CONQUERING MOUNT KILIMANJARO (Adventure of a lifetime)

iyosayi14 Travel 2 Comments

Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro which magnificently stands at 5,985meters above sea level has been a major bucket list item for years. My interest was established in 2014 when @Osams summited it, though much thought was not given to it until June 2018.

Rooftop Gang

While flying back to Nigeria from Zanzibar last year, I caught a glimpse of the mountain peak and my interest got reignited. It was like the Universe had it all planned out as a month later I saw a tweet from @Tvpadventure advertising a trip to climb Kilimanjaro slated for August 2019. It felt like an opportunity of a lifetime. Without giving a second thought, (I had not even chosen my leave dates for 2019) I sent a message that I was interested.

A Whatsapp group was opened, we called ourselves the Rooftop gang. Information was disseminated about the climb including workout routines to get us fit. Yours truly didn’t hit the gym once in preparation for the trip. I did my best to skip every morning, and also did lazy sit ups. I later realized for real, the hike was really not for the strong, fittest nor swift, it was more of a mental battle.

Two things I feared will pose major challenge for me were – cold and the infamous altitude sickness. Thankfully there was remedy for both; stack up on thermal wears for the cold and a drug – Diamox for the altitude sickness. Due to my medical history, I was skeptical about taking Diamox, though I had it in my backpack for emergency purposes. I made sure I adhered strictly to the advice @Osams gave me, and which was also reiterated at the camp before we began the hike –

  1. Drink a lot of water (atleast 3 litres daily)
  2. Go slowly at your own pace (this would enable you acclimatize to the reduced oxygen level as you go higher in altitude).

I was excited to meet the people I had been in a group with for over a year, exchanging ideas and fears about how terrified we were about the hike. We hit it off immediately we met, deep down I knew it was going to be a very interesting gang.

On arriving Moshi, we were welcomed by the tour company in charge of the hike – @eco_africaclimbing. We were given a pep talk about the climb after which our gear was inspected and those that needed more items were asked to rent (the tour company assisted here).

I needed to rent extra gloves and ski pants (both came in handy later on). Other items I rented were sleeping bag and trekking poles.

The first day of the trek started with us checking our pulse and oxygen level. This was done subsequently every morning and evenings to monitor our health (to ensure we were acclimatizing well).

We checked out of the hotel in Moshi and headed for @ecoafricaclimbing‘s office to weigh our luggage. Each of us had porters (Kili fighters) assigned to us. They helped carry our duffel bags (which contained our supplies and other personal effects) from camp to camp. We were to hike with just our day packs. Each porter is allowed to carry a maximum of 15kg, and when the sleeping bag is added a maximum load of 20kg. You have to watch what you pack, else you would need to hire an extra porter at more cost.

We had a one hour drive from Moshi to Machame gate of the mountain. We completed the park registration formalities, had a quick lunch and off we went. The journey began and it felt pretty normal as we laughed and chatted along. We had no idea what lay ahead of us in the coming days.

We walked a distance of about 9km from the gate to the first camp site. This was approximated to take 6 hours but the group did it in about 7 hours. Personally I did it in 9 hours, getting to camp after dark to meet the others already seated for dinner. The terrain was a bit flat, rainforest with cool weather. This gave a false idea of what was to come.

Initially I was walking fast, complaining that walking slow was making me feel tired but I remembered the advice to go slowly (go pole pole as the Tanzanians would say). I also realized taking deep breaths at intervals helped. I slowed down and joined the back benchers’ team. A team I never left till we descended the mountain on the final day.

As regards the meals we were served, I came prepared with an open mind because I had read in the brochure that meals will be prepared with focus on the nutritional content over taste. I was ready to eat crap. I always pictured brown watery soup anytime I thought of the meals we will be served.

But boy! I was blown away by the food provided. At a time I had to say they were on a mission to kill us with food. We even had chicken pizza up there on the mountain, fries and ketchup, fruits every day, Quaker oat and what not. Don’t ask me how all these came about because I too don’t know how they managed this.

I’m still looking forward to the camp experience I have in my head, the one I experienced up the mountain doesn’t count. The cold every night didn’t allow me enjoy it and the tents were so small, getting in and out, as I told my tent mate, seemed to be just as hard as the long hikes every day.

My first night in the tent was horrible.

I am a bit claustaphobic.

I woke up middle of the first night breathing heavily, taking off layers of my clothes quickly as I felt I was suffocating. I tore the zip of the tent open so I could get in more air.

The first thing that registered in my head was altitude sickness. After managing to calm myself down, I realized I didn’t have any headache neither was I dizzy, so it definitely wasn’t altitude sickness.

I was reacting to the tiny tent. It took me a while to calm myself down mentally, thankfully this occurred just that first night. I quickly got used to the annoying tiny tent which was such a chore getting in and out of till the very last day.

