DAY 1 – Saturday February 18th, 2017
After completing the necessary registration formalities at Londorossi National Park gate, we drove through varied farmland with open views over the plains to reach the Lemosho trailhead.
The last section of the road is of poor quality and very bumpy, where we had our first setback, a puncture.
It was soon fixed and we were on our way to the trailhead.
To start with it was a relatively easy start, walking up small paths through lush forests…except that it started to rain initially in a light spray.
However, after some time the rain started to become torrential, luckily though as one of the leading batch of trekkers, we made it to Lemosho Big Tree Camp (2,650 m) just 15-20 minutes after its onset, but for others, they must have walked the entire journey in torrential rain.
We were absolutely soaking wet and cold on arrival and the tents all had to be erected in the rain, making the insides damp and miserable.
Luckily for us we had our clothes and sleeping bags in sealed waterproof bags, there is nowhere on a mountain to dry wet clothes…!
Martin’s Blood Oxygen level: Gate 84 Dinner 86
Sevinc’s Blood Oxygen level: Gate 99 Dinner 93
The previous night we had discussed our route with our lead guide Abraham and having looked at our itinerary for the next 2 days we asked whether we could make a change in that we should progress to Shira II camp instead of Shira I, this would significantly reduce our program for day 3, they checked with their office in Arusha and agreed.
We soon leave the forest behind and enter the moorland zone of giant heather.
The trail begins to climb steadily with wide views to reach the rim of the Shira Plateau. There is a tangible sense of wilderness, and complete exposure to an icy wind which blew down from the mountain.
We had lunch at Shira I and given the strong cold winds, couldn’t wait to get going again, we immediately packed up and started our trek to Shira II, it was a gruelling day but we made good progress, arriving late afternoon (3,900 m)
Martin’s Blood Oxygen level: Breakfast 81 Dinner 72
Sevinc’s Blood Oxygen level: Breakfast 90 Dinner 75
As usual we awake at 5:45 to receive a bowl of hot water, that equates to a shower when you are on the mountain, better to make the most of it..!
It is once again a brisk start with far-reaching panoramic views, walking in to the climatic zone of the upland desert and on the lava ridges beneath the glaciers of the Western Breach. We tough it, up a very significant never ending incline to reach the pinnacle of the Lava Tower (4640 m), which is our high point for the day, we sit on some rocks and enjoy a pre-packed lunch which not only goes down well but means there is less weight to carry in our back packs for the afternoon session.
We are joined by an army of African Striped Mice who are charging around our feet in search of a free meal.
We finish our lunch and immediately start to make a steep descent to our camp for the night, located in the base of the Great Barranco Valley (3960 m), sheltered by towering cliffs but with extensive views of the plains below.
Late night stomach pains results in some sorties to the toilet tent, the well below zero temperatures ensuring not a second is wasted in getting back to the sleeping bag.
A moment of brilliance and innovation saw the reinvention of the Kilimanjaro chamber pot, which proved to be an invaluable asset for the remainder of the trip.
Martin’s Blood Oxygen level: Breakfast 87 Dinner 76
Sevinc’s Blood Oxygen level: Breakfast 95 Dinner 91
I thought I had studied the itinerary in detail so was very surprised when we walked from camp at 07:30 into the valley to find the trail for the Barranco Wall, it was almost vertical.
This meant scrambling with hands and feet up a sheer face in excess of 250 metres high, but everybody mucked in and all the trekkers helped each other where and when necessary to reach the top of the wall before the trail eased into an undulating trail.
The Barranco Wall is also known as the kissing wall because you literally need to get that close to it and cling on, luckily for us it was dry making gripping that much easier.
The trail continues on the south-eastern flank of Kibo, passing underneath the Heim and Kersten glaciers, we head towards the Karanga valley with superb vistas of the Southern Icefields.
The terrain changes to scree, with pockets of lush vegetation in sheltered hollows, and there is only a short but extremely steep ascent to our camp at Karanga (4,000 m), the last water point on the way to the summit.
We take an acclimatisation walk 1.2km up the steep rocks at the rear of the camp just to get additional exposure and then return back to camp.
Our guide told us on arrival at camp that two weeks previously one of his trekkers had fallen from the wall and broken his leg…. just as well he told us afterwards!
Martin’s Blood Oxygen level: Breakfast 84 Dinner 85
Sevinc’s Blood Oxygen level: Breakfast 91 Dinner 87
After a good night’s rest and breakfast, we set off on our walk to Barafu camp at 4640m.
