I’ve always been up for a challenge of some sort. I’ve taken part in quite a few physical competitions including an ironman, a marathon and 100+ mile bike rides.

With those types of events, the endurance is not just in the hours it takes to complete, but in the months of training required. The challenge is more in the commitment to consistent training, even when you don’t feel up to it. But how do you prepare for 7 days of climbing a mountain? Obviously, you can improve your fitness levels and strength, but there’s not much you can do to prepare yourself for -190C temperatures and the effects of altitude at 5,895 metres.

When my cousin suggested climbing Kilimanjaro, I knew straight away this was not something I wanted to miss out on. (I suffer with major FOMO.) I didn’t really know what was involved and it was something I easily put to the back of my mind since the planned trip was nearly 2 years away at the time of booking. Two months before the trip, the kit list came through, and then we started researching what was involved. I quickly realised that this was in fact going to be somewhat of a challenge!

We climbed as a group of 5 friends, supported by a team of 25 porters, local to the area, and experts on the mountain.

Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano which sits within the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania. Climbers generally start at around 2,100 metres and follow a route of 35-40 miles to the summit over around 5 days and then another 2 days to get back down.

When we climbed at the end of February ’22, the temperature as we set off was 310C. Carrying a bag which weighed 8Kg, there was no easy start, but that was nothing compared to the experts who guided us, carrying up to 30Kg each. These men were my inspiration, especially knowing some of them climbed this beast of a mountain in just a day when they weren’t guiding tourists like us!

Due to the altitude, non-locals are taken on a non-direct route to become acclimatised to the altitude. A common method is known as ‘hiking high and sleeping low’. This is where you climb to a higher altitude in the day and then drop a couple of 100 feet before sleeping.

The last day before reaching the summit consists of a 5-hour hike finishing around midday where you then rest until early evening. Once you’ve had dinner it is then time to get all your kit ready for the summit climb. This includes many layers and taking only essentials in your backpack, before resting some more. We were encouraged by our guides to try to sleep at this point but the mix of excitement and altitude stopped that! 11pm rolled around before I knew it and it was time to get up, to have a breakfast, ready to start the summit climb at 12pm. It was pitch black and everything was frozen. The night sky was unbelievably bright, lit purely by stars.

We set off following the lead guide using head torches to see our way. It was not long before we joined other groups also making their way to the summit. The first 6 hours was mentally and physical tough beyond anything I’d done before. Walking up switch backs on uneven ground. Looking up to the summit and seeing other head torches in the distance and realising how far you still had left to go.

Not being able to get hold of your breath and loosing your footing every so often. Wanting to stop to rest but it was freezing cold and would prolong the effects of altitude. It was then that the porters really came into their own, pushing us to keep moving, eating and drinking. Reassuring us that this was normal, and part of the journey required.

We reached Stella Point and for me, this was good as the summit. The realisation the switchbacks were over and that from hereon, ahead was just a gradual climb to the summit around the crater. The emotion of knowing that I was going to make the summit and everything that I’d felt took over for a few moments.

As we reached the summit with the sun starting to rise, there was a wind chill of -190C. Knackered beyond comparison and freezing cold, our celebration was limited to a few photos and a group hug, before starting our descent.

We didn’t appreciate what we’d achieved until we were finally able to feel comfortable again at our last camp. After getting a good night’s sleep, we enjoyed a ‘tipping ceremony’ which was started by the locals, years back, to acknowledge us ‘tourists’ having completed the climb. It was quite a sight and an experience; dancing, singing, and eating, as well as a few beers, we finally felt we got our celebration and remembered why we’d put ourselves through what we did.

Looking back now, despite it being incomparably arduous and mentally draining, I didn’t feel the exhilaration I expected to at the summit, but now, I appreciate it as one of the best experiences I’ll ever have in my life. Not to mention the amazing feeling of gratitude, for raising a hell of a lot of money for charity.

 I wrote this blog after a number of people asked me about the climb, interested in hearing my experience first-hand. I only hope it inspires someone else to take on the challenge. I wouldn’t do it again, but I have zero regrets and will always be grateful that I had the opportunity. My advice, do it if you can!