Monday, 2 September 2013

Kilimanjaro Challenge Day 8 30th August 2013

We started the final day on the mountain saying farewell to our amazing team. We had a tipping ceremony where we had all clubbed together tips to show our appreciation. Dean had divided the tips into envelopes for specific groups of the team ie Guides, assistant guides, porters, chef, etc. Dean asked if any volunteers would like to say a few words and hand over an envelope. I volunteered and was given an envelope fittingly for the summit porters, one of their crew was Adams who I owed a great debt of thanks for helping me to the top. When my turn came I stepped to the front, Godfrey translated my words for the members of the crew who did not have great English. I simply said that climbing the mountain was the hardest thing I'd ever done but having such a great team, no doubt made the job much easier.
Our team sang songs like the first night in camp. We shook hands and said our goodbyes then made the long 5 hour walk down hill back through the rainforest to Mweka gate, our exit from the mountain.
The walk was steep, rocky in parts, muddy and slippery in other parts. I walked most of the way down with Josie and Simon. I was pretty quiet most of the way down, deep in concentration. Descents are not my speciality. Having already had a few minor tumbles during the week, the thought of getting crocked on the last day did not appeal. By the end of the walk we had all about had enough of the descent. Finally we reached the gate. Some of our group had already got there. We waited for the rest of the group. Dave bought a supply of sprite which we all enjoyed, much nicer than water. After signing out we had a glass of bubbly each before boarding the bus to the hotel.
We got to the hotel, Andy went for a beer and I dived in the shower. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and laughed. What a complete mess. I had a moustache and goatee, as

well as quite a dirty dusty face. The shower and shave was heaven. Finally clean I had a beautiful buffet lunch. We remained in the bar drinking until dinner and had a wonderful meal and more drinks. We all wanted to celebrate our fantastic achievement. I tried my first skittle bomb, and Jaeger bomb, as well as several bottles of Kilimanjaro beer. It was a fun evening, many tough, determined people letting their hair down. This truly had been a special week, its something that will stay with me forever. The achievement in reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is sinking in and fills me with great pride and also the confidence that now I have completed this challenge there is nothing I can't do if I set my mind to it.
It has also been special because of the people I enjoyed the challenge with. I met many amazing,wonderful people, kind, determined, fun people. I can honestly say I got on with everyone in our group and I don't think I ever heard anyone argue with anyone else. We formed a great team. Then of course there was our great support team. I still am in awe of them. Climbing Kili is their job, they make it look easy. They are truly amazing people who are kind and considerate and were so helpful.
I left Tanzania the following day flying to Nairobi for a very long 8 hour layover before flying back to London Heathrow on Sunday 1st September. Stepping off the plane wearily brought the curtain down on my amazing adventure, almost 8 months in the making. What started as an idea turned into an amazing reality. For a guy who had never climbed a mountain 8 months ago to be able to summit the highest free standing mountain in the world just goes to show that if you want something bad enough, if you believe in yourself and don't give up, then you can achieve whatever you want.

Kilimanjaro Challenge Day 7 29th August 2013.