Our morning routine had the guides waking everyone by 6:30am from tent to tent, after which the chef provided each tent with a cup of either tea or coffee. A bowl of warm water was later brought for washing which we mostly used for teeth brushing. We didn’t have our bath for the 7 days we were on the climb. I doubt any of us had sweat on our bodies as the cold was on throughout the day. Sometimes it got weird, while hiking we felt both heat and cold at the same time.

Each morning the tents were dismantled and the porters carried everything to the next camp site. The porters were better referred to as Kili fighters, to be honest they were the heroes of the hike. We always left them behind every morning but yet they managed to pass us on the way with so much load on their backs and always set up the new campsite before we got there. As if that’s not enough, after setting up the tents they always made their way back the trail to help us with our day packs or some bring us food and water.  Angels in human form.

We continued our ascent the next day. By then no one needed to advise us to make our day pack as light as possible. I think its best to avoid taking a DSLR camera when hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. I ended up keeping mine aside and relied mostly on phone photography to get rid of the excess weight from the camera.

We hiked our way to Shira caves on the second day. The views of the mountain was breath-taking. I was able to capture the sunset at the camp which was pitched just beside the clouds.

Third day was the most challenging. The trail was steep and the weather unfriendly. The strong winds made the air very harsh to breathe in. I remember while walking through a rocky valley, I started reciting ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil’.

I had to remind myself of my past hiking experiences for motivation. From hiking to and fro Industrial Training classes in NIFOR, to hiking Owu waterfalls and Farin Ruwa waterfalls in Kwara and Nassarawa States respectively and then, hiking Mabira forest in Uganda.

The clips we watched online before the camp and stories we read about hiking Kilimanjaro didn’t do justice as per what we actually experienced on the hike.

This was real and we were living through hard times. We were like the Israelites making our way through the wilderness, only this time na we carry our hand pay big money to suffer. I was like is this really how I am spending my vacation?

We had initially planned to trek to Lava Tower first, then make a decent to the Barranco camp but along the way we decided against going to the Lava Tower so we could get to the camp before night fall. We slept at 3900meters above sea level in Barranco camp.

The road less traveled

We woke up the fourth day ready to climb the much talked about ‘Breakfast Wall’. It was described to us like a herculean task, but I think I found it much easier than I had dreaded it.

After successfully climbing the wall, we rested before making our way to Karanga valley. The journey to Karanga camp was a short journey compared to the long walks we had been doing before.

Fifth day had us walking a distance of just 4km, the shortest ever. We marched along pole pole as we enjoyed the music provided by our guide. We followed the track to Barafu Camp.

The day felt relatively easy, maybe we were mentally excited about the short walk for the day. The major challenge we faced was seeing the camp but realizing there was a very large steep we had to surmount. We were so close, yet so far. The weather was also in perfect condition.

Thankfully it never rained while we hiked the mountain, save on the last night when we descended. I can’t even imagine how horrible it would have been climbing steep rocks in the rain.

We had half a day to rest before the war summit started. I think personally, I underestimated the final hike to Uhuru peak. Others were visibly worried about it but I had little or no fear. I felt it would be like maybe the third day but a bit colder. Honestly, I had no idea what I was in for. It was rough and had me contemplating my life. We started out by 12:00am. Other hiking groups had already lined up and started their way up the summit before us.

In the dark I could see several rows of headlamps lighted up all the way. I stopped at a point and wondered if we were not all mad. I mean, which sane person would leave the comfort of his/her bed to hike a mountain at midnight in the damn cold? At that point I had to wonder if I had not made a mistake because all the money I spent on the trip was enough to book me fancy holidays in Seychelles, Mauritius and Maldives.

I was there and that was the last night, no need crying over spilled milk. I sojourned on.

That’s Kola, struggling to get to the top at dawn. That’s how most of us were, some even in worse shape

I had been very cautious of what I ate, selecting appetizers and desserts during meals to avoid stomach issue but apparently, the war I thought I won was a fluke. My village people were holding the last card which they decided to play on that very summit night.

I had a painful stomach upset that had me going behind rocks covered in snow to send a message three times right there in the open mountain. Thankfully it was night and visibility was very poor, quite embarrassing still. It took one of the guides running up to catch up with one of the hikers in my group to get me medication before my stomach settled. Honestly I never knew my village people were that strong and that their hand would meet me at 5,000m above sea level.

As we kept going, I became extremely sleepy. I tried stopping for naps but the kili fighter who was assigned to me, David, refused to let me sleep. He warned me if I did, I will wake up frozen just like my water bottle and its content. To be very honest, I would not have made it to the peak if not for David. He was my hero and kept encouraging me.

