The idea of climbing Kilimanjaro first came up when we were visiting the Orphanage in 2011 – having met Kim and the Maher family who had just come back from Kilimanjaro, Maria was very keen to take up the challenge in 2012. I was a lot less enthusiastic and only really decided that I was “in” on the plan in April 2012.
So after several months of serious training, we headed off for our Kilimanjaro-GLO trip on Sunday 28th October. We arrived in Moshi, Tanzania (one of the most popular starting points for Kilimanjaro) on Monday lunch-time. We met our wonderful guide Mndeme and he briefed us on what the itinerary looked like for the following 7 days. We didn’t ask too many questions or details as I figured that we would be better without knowing too many details on what lay ahead. We just kept thinking of the children at The Good Life Orphanage like Saidi who has severe learning difficulties as a result to untreated epilepsy.
Then on Tuesday morning, it was an early start for breakfast – we met our guides – Mndeme & Hamisi and our gang of porters who would accompany us up the mountain. Then we drove about an hour from our hotel to Machame gate (1800m altitude) which was the starting point for our 7day climb up the Machame route. We hung around for a few hours while our porters sorted out all the gear – everything has to be weighed in to make sure that every porter is carrying maximum 20kg, and to also ensure that all the stuff that is brought up the mountain comes back down rather than being discarded.
Tuesday was walking through rain-forest, from 1800m to 3100m. Being our first day and feeling fresh and enthusiastic we didn’t walk as ‘pole-pole’ (‘slowly-slowly’) as our guides told us to walk, and consequently Day 1 was a pretty tough start for a day that was meant to be easy. We arrived at camp at approx. 4pm, and found our tents already erected by our great team of porters. We met some of the other tourists who were also in our camp, and then had dinner early. Needless to say, no need to wash hair or get dressed up for dinner. Again the children at the orphanage were foremost in our thoughts, we were doing the climb to raise much needed funds for them.
The following 3 days all followed a similar itinerary – we woke at 7-8am (depending on how many hours walking we had to do that day). First thing every morning was a check to see whether we had sore muscles or not (amazingly not!) from the previous day. Then Maria went off to take some early-morning photographs, we packed up our stuff, had breakfast, and we were on the road by 8-9am. We walked 4-6hours each day – always uphill obviously! And some days, even coming downhill! On Thursday for example, we walked up to 4650m (from 3800m) but then walked back down again to Barranco camp at 3900m – apparently, “climbing high to sleep low” is key to a successful summit, but you have to trust the ‘experts’ despite it feeling like a big waste of energy to come 800m down when your objective is to climb up a mountain.
Saturday was a very easy day of climbing as we were getting up later that night to go to the summit. We walked for only 3hrs from Karanga camp (3995m) to Barafu camp (4670m) which is the base camp for our summit ascent. While the walking was relatively easy we spent the last hour walking through a horrendous hail storm (hooray for wet gear!), and when we arrived at base camp, there were several porters seriously bolting our tent down- that suggested we were in for a windy evening! We had lunch and a few hours sleep, then when we got up we had to sort out our gear for our night climb to the summit. Decisions, decisions, do I wear three layers or four, and do I wear wind jacket under or over my down jacket? At that stage, it feels like every decision can be a make or break decision! We had an early dinner at about 5pm, and then we went for a few hours sleep.
