Kilimanjaro

We sponsored a young doctor to climb Kilimanjaro to help Dig Deep Africa - this is her story.

I was deeply grateful for the generous donation from Epsom Rotary club; and also enjoyed our chat over lunch about what to expect!

The climb was a challenge…!   Physically (and at points mentally) quite tough. We were up at 5.30/6am every day and climbed between 6-10h each day. We had a group of 31 climbers and 130 porters (we were surprised at the huge number of the team who took us up) - so a good team spirit, and the team of porters as well as carrying our tents, water, kitchen etc cooked us surprisingly good food each day - dinners of stews, 2 types of rice (plain and pilau), even chips (!) and watermelon/pineapple for dessert.

Day 1 took us from Machame gate (2000m) to our first camp (Machame hut) at 3000m. We climbed mainly through rainforest, saw a few monkeys, and chatted the whole way up - altitude was barely noticeable at this stage. The next morning however (day 2), walking around the camp I was a little breathless, and found out over breakfast that a few people had been overnight. We climbed in good spirits however (despite a little bit of chest pain on my part) and made it to the next camp Shira Hut at 3,840m.
Day 3 was a gradual climb through increasingly dusty/barren land (we gradually left behind greenery and vegetation for dust & rock) and ascended a good 750m. I was surprised that I found this day to be very manageable. The same couldn’t be said for the whole group…. over lunch at ‘Lava Tower’ (4,600m), the altitude sickness started to become apparent; people were very quiet over lunch, with lots of complaints of headaches and nausea. One girl had to descend due to sickness.
Day 4, however, I found personally to be very challenging. After only managing to sleep 2 or 3 hours (due to altitude), we started out climb with the challenging ‘Baranco wall’ - 700ft of rocks where we were instructed to “put your hiking poles away - you’ll need to climb using your hands and feet”. The following 7 or 8 hours of climbing I really felt the altitude; breathlessness was a real issue with the ever thinning air. The preceding few days of continuous hiking and little sleep probably didn’t help! The views however were good - clear blue skies and there was something majestic about the rocky scenery.
I think I was one of the last to make it to base camp, but make it I did around twilight! (Sadly a further 2 climbers were descended down the mountain due to sickness).
The views from base camp were breathtaking; I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was to see such a cloud bank below us; surreal and slightly ethereal (photo attached).
The stars at night were also a real sight to behold - there was so little light pollution and it was the first time I can truly say that I could see constellations with ease. Beautiful.
Day 5 had us up at 4am to start our final day of ascent; we gathered in the dark wearing many layers (the night before I wore a thermal top, fleece, down jacket, ski hat, ski gloves, leggings and tracksuit bottoms inside my 4 season sleeping bag - as well as 2 thick pairs of socks…!). We walked very slowly and in single file up a slightly uneven/rocky terrain. We saw the sun rise as we ascended (sun cream at the ready as the UV light is much stronger above cloud level). Unfortunately I struggled a bit with breathing and chest pain, and when we got to 5000m, my oxygen saturation levels were measured and (to my surprise) were 61% (when a patient comes into A&E with anything less than 80% I feel a sense of urgency in getting them sorted out….!).
So, sadly, I had to turn back at this point; with one porter called Langen to help me descend. It took around 2 hours to descend to base camp, and after a nap and some food, we descended another 3 or so hours to a camp further down the mountain. There, I slept the entire afternoon (utterly exhausted!) and awaited the other climbers who steadily came back to camp in dribs and drabs. I have to say, hearing the tales of those who went to the top (only 15 of our climbers made it to the summit), I’m not sure I was all that sad I didn’t make it…. people fainting, vomiting, and a couple of people I spoke to who couldn’t remember being at the top (such was the level of brain oxygen deprivation….!).
That night was a little scary as I could hear some fluid crackling on my lungs, but exhausted I drifted off to sleep and luckily awoke the next morning (!).
The final day we descended and it was nice to see ever increasing amounts of vegetation/flowers as we descended the mountain.
We had a final session of singing with our porters at the bottom of the mountain before departing for a hearty lunch (the Tanzanians were wonderfully joyful in their singing & dancing - we had a couple of sessions up the mountain! There was something quite humbling about how much joy they had despite humble circumstances and having so little.)

Overall an experience like none other I’ve had! Really challenging, and visiting Africa for the first time was a truly eye-opening and humbling experience. I wonder if I ever might go back to visit for work; I imagine practising medicine in such a resource poor country could be hugely challenging but also hugely rewarding...

Once again - thanks so much to Epsom rotary club for your generous contribution towards the work of Dig Deep Africa in Kenya. I believe there may at some point be news on how the money is spent; I will be sure to forward on any news I receive.

Please find attached pictures of the climb which of course I’m happy for you to show at a rotary club meeting or circulate to members.