Starting a new job is never easy and of course, much like the first day of school, you are always keen to impress. When I started my first job in African travel back in 2007 I was exactly that – keen to impress. However, unlike school where it maybe wearing cool clothes or having the latest pair of football boots that serves to impress, my first task was to agree to climb Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa. My answer of “oh yeah, why not” seemed like a good idea at the time, however finding myself several months later hiking at well over 5,000 metres, I was not sure it was my greatest decision. In hindsight I am so, so glad I said yes!
Climbing Kilimanjaro is tough, but do not be fooled into thinking that it is ‘not for me’ or ‘there is no way I could do that’. Making it to the top requires a fair level of fitness, some good guiding and pre-climb advice, a bit of luck with the way altitude effects you, and most importantly (in my opinion), a strong attitude of ‘I am going to do this!’
So late October the same year, myself and a group of eight others set off on the Rongai route on the mountain. The five night / six day Rongai climb is the “easiest” good quality route on the mountain (although that really is a figure of speech, all the climbs are tough)! It is also very quiet compared to Machame or Marangu which now account for over 70% of all traffic between them. Rongai is an excellent wilderness climb and especially well suited to climbers who are anything other than super-fit. (Myself being nowhere near the super-fit status!)
The first few days take you through villages, forests and along rocky paths, and although the days are long, there are frequent rest breaks, and it is not long before you are really feeling part of a team which is attempting something pretty special. There is no rush and the words ‘pole pole’ or ‘slowly slowly’ will be etched into your mind by the guides; that along with the many, many songs sung along the way! Food is hearty and well deserved. In the evening after a long day you normally go straight to sleep, although a card game or two is a must. Be warned: Tanzanian and British card games can be very different which can make for an interesting night or two!
As the days go on, the ascent becomes tougher. You are soon well above the cloud line and your legs and lungs start to feel the strain. However, the sense of anticipation for what lies ahead and the truly breathtaking scenery, whether it be the stars at night or the peak of Mawenzi Tarn (one of the three extinct volcanoes that make up Kilimanjaro), inspires you to go on.
And so, after five days of hiking the big night arrives; the summit attempt! Following a restful day, you are woken at around 11.30pm for some hot food and drink before setting off by flashlight to attempt the six-seven hour push to the top. Climbing by night means you avoid the loose scree which makes climbing hard. This is a long, long cold night and there is no getting around the fact that it is really tough, both physically and mentally. But despite hours thinking – why did I do this and what was I thinking saying “oh yeah, why not” – at around 7am this all changes as you reach Gilman’s Point to see the spectacular sun rising impressively to greet you! This sight is something I will never forget and truly is worth all the cold and pain of the night. As you push onto Uhuru, the highest point in Africa, it then feels ‘a must’ to keep going as the realisation of what you are about to achieve begins to hit home – I have done it! (And maybe a little of bit of – well for me anyway – I hope that is impressive enough for my new job – the fact I lost the company video camera on the descent we won’t go into now!!)
Climbing ‘Kili’ really is one of the toughest things I have done, but trust me, all the training, the cold nights, the sore legs, and the altitude effects become irrelevant when you are standing on the top of Africa. It is incredibly impressive!