The alarm clock went off at 11pm, and by midnight we had all the layers on, tea & biscuits consumed, and we were on the way. There was snow on the ground, but no snowing or raining as we were walking. It was cold (-10C to -15C), but it wasn’t too bitter, and we had a made good decision on number of layers and the order ☺. The first half of the walk was OK, and we were walking faster than on any other day, overtaking several groups as we went up. I found the second half of the climb VERY tough – I had a pretty severe headache by that stage, and was feeling seriously nauseous. I couldn’t even count to 100 any more – and wondered whether I was losing my mental faculties as well!?!? I eventually confessed to our guide that I was feeling nauseous (I didn’t want to tell him earlier as I thought he might send me back), and he didn’t seem overly concerned, so we kept going onwards & upwards. The last hour to Stella point (5685m)which is the rim of the crater was brutal – very steep, and panic started to set in about whether I was going to make it or not. After what seemed like a life-time, we finally made it to Stella point at 05.40, and tears of relief followed. Then as we walked from Stella point to Uhuru peak (5895m), the sun started to appear in the sky and the views were really stunning. The walk to Uhuru peak took another 30mins, and we arrived there at 06.20 – relief!, exhaustion!, euphoria! More tears……
We took a few minutes to take the customary photos and absorb the ‘moment’ and then because “what goes up, must come down”, we were then on our way back down to base camp. After a short while, our guides clearly decided that we were walking too “pole” and then took us arm-in-arm to ‘scree-slide’ down to base camp which entails skidding/running down the loose gravel at medium speed. We arrived at basecamp just before 9am, had a quick nap, then brunch and set off on a 4 hour walk in miserable, mizzling rain to Mweka camp (3100m) It was super wet & miserable at camp as well but at last there was finally some oxygen in the air! That evening, our ‘mountain hair’ (affect of wearing a hat and not washing hair for 7 days) had really reached impressive levels and a shower was much needed –only one more sleep to go! On our final day (Monday), Mndeme had proposed to be on the road early and we were happy to go along with that plan – it meant we could shower sooner. So we had a brisk 2.5hour walk to get back to Mweka gate, our starting point for 09.30! Then back to the hotel for long, long shower & a tasty celebration lunch. We had completed this epic climb for The GLO!!
On Tuesday, the 2nd half of our holiday started and we were flying to Mombasa to go back to the Good Life Orphanage. David met us at the airport and we were greeted late in the evening at the GLO by Mercy, Dorothy and Mama Tuta and Auntie Mapenzi from Kilroe house. Unfortunately all the kids were already in bed, but by the time we got up the next morning life at the Orphanage was in full flow – and we had a chance to say hello again to all the mamas, aunties and all the lovely children. It was so great to be back at the GLO a year later, and see how everything has taken a further step forward. The school was now fully up & running and were even hosting their first ‘summer-camp’ while we there, there was ‘creative play’ happening on Saturday afternoons, and supervised play happening every afternoon in the playground, George had joined the staff as the first social worker at the GLO, but most importantly it was beautiful to see how the children had grown and developed over the past year: Lawrence is now able to sit up, and move himself around, is able to make himself understood and can nearly use a Smart phone ☺ – a true miracle.
Then Mercy though still very tiny and light has now developed quite an attitude so doesn’t seem quite so fragile. Abdalla and Collins continue to grow into very hardworking, caring and responsible young men and have both written their first blogs ☺!. Gracie, Michael & Naomi have all ‘calmed down’ a little and are happy, boisterous little children but in a less hyperactive way which is a good thing ☺. Joshua has ‘toughened’ up a little and is well-able to deal with Caleb and Moses now. Jack has moved on from his fascination with the ‘shamba’ (farm) which means you no longer need to bring him there 5 times in an afternoon! I could keep going about all the amazing progress that has been made…..
In the mornings at the GLO, all the children except the very youngest (<2yrs) are at school or at baby class, so we spent our time helping the Mamas prepare lunch, sort the laundry, feed the babies etc. After lunch when everybody is back from school, we spent the afternoon playing with the children in the playground, which was always great fun but completely exhausting. Then in evenings, after dinner, we spent some time reading with the older children or just having a ‘cuppa’ and a chat with Mama Tuta & Auntie Mapenza.
As in previous years, the time flew by, and we were soon saying our farewells for another year and on our way back to the airport.
Thanks to everybody at the GLO who looked after us so well during our stay, and thank-you so much for all the amazing work that you do all year long to make the GLO such a happy home for all the children.
Last but not least, huge thanks also to all our lovely colleagues, family and friends who sponsored our Kilimanjaro climb and helped us raise almost £3000 for the Orphanage. This money will go towards building a ‘transition house’ for which building will hopefully start in 2013. The idea for this house is that the older children/teenagers will move in and live somewhat more independently, taking care of more of their own cooking, laundry etc, with objective of helping prepare them for starting their life outside the Orphanage – again life at the GLO will take another step forward ☺