I made my way to the mess tent for a hot drink. The adrenaline was already starting to pump. Here we go, it's almost time to go achieve the dream, the goal that has been driving me all year really. I was feeling pumped up but at the same time a little scared.
After a snack we lined up outside. Head torches switched on, trying not to blind eachother. As it was so cold, we did not hang around long. Time to go.
We started in single file up a steep rocky path. I know I was behind Cora, and Andy was behind me at the start. I occasionally looked up to see a long line of torchlight way above me zig zagging in formation up the mountain. We were not the only group attacking the summit tonight. The trail was full of people attempting to make their dreams come true. My group all wore reflecting bands on their arms so we could see who was in our group. Our guides and some porters were with us to help. Now and again a member of crew would walk by me asking how I was.
After an hour we stopped for a quick snack break and water. We did not stop for long as it was so cold. I soon warmed up again walking. The climb got steeper and I could feel I was breathing hard. I knew I was in the best shape of my life so fitness was not the problem, it was the altitude. We would be gaining 1200 meters tonight. Hard work.
We were taking a rest stop every hour. Initially the time between breaks flew, but further into the night it seemed 60 minutes was an eternity. At around 4am on a break we were served tea. I enjoyed that and really needed it. I was beginning to feel a little nauseous from the altitude. It wasn't go to stop me though.
The line was pretty quiet when we were walking. Everyone I'm sure concentrating, doing what they needed to do to get through this. I can remember before we set off that Dean said, if any of us appeared drunk we'd be pulled from the line and turned around. By drunk he meant the altitude was having a bad affect and making you feel drunk and a loss of coordination. I went through my alphabet in my head from time to time to just make sure that I was still on the ball and functioning properly.
By around 5am I went through what I think a marathon runner would call the wall. I had to really slow down my pace. I was suffering physically with the effort I was putting in. I was very troubled mentally aswell. I felt so rotten inside. I felt like I was right on the verge of giving up. Every step hurt. What had I been thinking? This was far too hard. Give up, go back to camp have a nice sleep. 'NO!!! If you turn back now you'll never forgive yourself. All the people back home, friends, family everyone who supported me, what would they think of me. 'It got hard, I gave up'. What about all the dogs that have a tough life? Can they give up? Course they can't. It took some time but I finally pulled my socks up and got back to business. One foot in front of the other. I'd weathered the storm.  I'd seen off the negative thoughts for now, and I'd do it again several more times over the next few hours.
The sun began to breach the horizon around 6.30 am. What a beautiful sight. I regret not taking a photo, but I was deep into my walking and concentrating hard by then. The sunlight lifted my spirits and I could turn my head torch off.
The rocky scree path continued upwards, and I kept going. Our group had got quite split up now. I could make out some of the group ahead, and behind me. I had to zig zag up a sheer mountain of scree. It was really hard work. Every step you took, your foot would slide back a little. Around 8am I was moving slowly but surely. I stopped to catch my breath. A porter who had been near me stopped. He said 'You're a really strong man, but I want to help you' He introduced himself as Adams and took my rucksack from me, leaving me free of the weight on my back and just me and my walking poles to finish the job off. Soon, my heart lifted. I saw something a little above me on a diagonal to my left. Something green. I knew straight away what that was! I'd seen it on the internet. It was the sign marking Stella Point. I nearly screamed at Adams 'Stella Point?' 'Yes' Adams smiled. Inside it was like fireworks going off. I was almost exhausted  but I was going to do this. Soon we got off the scree to level ground. I looked at the sign ahead of me. Guides came up to me shaking my hand. Godfrey was there and smiled 'No surrender Gareth, well done, I'm proud' Stella Point is a milestone. It is at the crater rim. I could remember a few days prior,Amanda saying if you make it to Stella Point and feel ok you will make it to the summit. I was feeling ok, tired, but ok. Was I about to pull this off? I had my photo taken by the Stella Point sign and then Adams and I took off for Uhuru peak. We left our bags at Stella Point, I just had my poles and camera. Slowly but surely we got closer and closer. Adams pointed out things I should photograph. The incredible glacier to our left, the volcano rim to my right. We stopped for a short rest, we then went again.
The path curved right then left and up a slope. As I approached the top of a slope, a man walking towards me smiled, pointed at my hat and said 'Always room for another West Ham fan at the top, almost there mate, go get it!' That made me smile, I wasn't the first Hammer at the top then, but that didn't bother me in the slightest.
Finally I could see the green sign ahead indicating Uhuru Peak. Coming towards me were many of my group who had been ahead of me. They were making their way back to Stella Point and their descent. It was very emotional. I was congratulating them on their success and they were congratulating me, and urging me on to walk the final few yards.
At around 0930 all my dreams came true. I stood proudly at the sign of Uhuru Peak 5896 meters or 19340 feet above sea level.I'd made it. After having my photo taken I remember dropping to my knees and just trying to soak in what was going on. What on earth had I just done? Was this really happening? It was hard to digest. I also had a photo taken with Jen at the top. We were both amazed earlier in the week to find out we were actually work colleagues. We must have passed eachother countless times without knowing at work. We kept giving each other a railway high five on the mountain, it was only right we should celebrate together at the summit.
Eventually Adams and I retraced our route to Stella Point, passing and congratulating other members of the group who were on their way to the summit. After a short break we descended. This was tough,I had used everything I had to get to the top, I was spent. The loose scree allowed gravity to take us down, running downhill part of the way, even that was too much. I needed to stop for several rests, eventually, wearily I made it to camp. So shattered was I, I couldn't eat anything. I slept a while.Once all of our group were back we made a slow walk to our final camp site. Millenium camp site. It was a 2 hour downhill walk. Everyone was tired but proud of our achievement. The last night was an early night, we'd earned it!

