Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - Day By Day
On 7th October 2016, the eve of my 30th birthday, I set out on the most incredible adventure. Here's my story to the top of the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
FLYING SOLO At Heathrow ready to go on my first solo adventure.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS This is where the journey started, at the lodge at the bottom of the mountain, just before we headed off to the Machame gate: clean clothes and freshly washed hair! What this picture doesn't show you is that the night before I had spent one last worried phone call to my boyfriend seeking reassurance that if I didn't make it to the top I wasn't a complete failure. You also can't see me reading back over the messages from friends and family who had spent weeks helping me raise money for the Sheffield Children's Hospital and who believed in me no matter what.
AT THE PARK GATE At the Machame gate ready for the trek to begin.
A JUNGLE ON A MOUNTAIN One of the reasons I chose to climb Mount Kilimanjaro via the Machame route was to get the chance to walk through the rainforest. I had also wondered a lot before I left how steep the climb would be. This path was a great way to start.
A BRIGHT NEW DAY We woke up to bright blue skies. The porters packed up camp and headed off in front of us carrying everything on their heads. I got myself right to the front of the group as we headed off on a pretty steep climb out of camp.
WHAT I LEARNT ON THE MOUNTAIN After about an hour and a half at the front of the group I moved to the back. When you climb Kilimanjaro you have to go slowly to acclimatise and I mean really slowly. This was also a particularly steep and rocky section and so after a while at the front of the group walking and stopping, walking and stopping and waiting for people if I'm completely honest I was feeling a bit frustrated. I actually found the slow speed in those early days the hardest challenge for me. It tested my patience to the limits. I'm naturally someone who charges off and so at times at the start I found the slow speed difficult but boy was it worth it. Not only did this trip teach me to be patient but I also learnt that by going slowly you get time to enjoy the scenery. You get time to chat and take in so much more. One of my favourite aspects about climbing Kilimanjaro is now the fact that it isn't a race. I hadn't appreciated that this would come into it at all when I set off but this type of challenge is never going to be a time trial, it's not fastest first and although I never would have imagined liking something where you get rid of the competition the fact you didn't have to be the first one to the top of the mountain to achieve the goal ended up being one of my favourite parts.
ABOVE THE CLOUDS That moment when you realise you've climbed above the clouds ☀️☁️☀️ This photo might not quite capture the heat of the day or how steep the climb was. The air felt dry and on each step I kept trying to push away the doubts that I might not make it to the top. It was Day Two and I was still doing okay. I was finding the climb fine and enjoying getting the chance to chat to my new friends.
WHAT A SUNSET It's impossible to capture how breath taking the sky was in Africa. From sunsets to sunrises and the bright starry skies in between, the sky was out of this world.
IT'S A CAMPING TRIP TOO After an incredible sunset, this was the view the following morning. For those who are worrying about the camping aspect of the climb there's no need. The tents were great, I'd go as far as saying warm and cosy 🏕 Although the kit list recommended a season 4 sleeping bag I opted for one higher and went for a season 5 as I know I get cold easily. I hired mine from Outdoor Hire, rather than buying one but you wouldn't have known it was hired, it was so snuggly and warm and just like one you would buy.
ACCLIMATISATION DAY Here I am at Lava Tower chilling in my Oakley sunglasses making 4,600metres look easy, it wasn't. On day 3 we climbed high and slept low to acclimatise. On the way up to Lava Tower I was feeling a bit sick and was worried altitude sickness was kicking in and that this was it, that this could be the end of my trip. My biggest worry for the whole trip was that I would get sick and be unable to make it to the top because of illness. Everyone kept saying I would surely make it because I was so fit but fitness has not baring on altitude sickness it can take anyone. I wasn't to know it at the time but luckily this was the only time I felt ill and in hindsight it might just have been hunger 🙈
THERE IN THE BACKGROUND 🗻 One thing that created an odd sensation was that the mountain was always there in the background. Now this might sound silly, and also pretty blooming obvious but I'd been having so much fun chatting to people and taking in the scenery and enjoying the trek that I'd sort of forgotten that we had to get to the top. I'd forgotten all of my worries about whether or not I'd make it through summit night. However, on day 3 there is was again, right in the front of my mind. I headed off to my tent for my last sleep before climbing through the night to the summit. I would never have predicted that the night would unfold the way it did. My tent mate Kelly was ill. Really ill. She was up all through the night running to the toilet and I went with her, to make sure she didn't fall off the side of the mountain. It's weird looking back now at what should have been an awful memory was actually one of my favourites. Standing outside the tent in the starlight at 3am being able to see the most incredible constellations is something I'll never forget.
