All about the climb…
Leanne Dore took on the challenge of climbing Africa’s highest mountain in aid of The ZB Foundation, a children’s charity set up by our very own Sassy Mama Dani. From altitude sickness to extreme cold, exhaustion to fear, she takes us through her amazing journey.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro had always been something that I aspired to do. I don’t remember where the idea or urge came from, but just knew that I wanted to do it. I wanted to push myself mentally and physically like I had never done before… and Mount Kilimanjaro certainly made me do that!
I also decided that doing this challenge for myself, I could also raise money for charity. I had heard about The ZB Foundation and believed in what they were doing to saving babies in Pakistan, So I though my personal journey to Mount Kili could also be away of being sponsored and raise money for a good cause.
While flying over Tanzania en-route to Kilimanjaro airport I was glaring at the huge Mountains from the plane window. This was when it really started to sink in what I was planning to accomplish! As our plane descended to 3000m, realisation dawned on me that I was going to be trekking up to nearly double that height to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I don’t think you can even imagine being 6000m up until you’re up in the air looking down at the land and you see just how high it really is.
There were 13 climbers in total in our group, mixed female and male and of all ages. I was the youngest (and most unfit) female of the group. We were accommodated by 53 porters, chefs and guides who were all working tirelessly to help us summit the mountain and make our lives just a bit easier.
Day 1: Trek
Unfortunately, I had been bitten by mosquitos the night before. We hadn’t even started walking yet, and my ankle was causing pain because of a huge bite! I was not prepared for this kind of swelling but thankfully some of the other trekkers gave me some ointment and antihistamines to help with the swelling and pain.
We walked for 4 hours through the forest of Londrossi which was absolutely beautiful. Monkeys bounced around in the trees above us and luckily there weren’t too many bugs around. The sounds of nature were very therapeutic and the whole group was in good spirits.
We were woken at 6:30am with coffee and a wash bucket. We had to repack our kit and have breakfast before setting on for a long steep day of walking.
This day saw us walk was approximately 7 hours, but I walked for around 9 hours. I lost all my energy and really, really struggled. Only around 1 hour into the second day and I was already wondering how I was supposed to manage the summit if I was struggling so early on in the trip. I was only around 2800m and already feeling horrendous. After resting and taking a few deep breaths it passed around 15 minutes later.
We were served soup at lunch time but I was feeling too nauseous to eat.
Later in the day the terrain really started to change and we had to climb over huge rocks and boulders. Although this was difficult I enjoyed the scrambling – after 8 hours of just walking, it helps mix up the motion.
At the camp site we finally saw the Mountain for the first time – although scary, it was beautiful! The night was very, very cold and I slept in everything I owned and it still wasn’t sufficient. I was starting to worry about the colder temperatures that were coming up later in the trip…
Today was supposed to be a little easier with less hours walking but more altitude, but as it turned out: it was not an easy day at all.
I really felt the altitude. I was very dizzy and had the giggles (which was a surprisingly nice feeling!). Within seconds, a guide advised me to sit and rest as this wasn’t a good sign. Although it was supposed to be a shorter day, I walked for around 8 hours. During the day we needed to do two acclimatisation walks where we walked up to high altitude and then back down to a lower altitude. This helps your body get used to the thinning air and decreased oxygen. I was really suffering with headaches and shortness of breath throughout the day.
At this point I stopped integrating much with the group and just wanted to be alone.
That evening we had a briefing on what to expect the following day and was informed it would be approximately 10 hours of walking. I was feeling quite defeated by the exhaustion and altitude and the prospect of a looming 10-hour walk was not helping me retain my composure or confidence.
I wasn’t able to stomach a proper breakfast, but managed to force down porridge, as I know how important food is for energy. The first two hours I managed okay, albeit much slower than the rest of the group. There second half of the day was mainly downhill which I found very difficult because of shortness of breath, an altitude headache and overall exhaustion and fatigue (especially because of the minimal food I had been eating).
I reached the camp around 2 hours after the group and slept as soon as I made it to camp. Three other climbers also suffered quite badly with the altitude on this day.
Miraculously, this was the first day that I woke up feeling well!
Our first challenge of the day was the ‘Baranco Wall’ – a mammoth wall that we had to scale up and over. This was the first time on the Mountain I thought I could actually die. The risk of slipping and falling stayed with me as I crept slowly over little ridges and loose rock, or climbed over boulders and between rock faces to reach the top.
I managed to get through most of the day with no sickness but a headache slowly crept up on me in the last hour. After 6 hours of walking we reached our camp for the night.