By daybreak, I had reached a flat surface but the journey was still far. There were no more steeps as such, I started seeing a lot of people descending who had successfully sumitted. They kept encouraging me that the peak was close by.

I noticed I was breathing through my mouth and was not able to sustain breathing through my nostrils. I started to panic. I asked David where the oxygen tank was, he said the head guide, Alex, was carrying it and he was right behind us. I told him we had to wait for him as I was bothered about my breathing. Half of me thought I was coming down with altitude sickness because the oxygen level was very low at that altitude, the other half thought it was my health issue.

The first day our heart rate was taken, mine was the highest and they thought I was scared. I calmly told them there was no cause for alarm as I had tachycardia.

Alex asked if I felt dizzy or had headache, I said no to both. He said I didn’t have altitude sickness and breathing through the mouth is common at that altitude, that I can keep going, or I could get to Stella point (5,756m absl), take a picture and start descending.

My silly head, was still worrying and I shamelessly tried to talk him into giving me oxygen. Anyway David and I continued the trek but I was still worried. What if it was the tachycardia? Did I come all this way to die? Especially as my parents thought I was in Lagos. I made a pact with myself that the minute I felt the slightest pain in my chest I would start descending.

We got to Stella point. I didn’t give the signage a second look. I walked on towards Uhuru Peak (5,895m absl). Something in me got struck. I was like, when they advertised the trip, no one ever mentioned Stella point, so why will Alex tell me to snap and descend here? I was acting drama in my head, meanwhile my body was broken and ready to drop.

I was so spent, I stopped almost every five minutes to catch my breath. I was as good as a dead man walking. My trekking poles were frozen and covered in snow. My luck was I changed to gloves that didn’t have the finger compartment demarcated, so I was able to push the hand warmer to my fingers. This prevented me from having frozen fingers.

I got so weak I didn’t know if I was going unconscious or just sleepy. I sat down on a rock and went blank for a minute. Till date I don’t know if I dozed off or if I was unconscious. Thanks to David for shaking me. All I know was, everywhere was dark and peaceful. After that I dreaded the thought of taking a nap.

Favs…

After walking for almost an hour I sighted people gathered in front, that’s when I knew I had made it! I was right there at the peak of the intimidating Mount Kilimanjaro. I made out some of my group members. Energy from nowhere came upon me. I walked to them, we hugged and celebrated.

This was where it got intensely personal for me.

I stood looking at the signage. The moment was heavy. It felt unreal, me standing there.  It was so powerful, everything I had been through to get to the summit hit me. Also, the fact that I made it despite surviving two heart conditions in the past (well still managing one) and also some of my friends said I’d not reach the summit.

The moment became emotional for me. At first it was just sighs, then later sobs, and before I knew it, the tears flowed freely.

I bet no one knew why I was all up in my feelings but that was an unimaginable moment for me. That was me conquering myself, my body and every limitation my body had thrown at me and I did this without taking the Diamox drug. My proudest moment and I couldn’t contain it.

Conqueror of Mt. Kilimanjaro!

Time to go down and the energy disappeared. My head began to spin, to cut the story short, David had to support me all the way down to the camp.

We thought our woes were over but little did we know to exit the mountain, it was going to be a two day journey. There was a 10 hours walk awaiting us on the final day. The walk to the gate the next day was the finally suffering. I was glad to do it though, I mean, I couldn’t wait to get off the mountain and get back to civilization. Mostly I couldn’t wait to hit the shower.

On getting to the gate, one of the guides asked if I will recommend the hike to anyone, I said yes, to my enemies. That was on a light note though.

If you love hiking or adventure, I think this is the ultimate adventure you can experience. It was tough yea, but it gave me a wonderful experience with nature, one I had been craving for months. Those long quiet walks gave me free hours with no internet interruptions to dig into my head and clear so much clutter. I had the time to reflect properly, take in the beautiful views on the way up the mountain and feel connected to nature.

If you ever choose to hike Kilimanjaro, I strongly recommend you go with @eco_africa climbing. Asides the awesome meals, you will meet guides and kili fighters who are genuinely interested in you succeeding in your quest. One thing that stood out, was as at summit night, our group was the only group that didn’t have to carry their bags themselves as the kili fighters and guides assisted us with them. I don’t know if I would have made it to the top with the extra weight, going without any bag was almost an impossible task on its own.

Now I have satisfied my one week with nature away from the world/internet, I crave a few days of quiet in a cabin in the woods. I can’t wait to bring this dream to life.

That’s the thing about travel, once you catch the bug, it never stops. You keep dreaming and itching for the next experience…

I will recommend reading Suzzane’s blog post about our hike. She gave a detailed breakdown of gear items one would need for the trip. You can also view my Kilimanjaro highlights on my instagram profile for more pictures of the climb.

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