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Monday, October 24, 1994

When climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was a piece of cake...

The time leading up to and including the climb of the highest mountain in the world which you can climb without crampons and other paraphernalia, was fascinating. Brian and went to Africa to climb Kili. Our time in Nairobi and driving to Tanzania, not to mention meeting one of Brian’s ex-engineers, Brian Priestley, on the Kenyan/Tanzanian border were amazing – in particular the Nairobi national park. Somehow they paled into insignificance beside “the climb” up the “great white beast”. What an excellent holiday and birthday present, although before and since people have commented that anyone who wants such a birthday present must have something lacking in the brains department. Whatever. I had dreamt about the white topped mountain when I was a child and saw it in the geography books my father used to show me. He told me it was Kilimanjaro and I vowed, even then, that one day I would climb it. Brian thought I was totally off my trolley when he found out what I wanted for my big four-0 and said “but you don’t like mountains” - which is not strictly true, but I know that over the last few years I had refused to walk even up a small hill. I had horses… that was enough exercise for me. However, if anyone told me now that I had to climb Ben Nevis, I would say “what, that pimple…. Piece of cake”.. 23 years on I am not sure that it is true. The thing about Kili is that most of the time I didn’t feel like as I was climbing Africa’s highest mountain. A very special experience, and in the end Brian enjoyed it as much as I did.

Day 1

Monday, 24th October, 1994 – the Great Day of United Nations Day – AND THE BIG 4 0, the top minus 3.


Woke up early and opened my birthday cards … such discipline bringing them out from the UK without opening them. Not everyone can say they woke in a tent in the middle of Africa on their 40th birthday! There was some discussion about giving me the bumps, but they decided they needed the energy for the climb – fortunately! We were issued with walking sticks and assured that we WILL need them to rest on during the descent. The organisers do a fantastic job. The briefing session lat night was very thorough and we were issued with the correct gear and leave the rest behind at the truck. We drove from Marangu Hotel to Marangu Gate – an hour. Signed into the “going up” book – only slightly thicker than the “coming down” book! Caroline made comment about my age and it being my birthday...went over my head… We started slowly uphill around 10.30am. We were already at 6,000ft (2000m). It didn’t feel like a hill. Wide track, lots of beautiful flowers in the rainforest, especially red and yellow ones indigenous to Kilimanjaro – impatiens kilimanjari. The rain forest is thick with bearded lichen and vines, banana trees, and palms of different descriptions. A long slow ascent to the lunch stop at strategically placed picnic tables, around 12.30pm. We’re halfway to Mandara. Saw lots of Colombus monkeys playing in the trees – what a wonderful birthday present! We continued after 30 minutes through rain forest, the trail narrowed towards the end. We arrived at Mandara about 3pm – a group of Scandanivian huts, reasonably comfortable with a big dining room and dormitory above. We had only walked 5 miles, but we needed to acclimatise to the height. Mandara is a t 9000 ft (3000m) so we had already climbed 1000m vertically. The going underfoot was excellent all the way – I still didn’t feel as though we were climbing the highest mountain in Africa. We walked to Maundi Crater – about 30 minutes – we were still in the rainforest and emerged at the rim of the crater, it was easy to shout across to Caroline and Geoff on the other side! Stupendous views across Africa – what will it be like from the top!!?? We walked around the rim of the crater, took photos. We still couldn’t see the top of the mountain. I didn’t believe it was there! We had supper about 6.30pm – soup, pasta and vegetables with stew, staple diet for on the way up to provide energy and stamina for the climb. We went to bed very early – 8pm. I got the top bunk although it didn’t seem such a good idea as A framed huts make beds narrower at the top than at the bottom! It was very noisy as we were above the dining room. What a wonderful way to spend a 40th birthday, although some would disagree and say I’m mad!

Day 2

TUESDAY, 25TH OCTOBER, 1994 – the great day + 1, the top – 2.

MANDARA TO HOROMBO -10 miles – 3720m.

