Summiting Kili

I’ve always had a love for Africa. I have three older brothers, and since we were kids, we’ve all loved the outdoors and hiking, and have a passion for the wilderness. I lived and worked overseas for 18 years, in China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Tajikistan and London, but I always wanted to get back to Africa…

In 2009, I committed to my quest to summit seven mountains on seven continents, starting with the peak closest to home…Mount Kilimanjaro.

At 5,895m, this was a challenge that required four months of training, spent hiking in the Drakensberg mountain range – at Royal Natal, Giants Castle, and the Amphitheatre. My one piece of training advice is to train at a reasonably high altitude, not at sea level, so that your body is acquainted with altitude.

I felt hI was absolutely prepared for anything the mountain could throw at me, and I rate summiting Kili as one of the highlights of my life so far.

Paul stops for a sundowner, pointing out their final destination.

Stopping for a sundowner and pointing out our final destination.

To me, my first adventure was Kilimanjaro

I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro with my older brother, Jonathan, Jonathan’s wife, and two business associates – five people in the group in total. We slept in tents every night, wrapped up in sleeping bags and loads of thermals to keep warm.

For the first two days, we would wake at 06h30, wash ourselves in a hand basin, eat breakfast, and walk until lunch, where we would pitch a marquee. We would walk through the afternoon, and stop for evening sundowners with a local beer called Kilimanjaro.

If you ask me, Kili was a walk in the park. But the summit wasn’t without its challenges – my sister-in-law and Bob had shown serious signs of altitude sickness.

On day three, you walk eight hours from 8am to 5pm to get to the camp before the summit at 4,850m. You arrive at 5pm, and then after dinner you try to sleep between 9pm and midnight, when you need to be up to start the summit ascent. You actually don’t sleep, so by the time you summit at around 7am, and then descend back to the same camp, you haven’t slept for 32 hours.

The adventure of being outdoors and experiencing Africa at its best is what kept me motivated throughout the trip though.

You don’t bath for 7 days, it’s freezing and there’s always a part of your body screaming with cold. You’ve got to get to that level where you push through the pain threshold. Just take one step at a time, the slower the pace, the better. There are no rewards for rapid ascent.

The incredible view of the ascent.

The incredible view of the ascent.

Not bathing for 6 days does make you appreciate the pleasure

My best memories of the entire trip were the stunning views, the experience of having summited, and the elevation of completing this epic journey.

You start at midnight, adrenalin pumping, with torch headlights on your head. As you climb up, you look back and see this human snake of lights weaving all the way down the 1,000m route.

It’s such a privilege to walk with 25 porters egging everyone on, singing local songs – “pole…pole”, meaning one step at a time. And then that last morning, as you get to the top,  it culminates in this beautiful sunrise reflecting off the glaciers at the highest point in Africa.

On getting to the top, we were all jubilant. All I wanted was to have my photo taken at Uhuru Peak, in front of the plaque that’s famous for all summiters.

Once the photo was taken though, there was complete deflation when it came to coming down Kili.

You descend suddenly – it’s 7 hours up and 2 hours down. Going up is easy. Coming down – it’s sheer and on the scree, it’s almost like snow skiing on moving stone or rocks. The impact on your knees, the physical bodily impact…it was a painful descent.

Kili taught me valuable life lessons about endurance though, pushing me to live life to the fullest because you only get to live it once.

The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak - the highest point in Africa.

The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak - the highest point in Africa.

When I put them on, I know I’m in the zone

As someone who loves hiking, it was everything I could have expected. I had watched loads of DVDs and knew what I was in for. I suggest studying the five different routes intently – we took Lemoshu, which I highly recommend. I also recommend travelling in a small group of family or friends if possible, because you ‘feed’ off each other emotionally and it’s good to have the support.

With the benefit of hindsight, the only thing I’d do differently is organise our first day more efficiently to account for ‘Africa time’.

Also, the one piece of gear that I couldn’t have done without was my walking boots. I’ll be riding the Mongol Derby in my Hi-Tec boots – they’re like an extension of my feet. My ‘adventure boots’. I thought about bronzing them after Kili, but couldn’t…when I put them on, I know I’m ‘in the zone’.

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