My 10 Days

Small business, Big difference.

Mount Kilimanjaro climb

There are many ways to have a mid-life crisis and climbing Kilimanjaro is probably one of them. Part of the reason for taking on this challenge was purely selfish: What a great opportunity to break out of the 9 to 5 existence and do something completely different. However, it also provided an opportunity to raise some money for an organisation that has touched us in different ways.

Most of the companies that run Kilimanjaro climbs classify it as an extreme challenge. That is to say it is about as hard as it gets without needing any specialist training or skills, having said that you don't have to be super-fit. If you are in reasonable health and have enough stamina to walk up to 18 kms (11 miles) a day for about 6 days then you should be fine. There are many companies running Kilimanjaro climbs, we went with a company called Discover Adventure who were very well organised and who basically guided us through everything we needed to know as complete novices.

There are various routes up Kilimanjaro. One (known locally as the coca-cola route) has huts to sleep in along the way. All the other routes require you (or your porters) to take tents along. We went up the Machame route (or Whiskey route) which is a little harder than coca-cola route in terms of climbing but has the benefit of more ups and downs to help you acclimatise. We were part of a group of around 26 which was quite a big group compared to the average of around 15. We were accompanied by around 70 porters who carried tents, cooking facilities, and spare kit most of the way for us at an amazing rate and somehow arranged to have 3 hot meals a day prepared however remote our location. The company and companionship were tremendous. Whether people came alone or with friends everyone seemed to get on well and I suspect some life-long friendships have been forged on the mountain. The scenery was stunning with brilliant star-lit nights under canvas and tropical rain forest with monkeys swinging from the trees near the bottom to immense and beautiful glaciers in a moonscape at the top (at nearly 20,000 feet high).

The trekking each day was tiring but manageable and the pace was kept deliberately slow to help us acclimatise. There were some steep bits that were more of a scramble using hands as well as feet up some rock walls which was a bit of a challenge for those with vertigo but everyone was safely guided through. We had made some effort in the preceding months to get to the gym at least twice a week and to do some long walks as departure day approached. We also made the major sacrifice of cutting out alcohol for almost a week before we went as we had been advised it could increase susceptibility to altitude sickness. (We made up for it afterwards)! Altitude sickness was the big unpredictable factor. It is no respecter of fitness or age. In fact we noticed that it was often the younger, fitter members of the group who were hit hardest. Most people experienced some headaches or nausea at some point although for most it was transient. There were 2 expedition doctors who had various tricks to keep people going. Around 3 people were not well enough to attempt the summit but did very well getting to the final camp before the summit attempt which itself is higher than Mont Blanc.

The hardest part was the final push up to the summit. This begins at around midnight so that you can get to the top by around 7am and whilst the scree is still frozen to make climbing easier. (It also gives you time to get down again as with temperatures at minus 20 degrees there is not much of an incentive to hang around)! This was the bit that needed the will power, it’s dark (apart from head torches), it’s cold and it’s steep. Extra guides are brought up and then all participants making the attempt that night set off in a long snaking line up the mountain. You are not encouraged to stop for long to avoid freezing. After the first couple of hours all water in our water bottles and camel-backs froze up apart from emergency supplies carried under your coat near the heat of your body. Anybody stopping was taken out of line and either revived and sent on or helped down. The guides were very experienced at spotting more serious cases of altitude sickness and took no chances.

Those of us who made it up were rewarded by watching the sun come up from Stella Point. Once on top of the crater you are not actually at the highest point and need to spend about another 40 minutes walking around the rim of the crater to Uhuru Point. It’s not far but at this stage with only 40% air pressure every step and every breath is a bit of an effort. It is an amazing sight at almost 6 kilometers (3.5 miles) up. All around are cathedral like glaciers with water running through them. In the active volcano crater there are lakes and looking out from the summit you can see the clouds way below you. Then, you just have time for a quick photo before starting the descent to the camp. If you like scree surfing this can be done in a couple of hours or less.

The rest of the trek over 2 days was a beautiful descent back down from moonscape to trees and eventually a well earned beer back in Moshi and a rather nice certificate from the National Park for those of us lucky enough to get to the top. For those who didn't it was still a tremendous experience. So if you are wondering what to do for your mid-life crisis or your gap year or even your retirement, if you are reasonably fit then I would recommend Kilimanjaro for a great experience -climbing the highest free standing mountain in the world.