The climb will take us across desolate scree slopes with absolutely no vegetation around us at all.
It’s a tough steep walk made more difficult by the altitude.
On arriving at camp, we exchange wedding anniversary cards, try to eat and spend the afternoon resting as we prepare for a long night and day ahead.
Resting is difficult, we have both lost our appetite, have migraine-like headaches and continually feel the need to go to the toilet.
There are no mountain streams at this camp, water is carried up from Karanga and is no longer clear, it is a distinct brown colour, hardly an incentive to drink the 2-3 litres required per day.
We are continually told it is important to keep hydrated and warm but the symptoms of AMS are kicking in and we are distinctly lacking energy and appetite now.
We have an early dinner but can’t eat much and then try to get some sleep as we will be getting up at between 11pm and 12pm to start the climb to the summit.
Martin’s Blood Oxygen level: Breakfast 84 Dinner 78
Sevinc’s Blood Oxygen level: Breakfast 89 Dinner 74
We will start our ascent by torchlight at about 1 a.m. so that we can be up on the Crater rim by sunrise.
We see dozens of lights through the cold dark night both above and below us, it is like a snake wriggling its way up the mountain. Our challenge is simple we must climb approx. 1.25kms in altitude over a 5.5km journey, an average incline of about 25% though in some parts it feels like 40%, whilst at the top between Stellar Point and Uhuru Peak it is relatively flat with just a gentle incline.
In essence The steep climb over loose volcanic scree has some well-graded zig-zags but an extremely slow but steady pace (1km per hour) takes us to Stella Point (5,735 m), in just under six hours.
We are treated to a cup of hot sweet tea from a flask and enjoy 5 minutes of rest.
It is bitterly cold, estimates are at -20, despite having 6 layers, the wind cuts right through us, we can’t feel our hands or toes, despite having hand and foot warmers inside our gloves and shoes, not to be put off, we head for the highest point at Uhuru Peak, arriving in the dark, we are at the highest point in Africa and incredibly there are just 2 climbers in front of us (5,896 m), passing close to the spectacular glaciers and ice cliffs that still occupy most of the summit area we are easing ourselves back to Stellar Point when the sun comes up and changes the dynamics completely. We are re-energised by the rays of the sun and even the camera which froze at Uhuru Peak is keen to participate again, luckily the phone was at hand to record the moment..!
It was a very emotional moment, no words could portray how we felt, we were dead on our feet but had reached our goal, we were standing on the highest point in Africa, looking down to the glaciers and the fluffy clouds sitting below us as the sun gathered its strength and created artistic splendour.
It is estimated these glaciers on top will have melted within the next hundred years due to global warming.
The descent back to Barafu Camp is surprisingly fast, we reach our tent at 08:30 and are given the “treat” of a 1 hour nap before a light breakfast and pack up our camp again and descend further to reach High (Millennium) Camp (3,800 m).
This was to be our last night in a tent on the mountain though we are far too exhausted to celebrate and it’s an early night in anticipation of the 5:45am wake up call.
Martin’s Blood Oxygen level: Pre Summit 74 Dinner 88
Sevinc’s Blood Oxygen level: Pre Summit 78 Dinner 89
We are up at 05:30 as we have the tipping and appreciation ceremony with the team.
We call out their names one by one, all have contributed to our epic trek, carrying our main bags, the tents, the food and water and even a small portable toilet, nothing is left on the mountain, all waste must be disposed of in the facilities provided at each camp and all rubbish removed from the mountain.
In return for showing our appreciation our team sings a couple of traditional songs and it is handshakes and embraces all round, a great team effort from all the support team and in particular for Abraham and Tosha the two guides who accompanied us to the summit.
A sustained descent on a well-constructed gravel path through lovely tropical forest alive with birdsong and sunshine, boasting lush undergrowth with considerable botanical interest. Our route winds down to the National Park gate at Mweka (1,650 m).
We make good progress and the sun is out to warm us over the last few kilometres, we gift our trekking poles to two elderly village gentlemen who we pass and who seem to have difficulty in supporting themselves whilst walking, they are both over the moon.
Here we sign out from the national park before walking on for a further 15 minutes through coffee and banana farms to Mweka village where our vehicle awaits.
