Jan 10 28
Climbing to the “roof of Africa” is something I have always wanted to achieve so I was really excited to book up a trip to climb Kilimanjaro last autumn with my two teenage sons. We have been on diving trips and skiing before and these sorts of family adventure holidays can prove to be a real challenge for us and we were planning to celebrate afterwards in the sun. So when we first arrived in Tanzania and spent an hour transferring through the verdant countryside to the bustling town of Arusha, we were not disappointed by the country’s stunning beauty.
“Comfort” featured high on my list when I started researching this particular trip. Although I think of myself as being fairly hardy, the prospect of a day walking up hill for eight hours followed by a night in a cold tent did not really thrill me too much. Therefore I learnt quickly that the Marangu Route was the only way forward for me as hikers can sleep in lodges or huts rather than tents; to be honest this made the trip seem a lot more appealing! Unlike their mother the boys were unfazed by the general idea of bedding down on the floor; this concept did not surprise me, but believe me by the end of the trek they too were delighted to enjoy some kind of relative comfort!
This trek was marked as “strenuous” and I made sure that we were all at peak fitness before setting off as the breathable oxygen at the top of the mountain is less than half that at sea level; it is vital therefore to pick a trek which suits your level of fitness and experience. Trekking holidays like this tick all the right boxes, we would get to see some of the most fabulous scenery in the world, hike up the highest mountain in Africa and also have some chilled beach days in Zanzibar after the descent. When we reached the Kilimanjaro National Park, we quickly registered and set off on our first 4 hour walk to Mandara Hut at 2700m. We also met up with our trek guide and the invaluable team of sherpas; this trek was extremely well organised and fully supported. We had been given valuable advice before we set off from London suggesting that we wear walking boots on the plane in case luggage goes missing, and pack plenty of layers, as the temperatures can change dramatically during the trek. That first day the scenery was captivating, clear blue skies, lush rainforests, beautiful orchids and tropical flowers. Whilst watching “Avatar” one of my sons recently remarked that the digitally enhanced forest resembled that magical forest we trekked through at the base of Kilimanjaro!
The Marangu route enabled us to acclimatise properly over the first three days. Our Guide Ram told us on the first day that it was important to take it steadily and rest as much as we could at night. Altitude sickness is not directly related to fitness and could happen to any of us as it has the potential to affect anybody trekking above 2500 m; it is the speed at which you reach higher altitude not the actual altitude that you have to watch. My eldest son did experience bad headaches on day two but after the rest day at Horombo Hut he seemed relaxed and had acclimatised properly. From here we did go for the 5 hour round trip to see the eastern summit of Kili which was truly amazing as we glimpsed wonderful snow capped peaks.
The climb to Kibo Hut will remain in my memory for a very long time as the scenery changed so dramatically. Only a couple days previously we were taking photos of vibrant everlasting flowers and rolling alpine meadows, now to be trekking through a bleak lunar landscape. This terrain was tough and hard going and it took us about 7 hours to reach our accommodation at 4703m. We were naturally fairly shattered and I had two large blisters on my right foot which one of the sherpas helped to dress. The stone walled hut was very basic but at this stage I was glad to be in a dormitory like this rather than a tent; it was freezing cold outside. We ate a hot meal and went straight to bed as we had to get up at midnight to make the final ascent to the summit before the peaks clouded over; we needed our energy. The boys seemed fine, they had youth on their side and were fit from rugby and athletics; I was looking forward to a hot shower!
So we sort of stumbled towards the summit on the final morning, it seemed slightly surreal in the dark and the climb was steep and the ground was icy. Everybody in our group was relieved that we only had to carry our day packs with the essentials as the climb was hard. After 5 very long hours we reached the crater rim at Johanne’s Notch, I was exhausted but still had a little more to give thankfully; from here we made it to Gillman’s Point at 5680m just as the sun came up. I have to say it was incredible, even magical as the sun slowly lit up the craggy mountain tops in different shades of pink and orange. I took a break here and then we all continued on together to the Uhuru Peak at 5895m. We had to say that the sense of relief was overwhelming. The trip was extremely rewarding and worth every minute of it. The fact that we also raised £4000 between us for a children’s charity made it all the more worthwhile. I literally bounded back down the mountain and did not feel at all guilty in Zanzibar when the boys went diving I sat and read in my hammock. This was one of the best holidays ever and all the more enjoyable to spend it with my family.