Today was our shortest day so far, as it was our last trek before we attempted the summit. I was still not able to eat much breakfast and conceded to surviving with only porridge for sustenance.
A woman who I’d become close to had to turn back due to severe altitude sickness. The realisation of the danger we put ourselves in dawned on me as she left the group to get to a local hospital. She and I had bonded during the earlier days, as we were always far behind, suffering with altitude sickness.
We arrived at base camp 12:15pm and had a clear view of the peak now and what we would be up against that night. I was petrified at this point and constantly close to tears. The briefing session which outlined all our dangers, and highlighted the symptoms we could expect during summit was extremely terrifying and made me question whether I should or could attempt the behemoth task ahead of me.
Day 7: Summit Night
I was woken at 11:30pm to prepare and have breakfast before starting to walk at 12.30pm. It was FREEZING, and pitch black – with lots of loose rock, so I was constantly falling over.
At three hours in I sat to rest and couldn’t push myself to continue. I was vomiting and unable to eat or drink. I sat for some time crying, considering giving up.
I had a great guide with me the whole time, who was patient and waited for me to get over my fear and trepidation. I thought of all of the reasons I had chosen to do this challenge and decided that after the 7 days of hard work it has taken to get to that point, I just couldn’t give up.
I continued to walk extremely slowly – as the Tanzanians say: ‘Pole Pole’ (Slow Slow), following the feet of the person walking one foot barely in front of the other in front of me. It was still dark so we were walking by the light of a meagre head torch with it’s batteries quickly draining. I could only see a small distance ahead of me. It really felt like it was never ending! Hour upon hour of trudging up the mountain face covered in loose rock, time looses it’s tangibility, and the walk becomes a mindless drone.
Eventually, the sun came up (literally) and we reached Stella point at 7:30am: the first ‘peak’ on the mountain. I cannot explain the elation that takes over your body. It is a joy and relief that overwhelms and wipes out the pain of the past few hours. A large percentage of trekkers give in at Stella Point and don’t continue to Uhuru Peak. I was feeling very determined now and knew I had to continue! I had a small cup of tea and one piece of chocolate and, with renewed gusto and confidence, continued for the 45 minutes walk to the final peak.
The last 45 minutes was incredibly difficult with the cold and winds, I couldn’t feel my fingers at all and didn’t have the energy to carry my own backpack.
The feeling of reaching Uhuru peak is difficult to describe. Tears of joy, relief and exhaustion all rolled into one! I nearly forgot to stop and take a picture! We stayed at the top for around 10 minutes and managed to appreciate the surroundings – It was still so cold! We then started the descend.
Descending again, was hard. I felt like I had done what I set out to do… but was still walking for 8 hours! Bringing the total walk for the day to 16 hours. I was tired, defeated and extremely slow. I had to take breaks after every 20 steps just to catch my breath. The reminder of just completing Africa’s tallest mountain a buzz in my mind the entire day. I did it. It really happened.
The guides were kind enough to let me sleep half way down at camp and have some food before the final four hours down to Millennium Camp.
This was the first night we stayed up later than 8pm! Although exhausted, knowing we were near the end we were much more sociable and played cards and chatted. The challenge really did make us all bond, and the thought that we were all going to leave each other started to etch itself in our minds.
Day 8: Going down
The final morning, I woke from the tent with breakfast coffee and wash water, prepared for breakfast and the tipping ceremony. The guides and porters sang us songs and danced as a little leaving parade. We distributed the well deserved tips to each member of staff individually, shaking each one of the 54 porters hands with thanks for the work they put into making us comfortable throughout the past 8 days. We were so grateful.
Final descend was around six hours, and I walked alone for the majority of the day with my iPod, singing and dancing to MY Kilimanjaro song. It was a long tiring day but knowing there was a shower and a bed at the end kept my spirits up. I was emotional and knowing it would just be a few hours before I spoke with my friends and family kept me moving.
Immediately after the trek I was asked if I would recommend or do it again and I answered with a firm NO. I am now 2 weeks out and really missing the Mountain. It pushed me to my absolute limits but made me realise my strength, especially my mental strength. The bonds we formed throughout the struggle to reach the top will stay with me forever. It was a simple time on the mountain, only focusing on the day ahead. I now feel less overwhelmed and stressed by day to day life. I am now planning my next challenge for early next year – Everest Basecamp!
In aid of The ZB Foundation we made AED 7,000! Thank you to everyone who sponsored me.