We rose at 6.30am after a restless night with people toing and froing to the bathroom. Breakfast at 7.30am and set out for Horombo at 8am. It was a beautiful morning – not too hot. We were still in the rainforest for the first 30 minutes, then across meadow lane – the landscape changes just as quickly as in Spain! The vegetation also changes – we still hadn’t seen the top of Kili – I still didn’t believe it was there! It was a nice steady climb – and I still didn’t feel as though we were going up! Poli poli – slowly, slowly – are the catch words of the day and for the following two days. The going got tough just before lunch. The weather had changed and it was raining buckets. I got very depressed and disillusioned. I just ran out of energy. I started on the glucose and energy bars.. and of course the Kendall mint cake. William, the head guide, was very concerned about myself and Pascal and took our backpacks. After lunch we set off again. I was feeling much better, although it was still raining – my favourite? I don’t think so! We ate sandwiches, tea and fruit and spirits seem to have revived generally – and energy. We had been walking for 4 hours before lunch. It was only 10 miles to Horombo – but felt like a 100. We tackled the last steep bit to Horombo – it was rocky underfoot and difficult to walk. We arrived thankfully in one piece and after tea and biscuits felt recharged and ready to do it all again. I still hadn’t seen the top of the mountain. We arrived at Horombo at 3pm. Dinner at 5.30pm was again soup, pasta and bread. Brian, George and Mike were telling rude jokes – it was time to retire. I got the bottom bunk this time, although it turned out not to be a good idea either. I was woken up by the scratching of mice. Now, I am a country girl, brought up in farming country but a mouse running over your bed in the pitch black is a surreal experience. Then one ran across my head and I screamed and woke everybody up. We had just settled down again (with me hiding in my sleeping bag pretending it wasn’t me who screamed) when someone else down the other end of the hut screamed and the lights went on again! Another restless night, although better than the previous night. I dreamt of how it would be at the top – if there was a top! We were now at 12,000 ft. (4000m). I had a slight headache and it was decidedly colder. I took 2 paracetamol. We started off having donned thermals but it was too hot after an hour so I had to take them off again. They were definitely required the night before. I was determined not to get cold as it is very difficult to get warm again. Matthew was the guide for the morning.

Day 3

WEDNESDAY, 26TH OCTOBER 1994 – the great day +2, the top -1


Left Horombo at 8am. The “gang” look like real walkers now, not just a bunch of people out for a Sunday stroll. It was a steady climb up through rocks and meadowland. Some rocks reminded me of humbugs – black and white, and brown and white – called Zebra Rock. It wasn’t difficult underfoot going to the Saddle. It was a beautiful morning but I STILL hadn’t seen the top! Poli poli all the way. I felt energetic that morning. I was on the glucose and chocolate. We stopped for lunch after 4 hours. I felt good. We descended slightly on to the Saddle. It was flat, boring walking for 2 hours, then we started to climb again. We saw lion tracks – no one realised that lions ventured so high up in the mountains. William assured us that they do. It was raining and sleet made life pretty grim. It started snowing in earnest an hour out from Kibo. Again I was exhausted and it was very slow progress. William took my pack again as I struggled the last few meters. We arrive at Kibo about 4pm. The ice and snow were incongruous after the tropics of the rainforest and the sun of the morning. We were, of course, just 3 degrees from the equator, but were at 15,000ft (5000m). It was not too cold once I had put on the thermals. There were icicles on the huts which were made of stone with tin roofs and no heating. Water was at a premium – everything had to be carried up on foot of course. The loo was an outside affair in a separate hut. The technique for relieving oneself was somewhat precarious. The wooden surroundings were definitely not clean… no detergent up here. It was better to stand elegantly astride the whole rather than sit down on it – and when you looked down through the hole you saw not the contents of the loo, but a 500ft drop. I felt like shouting ‘ware below’ as the contents of my bowels descended rapidly! It was a far cry from the elegance of the Ritz, or any type of civilisation, but effective. It saves emptying the chemical loo, I suppose! I ate some soup then slept from 6pm to midnight. Everyone was feeling tired but nervous about the 1am start for the summit – even Geoff, Craig and Don looked awful. Craig was really suffering with altitude sickness – some people, even Brian, had to force themselves to eat. That was unheard of with Brian! They were suffering from altitude sickness at its best. I only had a slight headache so took another paracetemol.

