What is it really like to climb Kilimanjaro?

In December a group of 9 STA’ers headed to Tanzania to conquer the mighty Kili and raise money for the STA Travel Foundation. With the experience still fresh in their minds we sat 5 of them down and asked them the questions anyone thinking of climbing Africa’s highest mountain needs to know…

What is it really like to climb Kilimanjaro?

What made you take on the challenge?

E-J: A truly awesome opportunity to climb the highest free standing mountain in the world which is on nearly everyone’s bucket list!

Sarah: Kilimanjaro was on my bucket list and I’m always up for a challenge/adventure – that’s certainly what we got with Kilimanjaro!

Katy: I hadn’t really ever considered climbing Kilimanjaro, however when the email was sent round at work it sounded an amazing opportunity and I knew I had to put my name forward – so glad I did!

Did you do any training?

Paul: Yes some but the most essential thing to do is at least one 8 hour walk up and down hills in the kit, clothing and boots you want to carry & wear on Kili so you know what’s comfortable and what isn’t! Don’t turn up on day 1 and find your boots give you blisters and your trousers are too tight!

Sarah: I don’t think any of us trained particularly hard for this – but you need determination and a positive mind. There was no way on earth I wasn’t going to let myself reach the top – and it worked!

Jade: I did a bit here and there but to be truthful, I was panicking before the climb thinking that I hadn’t done anywhere near enough.

Reading blogs beforehand, most people had started training months in advance and I mean, 6-9 months prior! In hindsight, running up and down the stairs in my flat 2 days before we set off didn’t help one bit. The unknown of not knowing how your body will react to high altitudes is the biggest challenge. And that is just pot luck.

Katy: Minimal, I think as long as you have appropriate clothing and make sure your boots are worn in etc. it’s something that anyone with a determined and positive attitude can accomplish.

What was your first impression of Tanzania?

E-J: Hot and happy, everyone was very welcoming and smiley but it was a lot warmer than the freezing London we left behind

Jade: They are the friendliest bunch of people. As soon as we got of the transfer bus we were engulfed into what I can only describe as the best hug I have ever received from the happiest local representative (well apart from my nan’s Double G breast – nothing beats a hug from those!)

Katy: The people stood out a lot to me, very friendly and will do everything they can to help you. When we visited the local communities, it was incredibly overwhelming to see how little they have yet how happy they seem.

Describe the 1st day of the trek

E-J: Wet and pathy, unfortunately you can’t see any of the mountain whilst you’re walking so you can’t appreciate that you are climbing Kilimanjaro. Once you reach the 1st camp though is when you get the first viewing and another song and dance by the porters makes it all worthwhile.

Paul: Much harder than I thought! But having got through that it made the subsequent days a little easier as knew in advance what we have to do each day.

Katy: Steep! Much tougher than I think we all expected. Spirits were high however, as soon as it started to rain it pretty much killed all conversations. (Mainly because as no one could hear. I asked Simon how many kids he had and he told me 18. I’m pretty sure that’s not true.)

What was your mid-trek highlight?

E-J: Being introduced to the porters at the 2nd camp with one of them dressed in a Tiger onesie whilst dancing like a nutter with the sun setting on Uhuru peak in the background was quite surreal.

Paul: The Barranco Wall – a sheer cliff face that enabled us to do some real scrambling and climbing but also meant we got some elevation really quickly.

Jade: Knowing that I had the best group of people who I now call my true friends . We were a family and they were most definitely my highlight. We didn’t stop laughing the whole way and I am thankful to them for making my trip the most amazing experience ever.

Katy: Again the people – both the porters and group members were such an incredible part of the trek. I truly don’t believe it’s something I could have accomplished on my own. The stars were also incredible, I’ve never seen such a full sky, it was magical!

Any funny stories?

E-J: Probably can’t comment on these publicly…

Paul: Know your tent companion really well – otherwise they’d think you get naked too often and have an obsession with baby powder. (Note: we’ve chosen not to question Paul further on this. Pretty sure it’s the right call).

Sarah: What happens on Kilimanjaro stays on Kilimanjaro.

Jade: EJ (dressed as a Dragon – don’t ask!) jumping into a mud puddle only to find out it was the ocean. It was the only time he was quiet for a couple of seconds – pure bliss!

The early start to the summit looks ridiculously tiring – was it?

E-J: Gee whizz! (Note: honestly, he actually said that.) After about 7-8 hours walking during the day you really appreciated the good night’s sleep but to only have 2-3 hours then have to walk another 7 and a half hours to the summit was mentally exhausting.

Sarah: The most exhausted I’ve ever been… which brings me on to the next question…

Jade: There are no words to describe what you go through mentally and physically on summit night but like anything, when you look back, even that night was amazing. We worked as a team even though it was the only time everyone was quiet and once you get to the very top, those 6-7 hours become worth it.

Katy: I can’t explain. Several times I considered slowing down but something from deep inside just keeps your feet moving one step at a time. If you looked up, you can just see head torches travelling up for what seems like forever…then they started to merge with the stars. I was physically sick from exhaustion at the end of this day, but reaching the summit makes everything worth it!

Is there any way to describe how you felt at the top?

Sarah: Imagine a feeling of exhaustion like no other; barely being able to keep your eyes open and falling asleep whilst walking. And then you see the top; and you get a surge of energy from nowhere. And when you hit the summit you suddenly feel the most alive you have ever felt. You’re actually on top of the world. The adrenalin takes over your body and you are untouchable. Until you realise you have to walk down, but still – it’s a feeling like no other!

If you were to do it again what would you do differently?

E-J A solar charger that worked & a water pack that doesn’t break.

Jade: My one advice… take your best camera. I’m glad I took a Go Pro but looking back I would have definitely been able to carry my SLR camera and the shots would have been amazing.

Katy: I probably took too many snacks for the trek, I packed a lot of energy bars, flapjacks etc. but we were so well fed at camp that I ended up brining a lot home with me. Jelly babies went down very well with our group!

How do you feel now you’re back? Want to see more of Africa?

Pretty much everyone: Definitely going back! To Africa, not Kili. Once is enough!

Kilimanjaro on your bucket list? Check out these amazing adventures and get it ticked off this year!