I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I phoned my Mum to ask for the deposit money to secure my place, and started fundraising. With massive amounts of help from my family, by June 2008, I'd raised the money! I bought the extensive list of equipment, went on a single walk to break in my boots (people train for this climb for months - I was pretty blasé about the whole situation) and on the 30th June, I set off to Heathrow!

Once I arrived, I wandered through the terminal looking for the neon yellow t-shirts of the other 25 people who would be climbing with me. Considering I'd only ever been on a plane once before, had always been useless at going anywhere on my own, and am still the most stupidly homesick person, this in itself was an achievement! 

After an eight hour flight and lots of extremely fast bonding, we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya.

We then had an eight hour drive to Tanzania in a tiny bus called a "dalla dalla" with all our luggage strapped to the roof. It was like a different world, the air was hot and dusty and I was shocked to see women selling clothes on the side of the road from New Look or Asda - those donation bags people push through the door really do make a difference! 

We arrived, incredibly tired at the Keys Hotel in Moshi, a series of two person huts with a swimming pool and bar - the height of luxury in the town! I remember being so hungry but too nervous to eat, and instead filling up with Pineapple Fanta. We had a briefing session from our guides who checked we all had everything we needed, including altitude sickness tablets (which I didn't have as I had't been able to find a doctor anywhere who would prescribe them to me!) and went to bed, feeling far too tired to start hiking in less than 12 hours! 

Next morning, we set off, all in high spirits and feeling very optimistic about day one on the mountain. The views on the route were amazing and we were surprised to find that our lunch was good (though we were warned that the porters were carrying all of our food for the next week, so to expect it to go downhill from here!)

We were taking the Machame Route, so the first camp we were headed to was Machame Hut - about 5 hours away. 

After walking for about 4 hours, we got our first sight of the summit, still 4 days away!

When we finally reached the first camp, the sun had started to set and it was suddenly freezing! The porters, who were seriously amazing, had already set up all our tents and started cooking tea. We had fish and boiled potatoes, and loads of popcorn and biscuits to keep our energy up. 

Unfortunately the most popular foodstuffs on the mountain were potatoes and watermelon, both of which aren't exactly my favourites, but the tea was good (until the milk ran out) and we had plenty of hot chocolate!

Something I hadn't expected, or even really though about was toilets. I had assumed it would be a 'find the nearest bush' sort of arrangement, which it often was, but on camp there were toilets of sorts, called long drops. These were an experience to say the least, and they made me appreciate porcelain so so much! Essentially, they were a shed (sans door!!) set over a six foot pit, with a hole cut in the floor. If I think about it long enough, I can still smell them. As there was no door, you had to whistle or knock on the wall so people didn't walk in on you, while trying to balance, not wee on your feet, hold the toilet roll off the floor and pretend you couldn't see the huge spiders. Us girls were very envious of the boys - much easier for them I'm sure!

Of course all of this meant we bonded very quickly. There was far too much talk of bodily functions for normal, civilised situations, but when you've guarded the door for someone weeing through a hole, you quickly move away from anything civilised! 

Any way, enough of toilets. On the second day we had another day long trek to the Shira Hut camp. After we left, the porters packed up camp, loaded it all onto their backs, along with the food for the week and anything we couldn't carry ourselves (all our spare clothes for instance) and set off after us. Every single day, they passed us and reached the camp at least an hour before we did. Some off them didn't even have proper boots, and we saw one man wearing flip flops! These men get paid the bare minimum, and if they're not quick to pick up a bag when you arrive at the foot of the mountain, they don't work at all. Needless to say we gave them all large tips at the end of the trek, which is what they rely on to feed their families. 

We also had several guides trekking with us. These men know the mountain like we know our own houses, and must have climbed the mountain hundreds of times as a porter before they can become a guide, then they must pass exams and tests before they are given their license. Not only are you not allowed to climb without a guide, but it would be impossible to do it without them!

About half way through the second day, we realised we were above the clouds. I took this photo at the Shira Hut, just before the sun set. The stars here are amazing because there is absolutely no light pollution so you can see them all perfectly. I saw my first ever shooting star that night. It was so beautiful, but the guides soon came out to tell us we really must stop looking at the sky, and go to bed.

The third day was the hardest by far. We gained altitude really quickly on our way to the Barranco Camp, then walked down again to try and acclimatise. A lot of people felt really awful, and I didn't take many pictures at all. 

The guides cheered us up by singing, and taught us the Kilimanjaro, Hakuna Matata song, which went something along the lines of "Hello, here were are on Kilimanjaro and we have no worries", which wasn't entirely true! 

At one point I fell over, and then cried for the rest of the day, which sounds hilarious now, but it really wasn't! It snowed a lot too which made walking difficult, but I perked up a bit when we reached Barranco and found we had spaghetti bolognese for tea. We realised that this time tomorrow, we'd be getting ready for the push to the summit!

This was the view from our third camp, the Breech Wall, so named because it is almost vertical. And the next morning we were going up it...apparently!

The wall was as horrible as it looked. The guides just kept repeating "pole pole" which is swahili for "slowly slowly" and telling us not to look back. I honestly thought I was going to die, it was so steep, and there were huge gaps in the path you just had to reach across, grab the guides hands and jump. It was the scariest thing I've ever done, but it's one of the moments I'll remember forever.

This is one of my favourite photo's of me on the mountain. I'd just reached the top of the wall alive, only to find my water bottle has burst and soaked the entire contents of my bag, including the ski trousers I would need for the summit push later that I'd decided to carry with me incase my other bag got lost.

I just stood there, looking at the floor, completely exhausted with a bag full of wet clothes and soggy Jammy Dodgers wondering what the bloody hell I was doing! 

