Kilimanjaro, you were the hardest challenge of my life.
Six months ago I put out a blog post inviting sixteen of you to join me in conquering the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro. Within two days the Exodus trip was sold out and we spent six months together training, panicking and getting beyond excited for the trip to arrive.
Mount Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira, is a dormant volcano in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and sits at 5,895 metres above sea level, it’s breathtaking, terrifying, powerful and something I will never forget.
Over the course of the six day, point to point Rongai Route, we walked over 60 miles, took more than 140,000 steps, vomited cried, took group pee’s, poo’s and fell in love with those around us. I don’t know what I expected but it certainly exceeded my expectations. The porters from the African Walking Company were superhuman, they carried our tents, food, water and our luggage which weighed around 15kg each and did it all with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.
We woke every morning at around 6:30 am to a hot drink at the door of our tent and a warm bowl of water for washy-washy (trust me, we needed it) then it was time to get dressed, visit our portable toilet (as if we had a toilet!) and then meet in the mess tent for breakfast which was always beyond delicious. We were provided with at least 3 meals a day of which were usually 3 courses, tea, coffee, ginger tea and water and popcorn for an afternoon snack, not to mention biscuits, chocolate, bananas and more to pop into our day bags, we even once had spaghetti bolognese and pancakes!
There were 54 people taking care of us and without them we never would have made it, they wiped the snot from our noses, zipped up our coats when our hands had frozen, held our backpacks when we couldn’t carry them any further, rubbed our backs when we were sick, hugged us as we cried and sang us through the worst storm I’d witnessed.
The climb isn’t actually that hard and I truly mean that, if you could take away the weather and altitude sickness anyone could do it and that’s the thing, it’s impossible to tell how anyone will react and I naively didn’t think I would be the first to throw up but on just day two I started to doubt if I could make it to the top.
Altitude sickness is like nothing I have ever experienced, it’s like the worst hangover you’ve ever had mixed with nausea and a lack of appetite. You feel totally useless, brain-fogged, quiet and emotional, you could literally put chocolate in front of me and my brain would say no. From day two I knew it was going to be a struggle, I went to bed with my heartbeat in my head and woke up with it beating even louder, I had diarrhoea and felt sick until day 6 when we reached the end but the guides and those around you get you through it, you’re a team and you want to make it!
The hardest part of the climb is certainly summit night, you walk for around 6-7 hours during the day, have lunch and a little rest, then dinner and then sleep for around 2 hours, then at 11 pm they wake you up and your final climb begins. Unfortunately for us the worst snow and hail storm hit and turned our six and a half hour climb to nine and half hours and battered our faces and bodies. We were frozen, exhausted and convinced we wouldn’t reach the top. Sadly two of my ladies were sent to hospital the previous day due to sickness and on the night of the climb, another three fell seriously unwell. The point of the climb is that you reach as far as you personally can and I know it took great strength for them to turn around and I’m so proud of them for doing so.
Looking back I was certainly the most unprepared, I borrowed a lot of kit from friends and stupidly never thought to try it all on together which is something I certainly urge you to do. I asked everyone from the group what their key items were and have therefore created the ultimate packing list for you below:
Toiletries: Body wipes, alcohol gel, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant (one that doesn’t freeze) factor 50 sunscreen, SPF lip balm, hair brush, hair ties, quick drying towel and 2 toilet rolls.
Medication: Malaria and altitude sickness tablets, Imodium, Dioralyte, paracetamol, plasters, blister plasters, DEET insect spray and antiseptic wipes.
Shoes: Walking boots for hiking and something like trainers or a closed shoe for the evening.
Electrical: Camera, phone, music, portable chargers, head torch, AAA Batteries, extra SD Cards and headphones.
Clothes: Inner socks, thick walking socks, underwear, sports bras, thermal leggings and top, waterproof trousers and jacket, leggings, long sleeve tops, short sleeve tops, a pair of shorts, a thick fleece, a thick down or ski jacket, thin and thick gloves, a buff or balaclava, baseball cap or sun hat and sunglasses.
Bags: Kitbag, day bag, bumbag, dry bags and a bag to leave with airport items at the hotel.
Water: Water bladder bag with insulated pipe, wide-necked water bottle and purification tablets.
Other: Sleeping bag, sleeping bag mat, walking poles (can rent all three items from Exodus) earplugs and a puzzle book.
Although our experience was not how we thought it would be, I wouldn’t change it for the world. The memories will stay with me forever and it’s taught me to be thankful for Oxygen, to respect the world around me and to never grumble about anything. We are so lucky to have the lives we live and I am so grateful to have met everyone on this trip. I have 15 new friends and 54 people from Africa who can have my spare room anytime. Have you thought about climbing Kilimanjaro or perhaps already climbed it? I’d love to hear your experience, also, where do you want my next extreme retreat to be? To find out more about my Trip with Exodus click here and to watch the full youtube video click here.