You may have noticed that I’m rather a big fan of Kenya. After my dad died, in my wisdom, and with my judgment being drastically clouded by grief, I felt that in order to do something to give back to the hospice who had looked after him, and my family, I would go off to Africa and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I paid all the costs myself, so that every penny I would raise would go to the hospice. I really wanted to do a sponsored TV watch or eating session, but I knew that something as mad and ridiculous as climbing a mountain which involves exercise, the outdoors and of course camping would raise far more money.
I set about getting as physically fit as I could (not that fitness is any guarantees up the mountain as if the altitude gets you then there’s nothing you can do about it) and raising as much money as I could.
I raised a lot of money through sponsorship, but I also organised a very successful quiz night, which I was allowed to use the venue for for free as it was a fundraiser.
When the time finally came to set off to Tanzania, via Kenya of course, I was excited but also nervous. People die on that mountain and although I had done everything I could in my power to get ready, I knew deep down there were no guarantees. We flew to Nairobi, where we changed to our connecting flight to Kilimanjaro (and yes the airport is called that). That flight gave us amazing views of the peak sticking up through the clouds.
I was so worried about failing, and it was so important to me to get to the summit as I was doing it in memory of my dad, that I had deliberately chosen one of the slowest routes up the mountain, meaning I would have as much time as possible to get used to the altitude and increase my chances of success. It meant I was up the mountain for 8 days, 6 going up and two coming down. You start off in the jungle, with colobus monkeys swinging through the trees above, and when we summited it was -17 degrees and my camel bak straw froze!
Each day we would get up and leave camp and walk, and walk, and walk. We were encouraged to go “pole pole” which means slowly, but I was by far the slowest of the group. Everyday I was at the back on my own, and this made it an even more miserable experience. I was lonely, homesick and camping – so not a great combination for someone like me.
After leaving camp each day, the guides would pack up our camp, and then walk past use during the day, and by the time we got to the next camp in the evening it was already set up ready for us. They really are amazing, but then they are far more used to the exercise and altitude.
As I was so much slower than everyone else, the guides debated not letting me summit as I would hold the group up and the cold and the altitude was dangerous. In the end they sent me off early to summit with two Kenyan guides. I ended up summiting quicker than the rest of the group, and although they had planned for us to summit at the same time, I was already on my way down by the time I saw them.
Summiting the mountain is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I try to remember that when I am struggling with other things in my life. I am very proud of the achievement and the money I raised (almost £6000 in total). I did not enjoy the experience when I was there – it was hard and overwhelming, but now I look back with fond memories and positive thoughts.