Kilimanjaro Challenge Day 6. 28th August 2013

The walk today from Barranco Camp, to Barafu Camp was tough, real tough. I awoke feeling a million times better than yesterday. No headache or feeling rough, a good nights sleep had sorted me out. I left my tent and stared at the Barranco Wall for a moment. It did look a little intimidating. In truth, this is one of the parts of the trip which I was most concerned about before I left England.
I'm no rock climber, I knew it wasn't a technical climb, it was going to be more of a scramble but I still felt a little uncomfortable. I went for breakfast. The great thing about the group I was a part of was that many of us were very similar. Certainly in our concerns, I was not alone in feeling uneasy about what was coming, and in actual fact after I'd talked it through with some of the others we were all less uneasy together.
We set off slowly. It was hard work. Parts of it we could just walk steadily over the rocky surface. Other parts we had to pull ourselves over rocks, and small gaps. Steadily winding our way up to the top of the great wall. We stopped for breaks and I admired the views.
Our incredible support team then began to fly past us. They had given us a head start while they packed away our camp. Then they all overtook us on the wall. I just can't put into words how awesome they are. There was me and my friends with our rucksacks taking our time over the tricky task, then our crew blast past us with heavy kit balanced on their heads. Just remarkable people.
Finally I heaved myself to the top of the wall. What a rush! I was really pleased and relieved to have safely negotiated the wall and celebrated at the top.
We then had to negotiate a steep descent and ascent in to Karranga Camp for lunch. This was shattering. The descent over loose ground was not helping my knees, but on the ascent the pain went from my knees and it was just a tiring slog to the lunch stop.
After lunch we took a long steep ascent very slowly to Barafu Camp-Base camp for the summit push. I had tried not to think of the summit attempt later on, but gradually it came into my head, I feel I did do a reasonable job in pushing it out of my head. I still had to focus on the walk to base camp. I knew thinking too far ahead would not be wise. 'One step at a time, lets just get to camp first' I said to myself.
We arrived into the rocky Barafu camp late afternoon.
Dinner that night was tense. Everyone was talking about the summit attempt. Nerves were building, apprehension, panic. I sat with Jen and Jo at dinner. We were all nervous about the summit attempt. I gave the pair of them a motivational pep talk which they said they found really good. It made me feel good too. Somewhere inside of me the determination that I would be banking on later was pushing itself to the fore and getting me set for what was going to be the most challenging night of my life.
Dean said we would be woken at 11pm, have a hot drink and snack at 11.30pm and start going for the summit at midnight.
I went back to my tent. Andy and I laid out all the clothes we would be wearing later then went to sleep around 8.30pm. Soon enough I was woken by one of the guides. I dressed myself. It was bitter cold,I layered up. I wore a pair of thermal longjohns my heavy duty fleece lined trekking trousers and waterproof trousers over the top. Two pairs of socks. My base layer long sleeve shirt, t-shirt, fleece, my heavy down jacket, my GRWE T-shirt which I was given, so that hopefully I could get a photo wearing it at the summit, and finally my waterproof coat. I also had my trusty West Ham fleece hat, and two pairs of gloves.