I can see my breath inside the tent. I stretch out in my sleeping bag, cautiously rotating my shoulders, then my ankles, encouraging blood to start pumping through my body. It’s day three of the big climb and I’m already feeling it. Perhaps Jackie (my partner), had a point that I should have done some training…!
I ease the zip on the tent door, wanting to check out today’s climbing weather. The majestic Mount Kilimanjaro rises above the clouds, sun glinting off its peak, a dauntingly long way away. I’ll opt for a t-shirt under my fleece.
Kili for short (or to those ‘familiar’ with it – having now summited I can say that), is the highest mountain on the African continent and the tallest free standing mountain in the world. And I’m here to climb it, along with my two sons. It’s a family bonding trip; a special expedition that my boys will hopefully remember for the rest of their lives. But man it’s hard.
We’re a close family and I’ve wanted to do this trip for a while. Seth’s 15 and Ethan’s 17, so they’re old enough and strong enough to attempt such an adventure. I did try to persuade Jackie to climb it again, but she, perhaps sensibly in hindsight, elected to stay home (apparently altitude makes you fart a lot more than usual – who knew?!). It’s been a long time in planning, but finally we’re here, all three of us, and we’re half way through this incredible, very uphill, journey…
That was Day 3. I’m writing from memory about my climb, sitting comfortably at my desk at Oasis HQ. I’m not going to lie, it was hard. There was an afternoon where I had to just find a rock, lie down, and nap for a couple of hours in the sunshine (in case anyone else encounters this urgent need, for goodness sake remember to put sunscreen on before you close your eyes. The sun is stronger at altitude. Either that, or leave the sunnies off, so at least all your face is the colour of a ripe tomato).
But for all the long slogs up steep paths; for all the pauses for breath where I felt I couldn’t possibly push my legs any further, and even for all the aching limbs I woke up with each morning, there was this sense of pure, exhilarative joy every time I caught sight of that snow capped peak. The exquisitely pure mountain air, the sun beating down on your back (I’m writing this in winter you must remember), and the thrill of tackling such a challenge kept my spirits high. At night we shared blister stories over popcorn and hot drinks, and it was so beautiful when all the noise stopped and you listened to the silence of nature outside. The stars took your breath away (metaphorically, although the cold did mean you didn’t hang around outside your tent too long!). An inky, thick blanket was studded with these twinkling lights; there were so many it was almost as if someone had thrown up a tube of silver glitter.
Climbing Kili will test you mentally and physically, but it’s a journey so incredible and worthwhile I wish everyone could do it. The trek is beautiful and so varied: you trek through cloud forest, through bare, sparse savannah land, and end up (if you’re successful) standing next to a glacier! It’s a climb that is achievable by people of all abilities, old and young, although, unlike us, I would advise some kind of training/reasonable level of fitness before attempting it!
Chris Wrede, Director
Oasis Overland offers a range of journeys up Kili, but first here’s a few questions answered by Chris after he came back triumphant!
Q: What route did you do?
A: We chose Machame because it is a more gradual ascent than Marangu and I preferred the idea of camping on the mountain to sharing bunk beds with other smelly climbers in a hut! I had also heard the terrain is more interesting and you get fantastic views of the summit most days as well as Mount Meru because we climbed the western flank.
Q: How many days did it take you to climb?
A: We chose to do the 7 day climb as opposed to the 6 day because this gave us an extra acclimatisation day on day 5. We saw other groups leave real early on day 4 for a long days walk because they had to summit on day 5. Most of them still made it to Uhuru Peak but the fact we could take an additional day at between 3800 and 4700 metres and summit on day 6 certainly made it easier.
Q: What is the best time of year to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?
A: Our guide Evans (who guides most Oasis travellers) said June to October and December to Feb were the best times due to less rain.
Q: How does it work with the guides/porters?
A: We had 4 in our group and needed 12 porters, 1 cook, 1 waiter (yes, I was surprised too!) but it was great getting tea and coffee bought to our tents in the morning and he also brought the 3 course meals to our mini dining tent. Plus we had a guide, Evans, and assistant guide Dan.
Q: What training program did you follow to reach the fitness level required for the climb?
A: We did very little although that was not our intention. The 4 of us spent a weekend in the Lake District in Cumbria and did 2 days hiking and then an afternoon on the Dorset coast for an 11 mile walk.
Q: Give us 5 Top Tops for taking on such a momentous challenge?
A: 1) Take a hot water bottle. Your waiter or cook will fill it with hot water. It’s bl**dy cold at night, usually around -5 degrees when we climbed into our sleeping bags. 2) Chat to your guides and porters, ask them questions about themselves, their families, Tanzania, Politics, history and tell them about your lives. It made the climb even more interesting and they love to talk and have fantastic humour, 3) Invest in a good quality head torch. 4) We took NUUN rehydration tablets which dissolved in our water bottles and made the water taste better and gave us essential salts and electrolyse. Keeping well hydrated as it helps you acclimatise. 5) Take enough USD to tip your climbing team. I wished I’d been able to tip them more. Those guys were absolutely dedicated to doing their best to make sure you succeeded in summiting. I hadn’t realised what a massive expedition it would be and the organisation and equipment that was required. I could not thank them enough for all their help!
Oasis offer a range of Kilimanjaro climbs for both adults and families
- Machame Route for Adults (8-days) – see more
- Marangu Route for Adults (7-days) – see more
- Marangu Route for Adults (6-days) – see more
- Machame Route Family Adventure (10-days) – see more
- Kilimanjaro Climb & Sarengeti for Families (13-days) – see more
Family climbs are for children between 12-16 years old
In January Chris, Ethan and Seth will be talking about the Kilimanjaro climb at the Adventure Travel Show!