Words & Images: Denise Glover
Denise Glover is a GP who mainly sits at her desk and has never done any long-distance hill walking but in July 2018, she decided to climb a mountain, Kilimanjaro. Below Denise shares her story with us.
I read a story about John Goddard who, in 1940 at the age of 15, made a list of 127 things he wanted to achieve in his lifetime. Climbing Kilimanjaro was on his list. After hearing about his story, I thought that climbing Kilimanjaro was something I could do despite the fact that I had never hiked or camped outdoors before. I would literally be starting from ‘the sofa to Kilimanjaro’ and I reasoned that, since it required no ‘technical skills’ to climb, I would be able to reach the summit.
“There’s a lot if information about Kilimanjaro online. I discovered that it was a dormant volcano in Tanzania with 3 volcanic cones ‘Kibo’, ‘Mawenzi’ and ‘Shira’. It’s the highest mountain in Africa with a height of 5,895 metres above sea level, for comparison Mount Everest is 8,850 metres above sea level. It’s the highest free-standing mountain in the world as it’s not part of a mountain range and is one of the seven summits. Because Mount Kilimanjaro is such a large geographical structure it creates its own weather, which ranges from hot to bitterly cold. It’s said that climbing it is like travelling from the equator to Antarctica in a matter of days. Approximately 30,000 climbers and 80,000 porters hike up each year and approximately 10 deaths are reported each year (some say it could be two to three times higher). The main cause of death is altitude sickness, which I was really worried about.
The weather system on Kilimanjaro varies depending on what month you travel. January to March are the warmest months, March to June is the rainy season so not recommended for inexperienced climbers, June to October it is colder and November to December sees a short rainy season. I decided to climb in January due to the comparative warmth over other months.
When hiking up Kilimanjaro you pass through 5 different climate zones;
Cultivation – 800 to 1800m
Rainforest – 1800 to 2800m
Heather/Moorland – 2800 to 4000m
Alpine Desert – 4000 to 5000m
Arctic – 5000m plus
There are seven established routes up Mount Kilimanjaro – Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai, Northern Circuit and Umbwe. The Marangu, Machame, and Umbwe routes all approach from the south of the mountain (Mweka is only used for descents). Success in reaching the summit depends on the route and the number of days it takes to acclimatize. I chose the eight day Lemosho Route, this includes the first night in a hotel. The Lemosho route is described as the more scenic route with a high success rate, I chose a private trek because I thought it would be tailored to my needs. A private trek includes a guide and seven porters to carry your equipment needed for the trek.
Preparation: I walked locally around Curbar Edge and part of the Monsal Trail. I climbed Mam Tor a few times and Thorpe cloud once. Three months before I climbed, I used two different personal trainers who devised an exercise program for the climb and I also used the dreaded step machine!
Equipment: I became a regular at the local hiking shops, learned about layering and merino wool socks, looked at several down jackets and got myself a camelback water system with an insulated tube – useful when things get cold. Hiking boots, four seasons sleeping bag, snack and water purification tablets, baby wipes, and an alcohol gel was essential… you need quite a bit of stuff!
The Trip: I arrived in Moshi, Tanzania on Saturday 5 January 2019 after flying with KLM from Manchester, one of the airlines that land at Kilimanjaro airport.
I was picked up by a transfer vehicle and met the manager of the company I was going to use to climb. The next day I met my guide Jonas and was also introduced to a lady who was looking to climb up Kilimanjaro without a group. After meeting we agreed she’d join my group with her own guide plus her porters, between us, a total of 14 people on our trek.
We carried a basic rucksack with up to four litres of water, rain gear and a snack whilst the porters carried all the food and equipment (tent, sleeping bags etc) that we required while on the mountain. We also paid for a portable toilet to be carried and used at the camp sites! Each porter is allowed to carry 15kg up the mountain including our items, at every gate items are weighed to make sure they are within the weight limit. We had to register our name in a book at every campsite.
The food was better than I thought, fruit, eggs and pasta, beef and chicken, as we climbed higher the altitude reduced our appetite. The ascent started on day one which surprised me, we continued to climb until we summited, walking between four to eight hours in a day. ‘Pole, pole, slowly, slow’ they would say. If you walked too fast you could not breathe very well and had to rest to catch your breath. We walked high to acclimatise but then returned to a lower level each day to sleep.
The biggest challenge was ‘The Barranco’. It rose over 830 feet above the Barranco valley and was quite a challenging, we had to use all four limbs at times. Summit night was a challenge. It was very cold, and we started the climb at midnight on the 12 January, taking 10 and half hours to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro on the 13 January 2019. Then another four hours to descend to base camp. My water froze, the air was thin, and I was very tired.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I would do it again but not in the near future!
I raised money for the following charities below, should you feel like adding to the total please visit the link:
Look Good Feel Better