Author Victoria Langmead
In search of an exciting challenge last Spring, Victoria decided to set herself the task of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, which at just under 6,000 metres (20,000 feet) is Africa’s highest peak. After several months training, she set off in September on what proved to be both an exhausting yet wonderfully fulfilling journey.
I am not the most adventurous kind of girl and admit to being a little nervous about what I’d let myself in for, but getting to the ‘roof of Africa’ has to be the most exhilarating and rewarding thing I have ever done. There were five other aspiring climbers in my group – of different walks of life, age and sex – but we all gelled brilliantly and the feeling of camaraderie between our group, guides and team of approximately thirty porters all added to this amazing experience.
There are several different routes up Kili. The busiest, nicknamed ‘the Coca Cola route’ (because you can actually buy Coke on the way up) is not so hard for the first three days but very tough at the end. As a result of the quick ascent the percentage of people making it to the summit is not great. I tackled the longer, and less busy, Machame route which takes six nights and seven days. It’s known for being the most beautiful and certainly lives up to this reputation. Each day you walk through contrasting scenery with lots to learn about the botany and geology. The views are quite stunning and because it takes longer to ascend your body has more of a chance to acclimatise so the success rate is much higher.
I’m not particularly athletic but I did do a bit of training before I left. You need to be able to walk continuously for six to seven hours but the pace on the mountain is very slow so it’s not a fast route march by any means. The progress and health of each client is monitored by twice daily communications with the operations team back in Arusha.
One of the first things to strike me was how impressive is the operation run by Hoopoe Safaris who organised my climb. They have a wonderful team of professionally trained staff both on the mountain and at their Arusha base. There is someone to look after you at every stage of the trip and while on the mountain there’s a member of staff per person, so if you do have a bad couple of hours, there’s always someone there to encourage you.
The equipment they provide was excellent. You camp each night and the tents are of high quality with good foam mattresses (none of those lumpy, bumpy thin dodgy camping mats) and really super sleeping bags and liners. Everything is set up for your arrival at the end of each day and I felt warm and comfortable each night. The food is wonderful -three course meals up a mountain! Bowls of warm water for washing are presented to you with your tea at wake up call.
The summit ascent is tough – the last few hours of the seven hour push to the top were particularly harsh. It’s dark (you set off at around midnight), very cold and walking through thick scree is hard going, but the feeling of finally getting to the top as the sun begins to rise over the African continent is wonderful. The actual peak is rather bleak as you might expect of a mountain summit, but is nevertheless strikingly beautiful with views of the blue tinted glaciers falling away to the left.
I was also spurred on by the knowledge that every penny I raised by getting to the top was going to a great cause. I’d decided before I left to support the charity set up by Ol Malo Lodge in Laikipia (host to many Aardvark clients over the years), which is working to eradicate blindness among the Samburu people in this region of Kenya.
It was good to see how well Hoopoe look after their crews on the mountain. They make sure that all their staff has adequate and working kit, tented accommodation, and access to the same rescue and backup procedures and equipment available to guests. All or baggage was weighed at the start of the climb to make sure it complied with the local porter regulations.
Would I do it again? Probably not – I feel I’ve done it now – but I would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending anyone else to have a go. Scaling this quintessential African icon enabled me to do something really different; to get back to basics and have an adventure with a real ‘wow’ factor.
Other Trekking Destinations
- Mount Kenya (Kenya)
- Mount Meru (Tanzania)
- Rwenzori (Uganda)
- Cedarberg and Drakensberg Mountain ranges (South Africa)
- Bwindi and Parc National des Volcans (Uganda and Rwanda for mountain gorillas)