21 Sep 2012

The Kilimanjaro trip was a huge success. Soon after arriving in Moshi at the Mountain Inn Hotel, we gathered in the eating area of the hotel to hear from our Head guide Naftael. Naftael briefed us on the climb and safety considerations we would have to face over the next few days.

The first day involved us all registering at the Machame National Park gate where we signed in and had a quick lunch before heading out on the first leg of our climb.

Machame is the one of the more challenging routes up the mountain. Trekking through the rainforest was great, the Machame route lead us along a narrow path through thick forest. The atmosphere in camp was exciting. The first night we stayed at a camp called Machame hut.

Day 2 gave us our first view of the mountain. As we woke up, we had a look outside and the bright sun reflected off the white snow capped mountain – it was beautiful. That nights sleep for most was good.

Breakfast was always served in the ‘green tent’ with good old bowl of oats, egg and sausages plus a cup of Kilimanjaro quick brew tea.

The second day was quite a hike, we carried our lunches with us today. The climb in total took us a good 4 ½ hours of steep trekking. The trek took us to a height of 3800m and Kilimanjaro’s sister Mountain Meru can be seen in the distance. It was a great day and the arrival at Shira Hut was well appreciated and the mountain itself was now clearly visible and would be for the remainder of the climb.

Day 3 varied in landscape and naturally the higher we climbed, the more barren and volcanic the landscape becomes. The third day we began to experience the ability of this mountain to show how harsh its conditions may really be. Our trek was an acclimatization walk which took us up to 4600m. This was tough and taking a simple sip of water proved exhausting. On this day the key phrase thrown around was ‘Polo Pole’ meaning slowly slowly – which is ultimately the key for a successful climb on Mt Kilimanjaro.

Each day from here proved to be a test, we experienced amazing scenery and the boys found ‘his’ place along each walk. The interaction and conversation was always amusing. The Older group of boys, Crowley, Brittlebank, Stableford and Calton always offered serious amusement – continuous singing and jokes were shared. It was great and I guess most of the group fed off their limitless energy !!

Summit was to be the ultimate test, each day provided an insight to what was finally in store. Barrafu was the name of the Summit Base camp. On arrival – after a 3 hour walk the bodies were tired and in need of a sit down and ‘get your breath back’ break.

Our briefing took place that evening at 17:30 after dinner and we were advised to lie down, relax and sleep in preparation for the 23:00 wake up call that evening to begin the ascent to the summit. After waking up we all layered our bodies in preparation for the winds and cold temperatures. It was about -5˚C at this time. The walk began at midnight.

It didn’t take long for us to feel the effects of such low levels of oxygen in the air, we were walking really slowly and after a couple of steps we were slowing and stopping for breaks. It was cold and we were feeling absolutely exhausted after just a few minutes of walking at a time. The night sky was lit up by the moon which was almost full.

The trek took us 7½ hours and a distance of 3km to reach the final peak. Uhuru meaning freedom in Swahili is the name given to the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, it stands freely at 5895m high. The sunrise was amazing and as we were reaching the Stella point summit the sun began to rise. It was a relief and a sign that the temperature was going to get warmer. Up to that point it was around -12˚C.

As we walked the last 600m from Stella point to Uhuru we walked alongside a huge glacier. The site was awesome, however the wind blowing off the glacier forced the temperature to about -15˚C. This stretch was tough, and grueling. The cold and lack of oxygen demanded every inch of will power and energy to just keep moving. With heads facing downwards looking at our feet ,taking a step at a time. The final sign for the Uhuru peak was in sight.

At last, the arrival. It was as exciting as it can be with minimum oxygen. By this stage a large portion of the group was suffering from the effects of Altitude sickness. We removed our head gear for the ultimate photo shoot. Our guides, Godson and Joseph warned us that we could not stay for too long and that we must replace our head gear as soon as possible. Heading back didn’t take too much convincing, the wind was freezing and removing our head gear gave us an instant brain freezing headache.

After ten minutes of photos, hugs and congratulations – we were out of there. The St John’s Climbing team all made it to the peak. As we re-gathered at Stella point to begin the descent. We had a chance to get some water from our packs, take a few more pictures, get a bite to eat have a little rest. The guides once again warned us that we needed to keep moving in order to avoid any further effects of altitude sickness. It was tough, the altitude sickness bought on heavy nausea, combined with fatigue.

The descent took a average of 3½ hours. The route going down was different and a great deal of fun. We literally ran down the mountain, skiing and sliding in the ‘desert skree’ it was fun but once again very stress-full and tiring on our bodies. We arrived back to our tents in the Barrafu campsite, and were welcomed and congratulated for our achievement. It was difficult at that point to appreciate what and where we had come from. The plan at this point was to pack up our sleeping and tent gear to head out and continue with the trek back home and out of the National park.

Mweka was the name of our Final Camp point and after a quick meal at Baraffu and with bags and tents packed we were once again on our way. The mountain was behind us and the steep climb had now become a steep and grueling drop. It was a three hour walk to get to Mweka where we signed in once again and set up for the night.

It was a relief and a pleasure to know that luxury, swim, showers, a real bed and a hotel meal was before us. The trip as a whole was a huge achievement, it was fun, tough, exciting, cold, hot, good and bad. The boys really interacted well and I can honestly say that it was an absolute pleasure to have had the opportunity and chance to get to share such an experience. The boys, were determined and positive throughout the trip. They represented the College and individually each one of them can be proud of such an experience.