Standing on top of Africa
You don’t generally associate Africa with snow and bitterly cold temperatures. But at nearly 6,000m it’s a different story. Standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain in the world, you look around at the beautiful white covered surroundings and feel you could equally be trekking on the arctic ice shelves. After five hours of “pole pole” (slowly) plodding in a long line, heads down, head torches on, dressed like Michelin men to try to fight the freezing air, it was a relief to reach the first summit, Stella Point, and turn around to see the sky change colour as the sun rose in the valley beneath. From there it was another half an hour or so to Uhuru peak (5,895m) and the highest point on the African continent.
I could see the sign in the distance and as much as I wanted to run and touch it, my body wasn’t having it. At such a high altitude, oxygen isn’t at a premium and I was struggling to breathe even though the pace was so slow. But the sense of pride and achievement on standing on top of Africa, in front of the bright green sign was unforgettable.
After six days of trekking uphill, the first few metres of going down was a welcome relief. This soon wore off and as tiredness and lethargy hit, neither my brain or my knees enjoyed the day and a half of descent that followed. I found it really hard going. All you want to do is get to the bottom and to that long-awaited shower.
It made me feel sick when I saw one of them was in sandals.
I did convince one of the guides, Francis, to have a race with me and run the last ten minutes or so. It was a good tactic. Despite some strange looks and comments from a group of Americans we flew past, the locals who were trying to sell t-shirts and bottles of coke didn’t come near me.
Francis and I high fived at the end and his smile was as broad as mine. I don’t think he had ever had such a crazy person with enough energy still in the tank, pestering him to run the last few kilometres.
All of the guides were brilliant. I went with The African Walking Company and did the eight day Lemosho route. As a group of eight, we had four guides to lead us up the mountain. We wouldn’t have got to the top without them or indeed the porters who carried all of our gear, flying past us with up to 25kg packs on their back. It made me feel sick when I saw one of them was in sandals. I left my old trainers for one of them and thanks to footballer Jason Euell I had two Charlton shirts to give the guys who pitched my tent every day and carried my bag. You didn’t ever see them complain, despite the laborious task they faced.
So after reaching the top of Kilimanjaro I’m back on dry land and trying to focus on two things –the Half Ironman in June, in Switzerland. But first, the Engadin ski marathon. It’s difficult to train given the lack of snow in the UK, but I’m hoping to go out again with the local club who run rollerski sessions.