Demi Overton shares her Kili story!
“I’m climbing Kilimanjaro!” – A sentence that I never ever thought I would ever say.. Everyone thought I’d gone a little crazy, especially my family.. And to make it worse I’d managed to persuade my little brother to climb with me! (I wasn’t our mum’s favourite person for a while.)
The months that led up to July were full of fundraising, training and kitting ourselves out with the proper gear we would need for an 8-day trek to the top of Africa. Before we knew it were waiting for the flight to Nairobi and we had no idea what to expect.
We arrived in Moshi on the Saturday afternoon after a relentless 8+ hour shuttle ride, definitely not for the faint-hearted, but then neither is Kilimanjaro. Sunday we had our acclimatisation day where we met the rest of our group and then rested ready to begin our climb on the Monday morning. (Germany also won the world cup that Sunday evening – but we were fast asleep not knowing quite what to expect for the week ahead.)
Monday arrived and we were up early to drive to the park gate where we signed in/signed our lives away and had all of our equipment weighed and checked and then it began! Civilisation drove away and we were left with a lot of miles to cover and a lot of water to drink! Water is the key – you should be drinking 4-5 litres a day on the mountain, which also means a LOT of toilet stops! After a few days, the bushes start to fade and the rocks get smaller, and you realise your dignity is fast disappearing and finding 100% privacy is lot to ask!
Each day we trekked for 3-6 hours through forest, moorland, open heath, volcanic desert and even endured some scrambling along the Barranco Wall! The Lemosho route, also known as the whiskey route, took us through every type of terrain and scenery we could ask for. We were constantly blown away by each and every view round the next corner. It is longer than other routes but gives you a chance to properly acclimatise by ‘climbing high and sleeping low.’ Our guides would let us stop at any point to take photos, ask questions or just take a rest. They don’t allow you to walk any faster than ‘pole pol’, which is Swahili for slowly, as you need to maintain your energy for the days ahead. We had experienced some obstacles and many surprises in the first week, but the true mountains thunder came on that dreaded Sunday morning summit bid.
On Saturday we reached Barafu Hut, standing at 4,600m with the end in sight. Knowing we still had 1,296m to climb was a little daunting, but by this point we had endured so much and walked so far, it would be ridiculous to call it a day. By 6:30pm we were in bed, by 11:30pm we were awake and by 12:30am we were off. It is important to climb during the night to maximise daylight hours for later, but my, it was COLD! The memory of the pain endured on that final summit ascent is ruthless. 7 hours of continuous uphill climbing in pitch-black conditions, having to blow your water out of the drinking tube so it won’t freeze, just the other head torches in front and behind to help guide the way, but not having a clue where we were until the sun finally started to rise and the horizon began to show itself. The lack of oxygen makes a step feel like a mile and each breath feels much more demanding than it really should; each time involving a mental conversation telling myself to keep going. More than once I questioned my ability to get there, (wherever ‘there’ was) with my thundering headaches and blurry eyes but the guides keep you positive. As soon as the sun started to rise, we got a sense of where we were, we could see the top, but it still seemed a very long way to go! Our guides could tell we were fading, and managed to crack out the ‘Kilimanjaro Song’ to give us the last burst of energy and motivation we needed. A memory I will never forget is looking up from the dusty path to see Godfrey running along side us singing ‘Twendi pole pole, Hakuna Matata’ with the beauty of an African sunrise behind him. Before we knew it, we had reached Stella Point – Uhuru in the near distance. Zawadi, our Head Guide, began to get out the tea and biscuits, but we decided there was no time for tea (shocking behaviour coming from three Brits but that’s what the mountain does to you!) and we soldiered on to the final peak. What looked like a ten minute walk, actually took us about half an hour, but then we were there! We were finally, really, actually stood on the top of Africa! I just cried and cried tears of relief and happiness. The final trek is full of memories of pain and doubt, but there is not a feeling that is quite as good as the one at the top, knowing we had done it and knowing 8 days of pain wasn’t all for nothing!
Out of the 5 in our group, only 3 of us made it to the summit. Both my brother and I managed to make it together, and it is something neither of us will ever forget. The beautiful, almost photo-shopped view of the glaciers and receiving an awesome sense of accomplishment were great, but in all honesty it was more about the weeklong experience, the laughs and the tears, and more importantly the people we met and the opportunity itself that will stay with us.
Why climb? Everyone has their personal reasons for climbing, but climbing for the Nasio children had an extra special meaning for me. Of course, I climbed for the personal experience, but mainly I climbed in memory of Livingstone Amwoma, one of the charities supported children who died last November at the age of just 5. I have volunteered with the charity for a total of about 2 months over the last couple of years, and if you’re reading this blog thinking about whether you should climb the answer is YES. The work the charity does for those children is irreplaceable. The children have a lovely song with the words ‘Nasio children are lucky ones’ and it’s true, they are, but without people like us raising money for them, the work couldn’t be done.
If you’re reading this in preparation, the main advice I can give is to keep your sense of humour and stay positive; as soon as doubt arrives it will cloud your judgement. Determination and curiosity is the key. Having curiosity of what the top of the tallest free-standing mountain in the world actually looks like, and what it feels like to have felt her supreme wrath. The other advice I can give is look after your feet! Take enough clean socks for each day, having a new pair to put on in the morning makes you feel much fresher than you can imagine right now and will make a huge difference. And don’t forget to drink your water!
Would I do it again? Maybe!