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Climbing Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro reaches a challenging 5,895 metres and is not only the highest mountain in Africa but, the highest freestanding mountain in the world.

Climbing Kilimanjaro

In July 2001, Martin, co-founder of The Explorer Society, began an epic backpacking adventure around the world with his first stop being Tanzania, with the plan of climbing Kilimanjaro. Mount Kilimanjaro reaches a challenging 5,895 metres and is not only the highest mountain in Africa but, the highest freestanding mountain in the world.

The Marangu Route

Martin was travelling with his brother Dave and they attempted the Marangu Route, affectionately known as the Coca-Cola route. This is the most popular of all of Kilimanjaro’s climbing routes.

Young, and with a hint of arrogance and naivety, they set off up the mountain with their group on a six day hike. Staying in huts along the way, they slowly made their way to the top of the mountain.

On summit night, they were walking slightly faster than the others so the assistant guide broke them away from the rest of the group and they set off in a two man team. This slight increase in pace had an immediate effect and it wasn’t too long until Martin was throwing up (for the first time). The altitude sickness had really started to kick in. By the time they made it to the lip of the mountain at Gilman’s Point (5,681 m), they were both exhausted.

They briefly rested allowing themselves enough time to eat an energy bar and immediately throw it up again. Martin vividly remembers lying back on the jagged rocks feeling warm, comfortable and very sleepy. Looking back on it now, this was the early signs of hyperthermia. However, Dave wouldn’t let him give up and they both rose to their feet again, and continued the last hour along the rim to Uhuru Peak.

Their aim had been to reach the peak at sunrise and to take in the amazing views and to remember their time on the roof of Africa. Well, this wasn’t really the case.

Martin has no memory of being at the top of Kilimanjaro, but thankfully, he did have some photos as evidence to prove he made it. The whole nights experience reminded him of a boozy night during his teenage years where on the following morning you try and piece together what really happened the night before.

Very flimsy evidence.
Martin (left), feeling the effects of the altitude.

On this occasion however, it wasn’t the amount of alcohol intake, it was the lack of oxygen intake… and all at minus 20C. Thankfully though, they did manage to take a photo of this incredible achievement but even this was met with problems when Dave’s cameraMartin (left), feeling the effects of the altitude. had frozen and Martin’s batteries were almost dead.

They look back at the whole experience now and laugh, but at the time it was certainly one of the toughest challenges they had ever set themselves.

And, although Martin met his goal of reaching the top of Kilimanjaro, he wasn’t satisfied with the experience and always said that he would like to go back one day to be able to really take it all in and to remember everything that happened.

The Rongai Route

In November 2017, that second chance came when he led a small group of travel agents to the roof of Africa. This time he was taking the Rongai Route on a six day trek. This was a more scenic route and camping all the way.

This time around Martin was really prepared. He had trained, had all the gear and most importantly he had made sure that he, and the rest of the group, were mentally prepared. This time climbing Kilimanjaro he was going to make it to the top and remember it!

As with his first trip, the first few days of trekking were very pleasant and enjoyable. At that time the banter was good and a number of people in the group said they would definitely like to come back again. The smiles soon started to fade though by the time they reached Kibo Hut (4,720 metres) on the afternoon of day 4.

They were travelling in November, so the rain and snow storms had just started. So far they had been lucky, only being caught out once by a rain storm. Kibo Hut was the last stopping point before they made for the summit, and they were in for a clear night ahead. Unfortunately, an ‘altitude’ headache had started to hit Martin. After taking some paracetamol and Diamox he was confident he could push through.

The last 48 hours climbing Kilimanjaro is a battle of physical and mental endurance. You depart Kibo Hut at 2330 hours and then commence the journey up to the lip of the mountain. The route consists very, very slow traversing back and forth, for hour after hour after hour.

The aim was to reach Uhuru Peak at sunrise, but this was not to be the case. The group were moving slowly, but to be honest, this was a blessing in disguise. If they had moved any faster then some of the group would have likely succumbed to altitude sickness.

As they were reached the rim of the mountain it was a case of head down, eyes looking at his feet, watching one foot move in front of the other. And then suddenly, it was as if someone had suddenly switched on the light. They had timed the final ascent with a full moon so, with the brightness of the moon shining down on them, head torches weren’t necessary. But, when the sun rose on the horizon, it was a magical and moving experience. This gave everyone a lift and it wasn’t too long before they made it over the rim and they were spoilt with a short rest and a cup of hot chocolate. The guides on these climbs really are amazing!

After almost another two hours, the group finally made it to the Uhuru peak. At an impressive 5,895 metres, they were lucky enough to not only remember the experience, but be in reasonably good health. To be standing on the roof of Africa once again was an emotional experience.

Early days on the Rongai
Approaching Kibo Hut, at the base of the summit.
Real photographic proof!

They didn’t spend too much time at the top, because with the chilly temperature it was essential to keep moving… and to keep moving back down. After all, they were only half way. The other half of the challenge is getting back down. At this stage Martin had a little spring in his step and could feel himself moving faster (a mistake). He had forgotten that he was still over 5,000 metres above sea level and there wasn’t enough oxygen for him to be pushing himself.

As a result a killer headache attacked and would stick with him for the next 24 hours. When the group finally made it back to Kibo, they headed straight to their tents for some rest. Not for too long though as they needed to continue heading down to the next camp before nightfall.

It was crazy to think that they had been walking almost constantly over the last 24 hours. That night, even with a painful headache, Martin managed a reasonable night’s sleep. It wasn’t over yet. They still had to wake up for the final time on the mountain and prepare for their last walk. This time they were walking out of the park and towards the comfort of their hotel bed and a warm shower.

Second time around, the experience of climbing Kilimanjaro was far better. And, this time he has photos as reminders of the amazing feeling of being at the top of Kilimanjaro, not just as photographic proof.


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