HITTING THE WALL ⛰ On the morning of day four after a couple of hours sleep we were woken up at 5am to get ready to tackle the Barranco Wall. This was my favourite part of the trek and by far the most technical. I loved scrambling up the cliff face, balancing along the narrow ledges and taking a few leaps of faith. Again for me one it was also a bit of a test of patience as some of the group became scared as the drops became steeper and steeper. By now I had learnt that when the pace slowed I should take this as an opportunity to chill out a bit, take in the views and capture the moment on camera.
I CAN SEE THE TOP 🗻 After an early morning of scrambling up the cliff face we spent the next few hours crossing some really impressive scenery. We went across the mountain, down the valley and up the other side. When we got to the top we could finally see the summit something we hadn't been able to see until this point, the end goal was in sight. So of course I chose this point, as we arrived to Karanga Camp, to be completely reckless and start doing yoga moves on top of a boulder with a ridiculous drop down the other side 🙈 Plus if I had known what I was having for lunch I would not have been playing on the edge of the rocks. I don't know how the porters cooked them at almost 4000m but we had chips for lunch!
WALKING ON MARS🌝💫When I got home and people asked me what it was like climbing Kilimanjaro I said, like walking on Mars. I've never been to Mars but if you've seen the film Martian with Matt Damon you'll know what I mean. After the green valleys of the morning the tundra turned to dust and I felt like I was walking through the desert. It was a tough afternoon trek and in hindsight I should have spent less time playing on boulders at lunchtime and more time sorting my kit. I thought I had enough water to get me through the final five hours to camp but I didn't and trying to ration my water in the heat was a mistake which I learnt a massive lesson from. We hiked to a higher camp than planned and arrived at Kosovo Camp at 5pm. After our early wake up call that morning on 5am and a long day trekking I hurriedly set my alarm for 11pm, gobbled some soup, got my kit ready, got ready into my clothes for summit night and passed out in a very windy tent in an attempt to grab a few hours sleep ahead of the summit challenge.
WHILST YOU WERE SLEEPING ☀️ I started my summit attempt shortly after midnight in some of the strongest winds the porters have ever encountered. It was the kind of wind which takes your breath away. The kind which you have to push yourself through to go forward. Each step required strength and balance and at times the wind flow system on my backpack moved me physically sideways. Despite my group planning lots of things to talk about to distract us on the walk to the summit, the American election being high up on the agenda, there was absolutely no way we could hold a conversation. So half an hour in I popped my headphones in for the first time in the trip and my pre-prepared playlist kicked in. Boy did I need that. I'd selected each song for a reason and because it reminded me of someone and it was those memories, knowing I had so many people at home rooting for me, that I kept going. I was getting colder and colder and just kept focussed on the boots of the person in front of me. People began to turn back, altitude sickness had struck them and I prayed it wouldn't happen to me.
