The next day my good friend David Pennington got talking to a local man; James who invited Dave and a friend (me) back to his house for dinner. It was an amazing experience. We ate lamb tibs and drank coca cola it was magnificent. A real piece of Ethiopian hospitality. James's mother the beloved cook is 33 years old, James is 22 years old but despite such a challenging task she seems to have done very well. She has 2 younger children and is already a grandmother !Ciao Ethiopia- until next time - it was an absolute education and rewarding to see the good work my charity APA is doing on the ground.
Armed with a group of friends I went to prove the saying that Kili is an easy climb. It’s not. There is no better way to describe this adventure then ; taxing. I am not a walker. I decided to scale Kili in 4 days, with a 2 day descent. Armed with chocolate, whiskey and Konyagi Gin I set upon my quest with a group of 7 friends. There was 3 days of 4-8 hours trekking then we went to a high altitude of 4000 meters and then down again to acclimatize.
On the final ascent to Uhuru Peak (The Roof of Africa) we were woken at 11pm. The objective was to witness the most spectacular sunrise on the continent. Perhaps the most spectacular in the world. Kilimanjaro is the highest free standing mountain in the world. Hence the panoramic view is the best in the world : there is one other peak in your view and the peak of Kili is very long and broad with plenty of room to roam around. We had 4 hours sleep, woke up at 11pm. Had some coffee. Started climbing and get to the top for sunrise at 6.15am.
We made it, but only just. It was freezing (-35 degrees with windchill), snowing and with gale winds almost blowing us down. I had packed a cheap bottle of Cava – the idea was to pretend it was champagne at the top and make some friends. I guess I didn't forsee what the final day held. Unfortunately it weighed about 2 liters. This combined with my rucksack of 3 liters of water and all my rain and cold gear (trousers and jackets) was enough to give me the bends.
Then there was the altitude. A friend of mine Rod Pennington lost it with the altitude. He wasn’t able to concentrate and when he was 2 meters away from the summit photo point this was what 38 kilometers of walking uphill was about, the arduous last 4 days of climbing without a bicycle, the peak of the mountain and our African trip ; he said “I’m going down to the tent, see you there”. I grabbed him and forced him to get in a photo. He almost thanked me later.
By now any thought of cava had left me. When I took someone else’s photo at the top I had to take off my gloves to do so and believe me my fingers are still sore as I type this. A good 7/8 minutes was spent at the top admiring the sunrise. Well above the clouds with a glacier to my left it was probably one of the most amazing moments of my life. You want to stay there for a while enjoy a drink, more photos. But you can’t. At least I couldn’t. The altitude was crushing me.
Once the adrenaline wears off and you realize how cold it is and that you have 2 days to get to ground level all you want is to get there. To jump off the mountain. But it's not that easy. But for those few minutes everything is quite, any sound will travel for miles, dizzy people scuffling to the top- taking their picture, admiring the view and stumbling down on the 3 hour descent. Kili for me is a rite of passage for the inexperienced to achieve something beyond themselves and witness an unimaginable sunrise above the clouds.
When we reached the office our guide told us that 40% of the people who tried to summit that day didn’t make it. Everyone in our group made it. This made our nausea seem less amateur and more authentic. To quote Rod one last time “We climbed it because it’s there”.
Kilimanjaro Fast Facts
- The tallest mountain in Africa at 19,340ft
- Is composed of 3 extinct volcanoes
- The world’s highest free-standing mountain
If I do any clothes washing it’s impossible to dry things out. There are lot’s of different types of monkeys on the roads but as I am not very good at describing them (they move quick) let’s just say they’re hairy ones. There is also a lot of snakes on the roads, both dead and alive. This includes the Black Mamba which one bite can kill you in less then 15 minutes.