Day 4

THURSDAY, 27TH OCTOBER, 1994 – the great day forgotten in the excitement for THE TOP!

KIBO TO GILMANS – 5-6 HOURS – 5680M TO UHURU – 1-2 hours – 5895m

To think to we paid good money (well, Brian did!) to get dragged out of a nice warm sleeping bag at midnight to hike 5 miles up a flipping great hill in the middle of the night in the freezing cold…. I suggested to Geoff (who was a doctor) did a sanity check on each of us! William served us tea at 12.30am. Everyone was ready to go, but apprehensive as we lined up outside. Pascal has decided not to join us – she was suffering from tendonitis. It was a beautiful clear night, and we were so close to the stars we felt we could touch them. I felt full of energy again and ready to “go for it” having recovered from the previous day’s exertions. No one was carrying packs – everything was tucked into pockets and my camera was round my neck inside my jacket so as not to let the batteries get frozen. I was well wrapped up and felt like Mrs. Michelin – thermals, followed by a tracksuit, walking trousers and waterproof outers. Two pairs of socks and boots for the bottom half; extra t-shirt and sweater for the top half. Balaclava, woolly hat, two pairs of gloves and …… sunglasses (in the middle of the night, I ask you, is that the act of a sane person!) Brian was similarly “dressed” - at least we looked the part. The porters had on their usual flipflops and t shirts… There was no stopping us! Andy suggested that we had an “overlapping” system where the person at the front took 20 steps then stepped aside to wait for the rest to pass and join the back of the team. It saved energy, in theory, and helped to concentrate on the task in hand – getting up the flipping great hill. We were split into 2 teas of 7. We stepped off into the dark – William had his guides well organised with Matthew at the front, and the other 3 spread out amongst us, and William at the back. The torches were ready – but we didn’t really need them with Eddie’s spotlight which he wore elegantly around his head like a miner. We zig zagged up the hill, albeit slowly – you could almost feel the tension amongst us! The atmosphere was electric! All went well until about 3pm, except for the music of Marco vomiting copiously after the first hour out. What a wimp, I thought. I was still full of energy and seemed to have shaken off the headache. Andy’s method seemed to be working well, and the “team” were “happy”. No one was speaking, saving their breath for the climb. Suddenly, after another hour, I started to feel tired and slowed down considerably. By the time we reached the Hans Meyer cave William was worried about me again. There was no way I was going to give up...unless I broke a leg. I told William that I wanted to continue, but more slowly than the rest of the gang. If I was allowed to go at my own pace I would be fine. Just as I was about to stand up, William and Brian lifted me from each side with such force that I cracked my head on the roof of the cave. Thanks boys! We carried on on the frozen scree… forever upwards. It started to get light… the sun came up quickly and we were bathed in the most glorious light. Finally I could see the top… it was there all the time. How could I have doubted it. On and on… poli poli. We started to walk on the ice….then rounded a corner, and there it was… the very summit. Stupendous. I just stood and stared. Planes flew below us – white fluffy clouds actually below us suddenly moved away and rewarded us with the most magnificent views across the plains of Africa. We were in awe.. not only of the vista below us… but with what we had achieved. We were at Gilman’s Point 5684m (18,630 ft.)

I felt really sorry for a group we had met up on the way up. For them it was cloudy and they couldn’t see anything of the glory that we could. Brian and a couple of others set out for Uhuru peak… I just didn’t have the energy. The lack of oxygen pulling me down. I started my descent slowly with William along with the others...Within minutes I was galloping down the frozen scree zig zagging like a mad woman… it was easier than walking….!
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