Kilimanjaro: the climb of a lifetime!January 8, 2016
A procession of lights, burning like candles in the black of the night, is winding its way up the side of the final peak. It is reassuring to see the lights, a sign that the long road to the summit is well travelled. I look up to the roof of Africa – shaded in luminous tones of grey and silver under the glow of a full moon – and feel the weight of the challenge to come.
It is summit night, and my group is just about to set-off. Our guide woke us up at 1 am and eased us into a waking state with warm cups of hot chocolate, salted popcorn and sweet porridge. We do a final check to make sure we have all the necessary equipment and provisions, adjust our many layers to protect us against the cool of the night – and we’re off !
Its been a long journey to this point – and not just geographically. I started fundraising almost a year before the trip, organising a black-tie ball for my community, which proved a great success ! I sold tickets in advance for £10 a pop, which instantly raised a lot of money. On the night, after an interactive presentation of the challenge and charitable cause, a band played while I sold cakes and raffle tickets. I received some very generous donations and, equally as important, my guests had a great time ! It took hard work and sustained effort to raise the money, but the satisfaction of reaching the final goal was worth it, especially since the funds were going to such a good cause – in this case an education project in Tanzania that aimed to improve school infrastructure.
The Kilimanjaro adventure also marks my first voyage out of Europe ! This seemed a little daunting at first, but the great thing about doing a challenge like this, is that you are surrounded by people in exactly the same situation. I became very close to my fellow climbers. We supported each other first during the fundraising stage, then on the plane to Kenya and finally all the way up to the top. Together, we all failed to contain our excitement as we caught the first glimpse of majestic Kilimajaro from the bus. We shared our successes, our fears, our first Tanzanian meal – by summit night, I had made friends for life. And those friends count when you’re on the side of the highest mountain in Africa !
Since starting the climb six days ago, we have hiked through a stunning range of unique ecosystems. First, we came to dense rainforest, high canopy ceilings accentuating the echoing cries of the wildlife – monkeys, insects, birds of every size and colour – that call the biome home. The tall, elegant trees shrink to squat shrubs on the second day, huddled together in dense masses across a foggy landscape. But the scenery opens up again once we reach the moorland, with its wide horizons of peaty soil covered with heather, bracken and moss. Here, the air is clear and crisp and views across an ocean of clouds are breath-taking. Towards the end of the hike, we cross over into another dimension – a bizarre desert moonscape, inhospitable, with sludge grey dunes of dust that stretch as far as the eye can see. At night, temperatures drop to below freezing point, and I’m infinitely grateful I brought that extra sleeping bag liner ! And while the temperatures don’t rise, the dismal landscape slowly lifts, transforming into a snowy wonderland and signalling that we have reached the beginning of the end; the base of the highest peak and the final push to the summit…
We are half way up now. I try to maintain a meditative state of mind, focusing solely on the steady flow of my breath and the swinging coattails of the person in front. We round a corner just in time to see the rising sun. Somebody plays ‘Circle of Life’, from the Lion King, on their phone while we admire the golden hues of light illuminating the vast planes of the African Savannah. I expect a dramatic cliff to take us to the top of Kilimanjaro, but in reality, the climb is the opposite – a gradual incline that requires infinite endurance, a strong body and even stronger mind to conquer. I briefly falter and want to turn back, but the wonderful porters urge me on, one taking my bag, the other offering me some sweetened tea. Their compassion makes all the difference, because before long I see a flash of green amidst white glacier – the signpost marking the summit. The relief of reaching the top is almost overwhelming, and I try to savour the beauty of the scene, viewed from the roof of Africa.