Original Travel expert Steph recently climbed Kilimanjaro. Her conclusion? It was harder than she had ever imagined it would be. Find out more about her unique and challenging holiday experience here...
Three golden rules
The first thing I was told during my pre-departure briefing was that there are three golden rules to a successful summit of Kilimanjaro:
1. Drink lots of water
2. Acclimatize; and most importantly,
3. Slowly, slowly. I would probably add being reasonably fit to that list, but as I was often reminded before I went, if Chris Moyles did it, it would be a bit embarrassing if I failed.
I chose to do the six day Rongai Route, which approaches the mountain from the north. The slowly, slowly (or Pole, Pole in Swahili) rule seemed a little unnecessary when we were still walking at quite a low altitude, but as the guides kept on reminding me, it's all part of golden rule number two - acclimatizing.
Having not been in a tent for a good seven years, I was a bit unsure about the whole camping thing, but my mind was immediately put to rest when I reached the first camp to find the amazing team of porters and cooks had already set up our tents, and tea and popcorn were ready and waiting in the mess tent. There was even a flushing chemical loo!
Each morning, I was woken up with a hot cup of 'beddy tea' delivered to my tent, after which there was a bowl of warm 'washy washy' water, which was part of an attempt to stay vaguely hygienic along the way. John, the cook, never failed to surprise me with what he could conjure up in his portable mountain kitchen, from full fry-ups every morning, to a tasty spaghetti bolognaise - all at almost 5,000 metres above sea level.
Harder than I imagined
I'll cut to the chase and describe the summit day, as that was the only bit I was interested in reading about before I climbed. Safe to say it was a lot harder than I ever could have imagined, but with the right guiding and advice, it was just about possible. I was woken up at 11pm after not a wink of sleep, told to eat lots of porridge to keep energy levels up, and then at midnight, we set off.
It was pitch black, freezing cold, and I was wearing every item of clothing I had with me. Within an hour, I couldn't feel my fingers or toes, and within two hours all three litres of water I had on my back were frozen solid. The first part of the summit is up a very steep scree side of the mountain, where it feels as though you take one step forward and two steps back. The only thing I could concentrate on were guide Florence's feet in front of me, because too much movement made me feel a bit nauseous. Breaks were capped at two minutes each to avoid freezing to death and it wasn't long before I finally decided I was ready to sleep. It took five and a half hours to reach the crater at Gilman's Point, and to be honest, I would gladly have packed it in there - you still get a certificate for making it that far, and I was sure I could pretend that was the top…
Finally, I made it
From Gilman's, it's another two hours to Uhuru, which you can see looming in the distance across the crater. The path is a lot less steep, but by the time you reach the crater there is 50% less oxygen than at sea level, making every step feel close to impossible. Seven and a half hours after setting off from Kibo Hut, I finally made it to Uhuru Peak - the Roof of Africa - and it made all the pain worth it. It was a beautiful clear day, and even though you don't hang around for long, it's long enough to take some photos with the famous sign (which for a while I doubted I would ever see) and appreciate the achievement that is reaching the top. The descent was of course much faster, and three hours later I was back at Kibo Hut drinking what tasted like the world's best cup of tea and enjoying more of John's delicious cooking.