I'd always wondered what I would think about in those hours when I was struggling the most. Would I think about the people who had put me down or made me sad or angry. Or would I think about the people who I loved. I am pleased to report it was the latter. (I didn't give the meanies a second thought). I knew what my friends and family would say to me if they were there. I drew on the people who motivate and inspire me every day and kept going. At one point I looked back and could see a snake of light from the head-torches of those following up behind. A shinning silver snake in the darkness. It's a picture in my mind I will never forget. At around 3am we were told we were about half way and had 4 hours to go. I knew then I could do it. It was hard, it was really hard. I dug deep and when I saw the sun begin to rise I was overwhelmed with relief. I knew then that the trek was only going to get warmer and that I was going to make it to the top ☀️ #OnlyLiveOnce #MountKilimanjaro
WHAT NO-ONE TELLS YOU 🤐 What I hadn't properly appreciated before the climb was that when you get to the top you are not at the summit. Essentially on summit night you walk up the terrain equivalent of a black ski run for 7 hours in the dark until you reach the sign picked below, Stella Point. The last hour to get to this point is the toughest of the whole trip, even though the sun has risen it's still icy cold and I can totally see why so many people stop at Stella Point and don't feel like they can go on for another hour. It doesn't actually get any harder from this point, it's a gentle incline round to the crater edge but because you rest at Stella it is really hard to get going again, and I guess a lot of people stop because they tell you that it's one more hour to the summit and it would be so tough to do another hour of such a steep hike 🗻
LIFE REAL PAIN 😖 So this is me at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. The real picture. Like hundreds of other people I've got the photo of me smiling beside the sign. In fact it's the one I shared on social media as soon as I got home. But this is the selfie I took whilst I was waiting to take that. This is the photo that shows the pain I was in after trekking for 8 hours, mostly in darkness with a wind chill factor of aroundminus 20. This is me when I hadn't really realised that I had made it to the summit when I was numb with pain, hunger and fatigue. When I showed my mum this photo she cried. Sometimes when I think about this moment I want to cry. Never before in my life have I been tested so hard mentally. Never once did I get to a stage in the climb where I didn't know if I could go on but I was really worried about reaching that point. I was scared of getting altitude sickness and being unable to make it all the way. I had worried for weeks before I started about not making it to the top and secretly hoping that if I was lucky enough to make it to the summit of the highest freestanding mountain that I'd feel like I was on top of the world. I didn't feel on top of the world, I felt like I could pass out. The exhilaration sunk in slowly and I got my snap by the infamous sign. Then, much quicker than I'd moved in the last 8 hours I got myself down that mountain, back to normal air pressure, back to the warmth and to find somewhere to sleep. #MountKilimanjaro #OnlyLiveOnce
WHAT WAS THE POINT 😳 "I don't get it, why did we even do that? There was no point at, all we did was walk, in pitch black for 7 hours nearly get blown off the side of the mountain, to walk all the way back down again. I didn't enjoy even one moment of that. Not one bit" me, 13 October 2016 😳🙈 I said this to my tent mate Kelly when I got back down the mountain to our tent! In context I said it after an 8 hour trek to the summit followed by 3 more hours of walking downhill in what was by that time blistering heat. I wanted to get down to camp as fast as my legs would carry me so there was pretty much no stopping on the way down. The sun was hot and it didn't help that I was still wearing every item of clothing I owned. My Camelbak was still frozen and I couldn't function enough to find my sun-cream. I could feel my face burning and my lips blistering. I got to my tent pulled two of my coats off, said the above sentence, cried and then passed out with my legs outside the tent. I woke up an hour later really dehydrated and starving. I also realised as I woke up that I'd just climbed to the summit of the highest freestanding mountain in the world, I'd only blooming DONE IT!!!!
WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN 🗻 I climbed Kili in October 2016 with Action Challenge using the Machame route. It took 6 days, 4 up and 2 down. If I thought the way up had been fun the way down was an absolute blast. Spirits were high and there was such a fun atmosphere within the group as a big cloud of doubt had been lifted. I literally had the best time with these guys and was so lucky to have been put in the same group 💛 The route headed straight down the mountain through the rainforest. As we were walking I said that what would make this the perfect trip would be if I got to see a monkey .... I saw two different types of monkeys 🐒🐵 #MountKilimanjaro #OnlyLiveOnce
🌟 🎉CHALLENGE COMPLETE 🎉🌟 An experience of a lifetime. I saw the most breath taking, awesome (in the true sense of the world) scenery. I met some amazing people who are completely on my wave length and who I can't wait to go on more adventures with. And .... I had the most incredible time. After the weirdest year of my life so far where I decided that I was sick of being the girl that planned adventures but always prioritised work, who scrolled Instagram and dreamed of not sitting at a desk and being out anywhere doing something fun. I finally decided I was tried of being the person who always said "ooooh I'd love to do that" I finally just did it. I booked my trip, did some training treks with my border collie Gatsby and I went. I climbed the highest free-standing mountain in the world. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. It was as simple as that really. I had a pretty decent level of fitness before I left and as well as some one day hikes I prepared with tough half hour circuit sessions a few times a week. I did not have any specialist climbing or mountaineering training or qualifications. This really is a trip for everyone else to do too and I really hope that this review in pictures inspires at least one other person to go out and chase their dreams too #DreamBig #OnlyLiveOnce #MountKilimanjaro