In February 2014 I went on a trek organised by Jagged Globe to climb Kilimanjaro. We had a rather “varied” group. It included three who were doing the trek for charity, three Chinese ladies, a guy from Ireland and myself plus guide Matt Parkes. Other than Matt, I had the most walking/mountaineering experience. Indeed most of the group had little such experience but all did well notwithstanding.
Set out below is the text of a trip report I did for Jagged Globe. It is also on their website.
A successful trip led by the knowledgeable and laid back Matt Parkes supported by an excellent team of local guides almost came off the rails at the outset thanks to a combination of KLM, Atlantic storms and KLM again. The eight of us plus Matt were originally joining from 5 different locations but KLM were not able to confirm all flights. So five of the group plus Matt instead assembled at Heathrow at 4am to check in only to find that KLM had cancelled the early morning flight to Amsterdam because of adverse weather and we therefore missed the onward connection to Kilimanjaro. After much negotiation with KLM, alternative arrangements were made for the outward leg and we were ready to board the flight to Kilimanjaro 24 hours late. At that point the two Steves and Carol were refused boarding because KLM had overbooked the flight!
So whilst Matt, I and Ying Ying settled in to our flight, the two Steves and Carol were left to rearrange their flights yet again. They managed to secure a route via Nairobi which got them to Kilimanjaro about 12 hours after we arrived.
On arrival Matt, I and Ying Ying were taken to the Key’s Hotel where we were able to meet up with Ciaran, Lisa and Celine who had managed to get there without any difficulty. Given our late arrival a decision was made to extend the trip by one day at the end.
The following morning we went back to the airport to pick up the two Steves and Carol and we whisked them straight off to the start of the trek. We went through the usual formalities, including load weighing, at Londorossi Gate and set off again to the start of the Lemosho route. Just when we thought things could not go wrong again, we were first delayed 20 minutes by a broken down truck and then forced to walk an additional hour and a half due to the condition of the road up to the start point. Kili was receiving some unseasonably wet weather.
So we only arrived at Big Tree camp after dark though not before seeing Colobus monkeys crashing through trees and listening to the noise of insects as dusk fell. The porters did a great job (as was the case throughout the trip) in setting up the tents and producing a meal even though it was then late in the day. The two Steves and Carol were reeling from the fact that they had not had a chance to pause for breath since their arrival in Tanzania.
Fortunately the rain had kept off, but that was not the case the next day as we transitioned first from the forest to the heather and then to the moorland and then to the beginnings of the alpine desert of the Shira plateau. Here, late in the day, we first saw our objective covered in swirling grey clouds and abnormal amounts of snow. The pattern of rain beginning by mid-morning and continuing until mid to late afternoon was to repeat itself over the next three days as we made our way first to Shira 2 camp and thence to Barranco and Karanga. And this was supposed to be one of the dry seasons! We certainly felt that the fates were against us. The climb up over the ground around Lava tower was particularly unpleasant with driving wet snow in a raw wind.
Day 6 and the move to Barafu camp was undertaken in glorious weather preceded by a beautiful sunset the evening before. Of course, this should have been our summit day. I certainly looked up enviously at the summit area of Kili thinking that I should have been up there but for the travel delays. We arrived for lunch and then spent the afternoon festering and preparing for the exertions of the night to come – and hoping that the weather would hold as clouds rolled in during the afternoon.
We need not have worried. Away by 11.45pm with the Milky Way arching over us and the Southern Cross prominent, we started in chilly but not freezing temperatures. As ever the instruction was ‘pole, pole’ as we mixed with the strings of other groups also making their summit attempts, the lights from head torches bobbing above and below us.
Gradually the hours went by interspersed by brief stops for refreshment and to answer the call of nature. In the dark it was not possible to gauge how far one had gone, or how much more there was left to do. It became a question of will power. It became very cold and final layers were donned. A couple of us suffered from waves of nausea and most others from other effects of the altitude. Only Carol seemed unaffected. Eventually a thin red line appeared on the eastern horizon and light filtered into the atmosphere. Stella Point was just above us, tantalisingly close. At last it came – what a relief! Another wave of nausea overcame me – the guides were sympathetic and I was revived by some warm, sickly sweet tea.
The final ascent from Stella Point seemed easy in comparison, for me at least. Carol was already there at the top with one of the guides as I arrived at 7.50am with Ciaran, “big” Steve and Matt closely followed by “little” Steve. The rest of the team and guides followed soon afterwards. So the whole team had made it and the weather was perfect. Views were stunning. The crater was filled with snow, the plains were spread out below and Mawenzi and Meru peaks stood proud in the sunshine. Mountains in Kenya were visible to the north.
The obligatory photos were taken and high fives and hugs dispensed. All too soon it was time to leave. I dallied behind some of the others taking photo after photo. At Stella Point I had to take off several layers of clothing because I would have become too warm carrying on. The descent was a blast and I was back at Barafu in around 2½ hours together with Ciaran. But the exertion of the climb took its toll on other members of the group and it was another couple of hours before everyone was back at Barafu. It soon began to rain again!
Once all had had time to be fed and rested we continued down to Millenium camp in short order. Ethereal mists swirled around and a feeling of contentment settled over the team. This camp seemed more pleasant than the somewhat damper Mweka camp that we passed through the following day en route to the park gate. All slept well in the thicker air.
The final day passed in a blur of activity – the walk to the park gate, the giving of thanks and tips to the guide and porter team, the return to the Key’s Hotel for a shower (bliss), repacking and a final meal together and the departure to the airport. Carol, Lisa and Celine were off on safari adventures. For the rest of us, KLM could not spoil our return as we went back with Kenya Airways!
My thanks to the JG team who had to manage the difficulties of getting us to and from Tanzania, to fellow team members and to Matt for his patient support to the team.