We feel totally unclean, our bags are full of smelly clothes, sweated and bloodied from the efforts over the past week. There will undoubtedly be a fight for rights to the first hot shower in a week.
We receive our certificates in an emotional farewell with the team and climb on board our minivan for the 2 hours trip to our hotel.
Ironically Sevinc is so determined to wash and scrub our boots she used all the hot water, so our hot shower turned out to be a cold shower.
Total Distance: 70.8kms
Our climb started on 18/02/17 and we arrived at Uhuru Peak at 06:00 on 23/02/17 and finally signed off Kilimanjaro at Mweka Gate at 11am on 24/02/17, a truly unforgettable week in our lives.
Martin’s maximum heart rate on this epic journey came late morning on 20th Feb, it reached 152 bpm.
The most spoken words during this one week were Pole Pole, Swahili for slowly, slowly, the only way to overcome AMS and reach the summit. We literally climbed this mountain with pigeon steps, our paceman Tosha ensuring we never went too fast or ever became breathless.
A great challenge, which thanks to our good health and good luck we were able to overcome.
As we descended from the summit we saw a number of people in great difficulty, one lady in particular was semi-conscious and seemingly in a very bad way.
Our lead guide Abraham, immediately went to her aid. Taking control of the situation he scolded her aids and took her by the arm, he literally ran down the mountain with her, making at least 600-800 metres in a matter of minutes.
The only proven remedy for the effects of AMS is to descend rapidly. We will never know if anything more serious would have happened this lady, but Abraham certainly gave her every chance of recovery by taking control, a true leader and a great companion.
Our host partners and experts on this climb was the Africa Walking Company…truly professional and without the direction, guidance and assistance on this climb, who knows….but for the grace of God go I, as the saying goes…..!
We learned later that the lady in question made a full recovery which was great news, but no doubt many failed to reach the summit and we count ourselves as extremely fortunate that we were able to achieve a long-standing ambition…!
Sincere thanks to all our sponsors and donors who made it all worthwhile by supporting our respective charities…!
This was a most amazing challenge to overcome and a true life experience from start to finish..!
The last word goes to Abraham, Tosha and the team from African Walking Company who helped us achieve our goal and were great soul mates throughout the epic journey…and may I honestly say, ‘epic journey’ is an understatement…!
Every year, approximately 1,000 people are evacuated from the mountain, and approximately 10 deaths are reported. The actual number of deaths is believed to be two to three times higher. The main cause of death is altitude sickness.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
The percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere at sea level is about 21%. As altitude increases, the percentage remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 3,600m there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath so the body must adjust to having less oxygen. Altitude sickness, known as AMS, is caused by the failure of the body to adapt quickly enough to the reduced oxygen at increased altitudes. Altitude sickness can occur in some people as low as 2,400m, but serious symptoms do not usually occur until over 3,600m
Mountain medicine recognizes three altitude categories:
• High altitude: 1,500 to 3,500 m
• Very high altitude: 3,500 to 5,500 m
• Extreme altitude: 5,500 m and above
In the first category, high altitude, AMS and decreased performance is common. In the second category, very high altitude, AMS and decreased performance are expected. And in extreme altitude, humans can function only for short periods of time, with acclimatisation. Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit stands at 5,895m- in extreme altitude.
At over 3,000 m, more than 75% of climbers will experience at least some form of mild AMS.
There are four factors related to AMS:
• High Altitude
• Fast Rate of Ascent
• High Degree of Exertion
The main cause of altitude sickness is going too high (altitude) too quickly (rate of ascent). Given enough time, your body will adapt to the decrease in oxygen at a specific altitude. This process is known as acclimatization and generally takes one to three days at any given altitude. Several changes take place in the body which enable it to cope with decreased oxygen:
• The depth of respiration increases
• The body produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen
• Pressure in pulmonary capillaries is increased, “forcing” blood into parts of the lung which are not normally used when breathing at sea level
• The body produces more of a particular enzyme that causes the release of oxygen from haemoglobin to the body tissues
Again, AMS is very common at high altitude. It is difficult to determine who may be affected by altitude sickness since there are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with susceptibility. Many people will experience mild AMS during the acclimatisation process. The symptoms usually start 12 to 24 hours after arrival at altitude and will normally disappear within 48 hours.
The symptoms of Mild AMS include:
• Nausea & Dizziness
• Loss of appetite
• Shortness of breath
• Disturbed sleep
• General feeling of malaise