Perhaps our vision might seem slightly odd to some people, maybe even a little far fetched? Truth is we feel we are already on our way to achieving our goals. By setting out smaller more manageable goals the main ones slowly move closer. The seven summits for example sounds like a mountainous challenge (literally), however when you break it down into 7 individual mountains, assign an amount of time to them, train, travel, conquer them one by one all of a sudden the big challenge seems achievable as individually each one is possible, so why not all of them?
The first of our summits for this challenge was Kilimanjaro. Perhaps it would have been logical to try the mountains in height order, or in the order they would be easiest to train for… But our way is not always the most logical, but it sure is fun!
May 2015 a few people we know (Helen included) completed a 100km walk to Brighton, in the finishers bag there was a leaflet advertising a trek to Kilimanjaro with the same company (Action Challenge). Robbie (one of the walkers) sent a photo to Helen, Helen sent it on to a few friends and before we knew it 5 of us (Jenni, Helen, Janet, Matt and Rachel) had signed up to climb to the ‘roof of Africa’. With a night time trek up Snowdon as our only really notable practise we were perhaps not the best prepared for the trip. Less so as Helen had major hip surgery in November meaning she was unable to exercise and was restricted to very limited walking in the months leading up to the climb.
On the 3rd March 2016 we were off! We had planned this trip to coincide with Helen’s 30th birthday, so all being well, we would climb the mountain and be down in time to travel to Zanzibar to celebrate. Well, it didn’t start that easily! Jenni’s suitcase decided it did not want to travel to Africa and on the train journey down from Southport it shed its wheels! A 26kg suitcase with no wheels is quite a tragedy, especially when trying to carry it up the stairs at tube stations in London. A few phone calls and Helen headed off to Euston with a suitable suitcase to decant Jenni’s kit into… Panic over!!!
We met up with the rest of the people on the trip at the airport, including a trek leader and a doctor provided by Action Challenge. Long flight attempting to sleep, then a quick connecting flight to Kilimanjaro airport and we were ready to start. We spent a night in a hotel at the base of the mountain before starting the climb the next day. The lower levels of the mountain are warm, filled with vegetation, monkeys and other delights, but make no mistake the first few days are still a tough climb.
Possibly harder than the trekking is the camping, we are not used to camping, small spaces, hard floors, no showers and rain certainly added to the experience! The company Action Challenge partner with in Tanzania were amazing they were Big Expeditions, if you ever want to trek up Kilimanjaro we can highly recommend them. They took down the camp each night, and then trekked ahead to set up camp at the end of each day, in this manner we were so spoilt! But we are truly grateful as without them we have no doubt the experience would have been a lot harder.
We took the Lemosho route which allows for some extra acclimatisation than other routes available of which we were grateful, climbing high in the day, sleeping lower, then climbing back up the next day. The views from the camps were stunning, with the mountain looming in the distance we were constantly reminded of the challenging days ahead.
There came a point where we seemed to be so close. The final camp! We rose at midnight to start the final ascent, and this is tough. Big Expeditions provide plenty of staff for the summit night, supporting and watching the trekkers, helping to ensure everyone makes it to the top. The terrain is difficult, uneven underfoot, thin paths, some scrambling, lots of concentration required. The air is thin, breathing and walking together feels like a struggle, stop and you can breathe, move and you cant… This carried on for 5 hours until we reached Stella Point, Stella Point is like a false summit… You’ve done a trudge of a climb to get there, you are freezing, cold, tired, oxygen deprived, but its still dark, and its not the top… Then there is the walk around the ridge to the true summit, as we walked round the sun started to rise, the view took your breath away and with it some of the bad memories of the hours before…
And then we made it! The top of Africa, although at this moment it felt like the top of the world (we are well aware that challenge is still to come). Exhausted but elated, we had made it! It was a fantastic feeling and one we are sure will be difficult to replicate anytime soon, but we will be sure to try to on our next summit. 1 down, 6 to go!