I also realised at this point that my face, feet and hands had swelled up beyond recognition! I discovered later that my whole body must have swelled up as I now have plenty of stretch marks to remember the trip by! Joy!

As we were going to be setting off for the summit that night rather than getting a full nights sleep, we stopped for a hot lunch which was definitely preferable to the increasingly questionable chicken and stale bread we had been having. We were completely delighted when the porters brought us CHIPS AND COLESLAW! I've not idea how they made chips on a camping stove, but it was quite a momentous occasion!

We then set off again for the last camp before the summit, Barafu. We arrived here at about 6pm, and had a huge meal, before going to bed for a couple of hours, ready for the big summit push! 

I took this photo just before I got into the tent. It's one of the ones I just can't believe I took and it really was this beautiful. 

I slept in all my clothes, and put my wet ski trousers on my chest (a valiant attempt to stop them from freezing), and at about 10pm, after two hours or so of sleep, we got up, filled up on tea and biscuits, and set off for the summit, headlamps ablaze.

The walk that night was the hardest thing I've ever done, and probably will ever do. My ipod froze after a couple of hours, as did my water, and my feet. I didn't realise how aware you are of your back until it goes numb - I must have said 100 times "Why can't I feel my back!?" 

After a few hours, I started telling Dao, the guide who was helping me, that I didn't want to go back down, and he kept saying "No, you're doing well, we keep going, up, up, up!" In hindsight I think what I was really hoping for was him to say that I had to turn round and go down again! 

I kept thinking of all the people who had sponsored me, and how I couldn't bare to ring my Mum when I got down and tell her I hadn't done it, so I kept going - "pole pole". I kept asking how much further, and Dao would tell me I just had to reach the lights up ahead, so that's what I aimed for. My altitude addled brain didn't register at the time that the lights I was aiming for were the headlamps of people ahead of me, and of course they were moving too!! A common trick apparently, but it did keep me going. 

Every time I sat down, I fell asleep, and Dao kept massaging my back to stop me moaning about not being able to feel it! He made me swap gloves with him too because he said mine were cheap rubbish, too thin and would give me frostbite! We started seeing people in our group being carried back down past us, altitude sickness meaning they couldn't carry on, and while it was heartbreaking for them, it made me want to get there even more.

9 hours after we set off, it started to get light, and we were told once we reached Stella Point, a small ridge in the ever steepening climb, we would be able to see the summit. There was a short scramble up some loose stones to reach Stella Point, and about half way up I slipped over, sliding all the way back to the bottom. I remember laying on my front like a new born lamb trying to ice skate and calling "I fell over" while making no attempt to lift myself off the frozen ground! Dao basically dragged me back up the slope, and at the top we could just make out the sign at the summit. We only had another kilometre to go! 

That last 1000 metres took me just over an hour, but it was made so much easier by people coming back the other way, triumphant and hugging me saying "Keep going, you did it, you're so nearly there!" 

When I finally reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, 19,000 feet above sea level, I collapsed into some pretty uncontrollable sobbing! 

It was so amazing, utterly overwhelming and I knew even then in my completely addled state that this moment would stick in  my memory forever. We were so exhausted, and the four of us who reached the top together just stood and cried, looking out at how far we'd come.        

It was a shame it wasn't a bit clearer, as apparently when it is you can see the curvature of the Earth from up there. We stayed on the summit four about 10 minutes - trying to take it all in and capture the feeling before we started the descent. As you move down the mountain, it's amazing how the air changes. You don't notice so much on the way up, but the higher you go the thinner the air becomes and the harder it is to get a full breath. On the way down you can feel the air properly filling your lungs again, and it feels almost heavy with oxygen. 

It only took two days of walking to get down, throughout which most of us were muttering "please just get me off this bloody mountain now!" I hadn't got any blisters on the journey up, but the change in angle meant my feet started rubbing in my boots and my knees and ankles were painful from spending eight hours just walking down! 

Right at the bottom, we walked through a small village. Children ran out to us asking for water and chocolate, and we gave them everything we had. A boy of about eight carrying his baby sister was pleading for water for her, and I gave him my bottle, telling him to run away from the older boys who were trying to steal it from him for themselves. They asked for pens and pencils so they could go to school, and it was just so awful, I wanted to bring them all with me! Maybe I had been naive but it was just like it is on TV - I don't think I was quite prepared for to to be so real! 

I remember so vividly finally getting a call through to D and bawling my eyes out when I heard his voice, only to have him tell me I had to try and speak because the call was probably costing us both about £10 a minute! I later learned that my Mum had decided I must have died because she had't heard from me! 

My week on the mountain was the hardest week of my life, but I loved it so much too.  When I first got back, I said I would never ever do it again, and told every one to stop me if I ever tried to, but eight years later, I think I've forgotten about the horrible bits enough that I'd like to give it another go one day...we'll see I guess!

Even if I never have an adventure like it again though, i'll always be able to draw upon that experience to get me through anything that seems like it might be too hard.

"Climb that goddamn mountain!"


  1. Oh my goodness, you are amazing. Seriously!

  2. Oh man, I'm so glad I checked your blog out! I was just going to have a peek to see if you'd posted any of your drawings yet, only to find out you'd hiked up Mt. Kilimanjaro! You are seriously rockin!


  3. Thank you so much ladies, you're so lovely! I want to go again now, it was so much fun looking back through all the photos. Dishes, I'm going to post a few drawings now, don't expect masterpieces hehe! xxx

  4. Makes Sandpiper sound like a piece of p*ss! My admiration knows no bounds! X

    1. Sandpiper and that mountain have lots of similarities - bodily fluids and aching legs to name but a few! xxx