Part one of four in a series of blog posts written by Deborah King of how she conquered Mt Kilimanjaro this year despite the challenges she faced along the way due to Usher syndrome.
Honeymoons are meant to be relaxing, right? Well I don’t think my husband likes to relax, in fact I don’t even think he knows what the word means!
After we got married I wanted to do a once in a life time trip to Africa, I wanted to go on a Safari and then finish with a relaxing time in Zanzibar. Well I got my wish and we booked our dream honeymoon. Somehow however, we ended up adding ‘climb Kilimanjaro’ to the trip, and it was not even the easy route, or adding extra days to acclimatize either. Oh no, it had to be the Machame route in six days. (the hardest route and the shortest amount of days that you can climb the mountain with the guides).
I guess if you are only going to do it once you may as well do it properly. It’s not like the easier routes were not challenging enough, especially with my Usher syndrome. Still, it was all booked up so no turning back now.
We landed in Africa and within twenty-four hours we were to begin our trek up Kilimanjaro. No time for jetlag or even proper rest. We met with our guide Omari and the rest of the people from our group that we would be climbing with. We were fortunate enough to only have two other people in our group, they were a lovely Dutch couple, Sharon and Timo. Sharon and Timo were both young and fit, and seemed unfazed by the challenge ahead. Some groups can have up to twenty people in them so I felt very fortunate that we were part of a small group. I decided not to tell anyone including the guide about my condition. Why? I guess I didn’t want to feel like they had to give me special treatment and to feel like I needed looking after. Gavin was always going to be with me and had promised to look after me and help me if I needed it. I was feeling so excited and a little nervous on the morning of the climb. I didn’t really know what to expect as I didn’t read up too much about the route as I didn’t want to scare myself out of doing it. Mount Snowdon was the highest mountain I had ever climbed and that was tough for me, so I knew this would be a lot harder than that. Well our bags were packed and we were off in the car to the start point of the Kilimanjaro climb.
Day 1- We arrived at the start point and got signed in, and then waited for the porters to prepare our equipment ready to set off. We squashed our lunch into our day bags and started the walk around midday. We started on an incline, of course…after all how else were we ever going to get to the top. All of us were feeling very energetic and started off walking faster than we were supposed to, “poly, poly” we would hear Omari, our guide, say, it means slowly, slowly. The idea was that we had to walk slowly to allow our bodies time to acclimatise properly. Walking slowly wasn’t something that we were used to but it didn’t take long to drop the pace as constantly walking up an incline and lots of steps becomes hard work very quickly. The first part of the climb involved walking through the rain forest. The tree canopy acted as a great sun shade and kept us nice and cool. This also meant we didn’t have to worry about getting burnt from the sun. The light did still manage to shine through the trees though, so this made it was easier to see than if it had been completely shaded. I walked behind Gavin all the time as we had to walk single file, I just kept watching his feet so I knew when I needed to step up. There were a few times where I missed tree roots or stones and would stumble, but I never fell, not sure how I didn’t though. After a few hours, we stopped for lunch and a toilet break. Well I will tell you now, I don’t know what I was thinking but I didn’t sign up for this! Let’s just say this toilet was a wooden shack that smelt so bad, and it was so dark inside and had things crawling all over the floor. I put my head torch on and Gavin stood with the door open a little so I could see as much as possible. Gavin shouts to me “Whatever you do, don’t look down”. Now that was easier said than done, when it’s dark and you have to aim down a tiny hole you can’t help but point the head torch down…What I saw, well I don’t even want to write about it. Let’s just say it’s a shame you can’t un-see things. I don’t know what I had expected really, toilets on a mountain, who was I kidding. After about six hours of walking we reached Machame camp (2,835 meters), this was our camp for the night. The porters had set up our tent and our evening meal was already being prepared, we also had a waiter that brought dinner to our food tent. This was very five-star service and the food was delicious too. Time for the toilet again, but this one was even worse than the last one and to the point where my gag reflex wouldn’t allow me to go in. I just couldn’t do it, eventually I opted to find a bush which seemed much more hygienic!
The sun went down and there were no lights at all. We had head torches on but I found that people don’t like you looking at them especially when your head torch is three hundred and fifty lumens (very bright). It wasn’t too bad though as all I had to do was let Gavin guide me to my tent and put me in the sleeping bag, my hearing aids came out and I slept very well, I didn’t hear a sound. See there is some advantages to being deaf, as apparently it was a very noisy camp that night. I still think they were lying as I didn’t hear a thing!
Day 2 – We woke up to glorious weather. A bowl of warm water and a bar of soap greeted us as we stepped out of the tent, this was to have a little freshen up with. From the Machame camp we were able to see the peak which seemed so far away, the scenery that surrounded us was amazing though. Breakfast was served by the waiter and was very yummy indeed. We filled up on porridge and omelette, and then we got dressed and packed up our kit ready to face the day. The porters packed up the tent and collected our bags so all we had to do was top up our water bottles and take our day bags with us.
Well I thought the climb was steep the day before, but today it was definitely steeper that’s for sure. The route today was not only very steep but it also involved climbing up a lot of large rocks. I must admit though It was quite fun and by far my favourite day, but it did take a lot of concentration.
It got to a point when our guide Omari handed me a walking poles to try and help me out. I felt like I didn’t need the pole but I think he must have spotted that I could have used a little extra assistance and perhaps thought that maybe I was struggling a bit. I wasn’t struggling fitness wise but seeing the edge of each rock and trying not to fall over it was a bit tricky. Well I thought I was doing okay but I guess if anyone knows best it’s a guide that has being doing this for fifteen years. Anyway, as it turned out the walking pole did actually help and I would highly recommend using one. It was my stubbornness that said I didn’t need the pole or want it as I wanted to keep my hands free for climbing. I was able to use the pole much like a cane, so it turned out to be very handy and if I ever did another mountain it would definitely be on my list of things to take. Day two was a short day for walking, well more like climbing. We arrived at our second camp after five hours so there was plenty of daylight left but It was quite foggy though, it actually looked like we were in part of a zombie movie, it was very eerie. The toilets here were better than those at the previous camp. They were made from bricks and had windows in so there was a bit of natural light shining in there before the sun went down. There were no bushes or big rocks in this camp to do a ‘nature toilet’ behind, so after dark it was a matter of head torch on and walking five minutes to the toilet if you had to go. With the uneven ground and floor laced with loose rocks I had to take it slowly and hold onto Gavin. That’s night I slept very well apart from the lovely rocks that were under my roll mat, but I was a little too tired to care. As usual I didn’t hear anything that night, but according to Gavin it was someone’s birthday as there was singing going on until the early hours.
Read part two here >> Conquering the Mountain. (part 2)
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