V4I3 - Journey To The Top Of Africa

The top team

Top Team: Stephen King, Richard Collett, Harnish Patel and Edward King

How many times have you heard someone say they are ’on top of the world’? Metaphorically speaking, probably dozens of times, but in reality it is a rarity to physically be on top of the world - unless of course you have reached the summit of Everest.

We decided to take this metaphorical phrase and put it into reality knowing that in late June 2005 we would be attempting to literally be on top of the world - well at least the top of Africa. The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro is 5895m above sea level or 19,340 ft and often can be as cold as -40 degrees Celsius!

After months of planning and several gym training sessions, our adventure to climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro actually began on 23rd June 2005.

The two weeks prior to our departure were fairly daunting as the scale of this adventure sunk in. However, nothing can prepare you for the daunting sight of the mountain whilst flying from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. Cruising at 17,000 ft, high above the clouds, the mountain came into sight for the first time - the sheer size of this beast filled most of us with fear as it towered a further 2,340 feet above us - how was anyone supposed to get to the top of that?!

Kilimanjaro from the plane

However,once we landed and had reached our hotel in Moshi our minds were put at ease after speaking to several successful climbers of all ages and nationalities, all of whom looked to be in a pretty good shape - not quite what we are expecting from ourselves when we return to the hotel in a few days time!

The following morning we were met at the hotel by our guide Bruce who took us to the gates of Kilimanjaro National Park. We were at 1800m and about to start our climb up the Umbwe route. There waiting for us were our porters and chef. Within an instance they had balanced our rucksacks, tents, cooking equipment, water and food for the five days on their heads and were almost running up the mountain towards the first camp - these guys really are incredible!

Once prepared, we started our climb. To begin with we raced up the track in anticipation of getting up as quickly as possible. Bruce had other ideas and had to slow us down saying we were going far too fast if we actually wanted to get to the top - of course we did so had to follow his lead and walk at a snail’s pace!

After about 4-5 hours, trekking through the muddy rainforest the sun started to go down and it appeared we would be walking in near darkness. However round the next corner we arrived at our first camp at 2940m. The porters had already put up our tents and our dining tent was set for dinner for four! Following a pretty impressive meal, under the circumstances, we retired early in order to prepare for an early start and a more strenuous trek the next day.


Open quotesIt seemed so far away and still so much
higherClose quotes

With the first day being all rainforest and pretty damp, it made a pleasant change to exit the forest after a couple of hours and enter the dryer, more arid moorland. It was on this day that we actually got our first view of the summit and were still pretty daunted by the prospect - it seemed so far away and still so much higher! After six hours, we arrived at our second camp (3950m) and could certainly tell we were getting higher as it was much colder and we could tell the air was becoming thinner.

After a pretty sleepless night in the cold and thin air, another early start led us towards the Arrow Glacier at 4800m. Although the sun was up, it was necessary to wear our fleeces for the first time during the day. For a couple of hours we followed one of the streams coming off the glacier whilst making sure we avoided the icy patches. As we left the moorland and entered the semi-desert the gap in the clouds below us gave us stunning views of the rainforest and Moshi in the very far distance! We reached our camp at the base of the western breach around 2pm, had a quick warming soup for lunch and got our heads down for some much earned rest.

The Western Breech

At this altitude, your appetite is totally lost, but after forcing down dinner in the evening and breakfast the following morning, the real mental challenge was about to begin and the climb up the Western Breach. Even the warning from guide books "this route is very steep and is recommended only for very fit and capable climbers, as exertion is necessary" did not prepare us for the climb. The Western Breach is the steepest part of the mountain with loose rocks and boulders and whilst the climb is non-technical, the altitude combined with the incline was a significant barrier to pace.

However, after serious exertion and six hours of climbing this almost vertical wall, we reached a ridge like staircase and scrambled up onto the crater floor at 5700m.

Due partially to exhaustion and partially to the lack of oxygen, it is hard to describe the view except that of true amazement both back down to the camp below and further up. Again our camp was already set up and except for pounding headaches due to the altitude, we felt pretty good! Having forced some more food down, we had another early night in preparation for an early start and the attempted climb to the summit.

After waking at 4am to find the condensation inside the tent frozen, we got up and put on every item of clothing we had in preparation for the climb to the summit. It is not often you experience weather this cold - especially for a Brit! It must have been -15 degrees C! The final 195m to the top took 2 hours, but what a reward once you actually get to the summit. We were the first group to the top for the day and witnessed a stunning sunrise without other groups fighting for the perfect photo opportunity.

At the summit

Being so cold at the summit, it is hard to stay too long or take gloves off to use your mobile phone to let people know you are on top of Africa. The brief pause did not last long as the long walk down was about to start. After eight hours we reached 3100m and our final camp. What we had achieved over the last few days was beginning to sink in, but we still looked forward to the hotel, showers and a few beers the following evening.

The final day took us from camp to the gates in around three hours. We had completed what we set out to do and can now say that we have physically been on top of Africa. Maybe the next adventure will take us to the top of the world!


In Memory Of Catherine


People ask us how we feel and that we must have such a sense of achievement. I must admit that we are all pretty pleased to have climbed the world’s highest free standing mountain, but we did this for a reason and were inspired to do it by a friend who died last year from cancer. This achievement will not bring Catherine back, but hopefully the funds we raise will go towards helping provide information for others who have cancer and make sure that they receive the best treatment possible to help them beat this illness.

RC

V4I3 - Journey To The Top Of Africa
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