This is more about the people that help you get to the top of Africas highest summit than an account of my personal journey.
Sunrise from Kilimanjaro looking towards the plains of Africa – with our chief guide Ransom waiting to greet the day in his own spectacular way.
As the sun came over the horizon and started to rush towards us our guide Ransom punched the air and shouted:
AFRICA, AFRICA, AFRICA!
This was an expression of what Africans have and something which can’t be taken away from them. This expression of pride in Africa gives me hope that one day the continent will be able to sort out its problems itself.
Why Kili? I decided to climb the ‘seven summits’ as a way to find some adventure in my life. Midlife crisis – what do you think? A certainty.
However, I found out when climbing Kili and in the Alps preparing for my next ‘summit’ Aconcagua, that I was very badly affected by altitude sickness.
The only answer was to take a drug to stop it or give up high altitude mountaineering. The sickness, being out of breath and the appalling hallucinations that came with it, was not something I wanted to repeat as I was supposed to be doing this for fun. So now I just wander across anything below 2,000 meters and sail when I can.
These are the heroes on this mountain. The team of porters who carry everything you need and do it on their heads!
When you think of the money we spend on carefully choosing the right tops, boots, trousers and jackets to get to the top and then compare it to what these guys wear, it makes me laugh. They wear football shorts, trainers, wellingtons or flip-flops. Yes, flip-flops. One poor bloke had to carry the chef’s table on his head to the summit camp at 4,300 meters. Think about it. All the way to the summit camp balancing a table on your head!
The strange thing was, here is my world-class, carefully selected, go anywhere backpack with my spare kit in it, wrapped in a canvas cover to protect it and being carried up the mountain on someone’s head. That’s Ransom giving a helping hand.
The key to these teams is the leader, the chief guide. He runs a team of up to 30 porters to get 15 mostly white people to the top. He normally has a chef and three other guides who run the teams of porters. These guides are certified and trained men who do this for a living and are Africa’s equivalent of the Sherpa. Up to just short of 6,000 meters and down again every two weeks for most of the year to make a living.
These five make it happen, the chef feeds you and the other four go all the way to the top. They have the jackets and boots the others don’t have and sleep in their own tent. The porters all sleep in one tent and sleep close, because they have to and for the warmth. All they have is some blankets and jumpers to wrap themselves up with at night.
My one ask of you is, that if you do go and do Kili, take your old mountain gear and give it out to the porter who is carrying your stuff. They have to do the trip to 4,300 meters wearing the clothes you would think it a bit risky to go out in on an autumn day at home.
‘Ha, bet you couldn’t do it with this yellow sack and two fold up chairs on your head!’ As you can see we are carrying ‘eff all’ compared to the porters!
Me, just before getting to the base camp and definitely resting on my stick.
Basecamp just before the night trudge to the summit. Not a lot of sleep and a lot of people with altitude sickness. Another issue is that the gas stove didn’t work too well at this height and we were drinking semi boiled water. This came to ‘haunt’ us all the way down and back to London. My advice is to add iodine to all your drinking water, including the tea at the last camp to the summit.
This was taken by Ransom after the light had come up and you can see Mount Kenya in the background. The view of the sun coming up over the horizon and then rushing to us across the plain below is one I will never forget and is really worth the vomiting and being knackered.
Ok, the ‘money’ shot. I made it – but only with a lot of help from the team.
Just before this photo, I was lying gasping like a fish on the rim of the summit. I could see the people trekking the last 200 meters to the top and I could just about summon the thought of ‘sod it, I’m here and this will do’.
However, Willian Wellbeloved one of the guides motivated me to get up and walk the last few meters to the top. How did he do this? By coming all Marine drill sergeant on me? Nope. He just said,
‘you’ve come so far’
He then reached down and put out his hand to help me to my feet. Then with linked arms, he walked me slowly to the top and this photo.
BTW I think I look a bit like Steve Segal in one of his crap movies, but it’s an illusion as I’m not wearing a fat suit but all my warm clothing. When we started for the summit it was snowing – yes that’s right, in Tanzania, in Africa and it’s snowing!
The beauty of Kilimanjaro.