Today I embark on the most exciting and difficult physical journey of my life. I have just celebrated turning 49 years old; yesterday. I am beginning my journey climbing my first mountain. Today I am climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. This 5895 metre peak has been on my dream list for the last 8 years and I want to listen to Toto’s song “Africa” if I indeed reach the summit. I have no expectations about this as the mountain has humbled more than a few serious trekkers and mountaineers. I am a mountain and altitude virgin.
As I sign my name in the book at the office at the visitors centre at the Kilimanjaro National Park I think to myself……holy shit this is actually happening. I am with 10 other climbers in my group whom I have no idea about and we have a crew of 33 porters, cooks, guides and leaders to get the 11 of us to the summit over the next 72 hours. I have read about the logistics of climbing the biggest of mountains but seeing this becoming a reality is truly amazing.
Once we have completed the sign in process, our group leader James hands us over to our guides Vandalin who will lead the group and William at the back to make sure we maintain a standard pace. We check our gear and verify our day packs have the water and snacks we require for the first days hiking through the Tanzanian rainforest area. It is warm and humid and we have a short 5km hike to complete. It is 11am on 18th October 2015.
As we start to walk I am shocked at the speed at which we set out. I am thinking to myself we are at about 1900 metres and heading to 2720 metres and we are walking so incredibly slowly this 5kms will take us hours. The lead guide is keeping us all at a snails pass and then I realise……….he is training us to be patient and to take our time. We will need this knowledge later on in the trek.
The rainforest is truly stunning and the thickness of the undergrowth is amazing. Beautiful little birds in all shapes, colours and sizes flash past us and we move onward and upward toward our goal; the Mandara Hut. We are staying here for a night and we are at 2720 metres altitude above mean sea level (AMSL). This is a little different to sleeping in the Serengeti where everything can pretty much kill you, but its important to remember that there is one thing that can really get you as you ascend into the 2800 metres and above. Not everyone is affected but its better to be aware then not. There is no room for ego’s on this mountain.
The hike to the Mandara Hut is just an incredible thing. You have so much time to get in your head and to just think through what you are about to do and whats been going on in your life over the last however long. I feel very introspective during this three hours and ask a few questions here and there of the guides. Vandalin and I trade life stories. He is married with four kids and has been doing this job for about 8 years. He has summited over 100 times and has experienced altitude sickness a few times at various heights. He says to group “Pole pole” pronounced “poh lay poh lay”…..this is Swahili for “slowly slowly”.
We arrive at the huts at about 3pm and settle in tour shared accommodation and start to chat with our bunk buddies. The reasons we are here, where we are from and what we all do in the real world. Dinner is at 6pm and right now we settle in for some tea and popcorn…….I know weirdest thing ever right? Its just what you need and it goes down a treat. We then hike up another few hundred metres of altitude to have a look at one of the smaller craters at the base of the mountain and come back down to rest before dinner.
We have a great meal that is filling and truly tasty. Zucchini soup was the thing I remember the most. It was one of the best meals of the trip. After dinner we head back to our huts and sleep as we have another solid day tomorrow.