At around 9am on 28th October 2013, with a team of excited but exhausted adventurers, we successfully reached Uhuru Peak, the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Africa’s highest point, and the world’s highest free-standing mountain.
My journey begin only 8 months earlier, at a resort in Phuket, Thailand. The opportunity to participate in the Telco Together Foundation’s Kilimanjaro Charity Challenge was presented to me, and with some hesitation I accepted the challenge.
Sometimes in life, one needs a catalyst for change. In my role as a telecommunications executive, software developer, writer and geek, the vast majority of my day is spent at a desk or standing between rows of racks in one of my Data Centres.
This challenge required a dramatic change in lifestyle and motivation. I had 8 short months to go from almost zero fitness to a level that would allow me to push myself to hike to a height of 5,895m, over nearly a week of high altitude hiking and walking.
8 months later, I was landing in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, having travelled half way around the world, with 18 other adventurers, many of whom had not met their fellow climbers before.
Sitting in a bus for most of the morning, we slowly snaked our way from Arusha towards our starting point – the Rongai Gate on the northern side of Kilimanjaro, close to the border with Kenya.
A four hour hike later, we arrived at Simba Camp (2750m), the first night in our tents, and the first real opportunity to spend time with our fellow adventurers and learn more about those with whom we would later experience the most difficult activity in our lives so far.
Over the next 4 days, we hiked each morning, traditionally starting at 7am, until we reached our next camp. Each night we slept at higher and higher altitudes, typically hiking slightly further and higher than we were camping, in order to acclimatize to the ever increasing altitude and the proportionally diminishing levels of oxygen in the air around us.
Each day became harder and harder, the terrain becoming more rocky, stark and steep, our energy levels only maintained by the variety of food prepared by our porters and our growing anticipation of the excitement ahead.
Each night became colder and colder, the last two nights dropping below zero, providing a great test of our character and sleeping bags!
The day prior to our summit began with a 4hr trek from the Third Caves Camp at the foot of majestic Mawenzi peak, the second highest peak on Kilimanjaro. Mawenzi is a dangerous, perilous rocky peak, where adventurers have been prohibited from climbing due to frequent rock falls.
Trekking through desolate, almost lunar landscapes, we made our way towards the base camp below Kibo, the highest peak on Kilimanjaro, where our adventure was to truly begin. School Camp is perched on an outcrop on the edge of Kibo, the mountain high above us, and ‘the saddle’ towards Mawenzi below – a stunning yet daunting view from every direction.
Arriving exhausted at the camp, we ate an early dinner before retiring to our tents to rest for the summit ascent later that night. Whilst most of us managed a few hours sleep before the summit, the majority of our rest time was spent contemplating the climb ahead – the perceived risks and effort that was to follow.
No sooner had we retired to our tents to rest when the clouds above decided to entertain us with an impromptu hail storm, covering the camp in a few inches of hail and snow. Our guides had frequently told us that Kili was unpredictable, and they were proven correct in style.
Jambo, Jambo bwana,
At around midnight, in freezing temperatures, we began our trek to the summit, ‘only’ a kilometer or so above us. Shuffling like frozen zombies, we pushed slowly upwards, zig-zagging upon the final slopes of Kilimanjaro towards our first destination, Gilman’s Point, the first edge of the volcanic crater.
Whilst our group was arguably fit enough to accomplish this task, the 9-odd hour shuffle took its toll both physically, mentally and emotionally. We heard many times from travelers and guides that the last night is more of a mental challenge, and we learnt very quickly that this was the case.
Walking with just the lights of our headlamps to see the feet in front of us, it took all of our personal strength to continue upwards towards the top. A slow shuffling row of little lights, we struggled to breath and stay awake, knowing that if we paused for more than a few moments to rest, we may not have the energy to continue further.
Just below Gilman’s Point, the skies above us began to lighten, as the sun slowly rose behind us, silhouetting a distant Mawenzi peak.
The warmth from the sun was no doubt imperceptible, but the sight of our first destination above returned a wave of energy and enthusiasm to the group – we were still an hour from the Gilman’s point but it felt only moments away.
Upon reaching the rim of the volcanic crater, we paused to rest and enjoy the morning sun. As we scanned the rocky rises only a few hundred meters above us, we could just see our final destination, Uhuru Peak, a few kilometers walk further along the ridge.
Huge, stunning, shining glaciers were all around us, perched high on the ridges and in the valleys of the crater, almost surreal in their striking vertical edges, almost like giant blocks of ice sliced cleanly from an iceberg and placed precariously on the mountain.
The last two kilometers to Uhuru Peak (5895m) were arguably the most exciting yet physically difficult time in our lives – most certainly in mine. The exhilaration, the accomplishment and the astonishing views of Kilimanjaro and it’s majestic glaciers are without doubt the most amazing feelings and sights I have lived through.
A special thanks to everyone who helped make this journey a success – the Telco Together Foundation, our group of adventurers, Team Kilimanjaro, my supporters, and of course my friends and family.
Looking for our GPS Data? Click here for a data set from the mountain.
More photos available on the Telco Together Blog.
P.S. Thanks to Srijuth and Murray for some fantastic photos!