Climbing Kilimanjaro

The goal: to climb Kilimanjaro in 6 days
The reason: to raise some money for Headway North West London
The result: a gruelling but humbling success

I decided to try and climb Mount Kilimanjaro towards the middle of last year and contacted Headway to get some t-shirts and sponsorship forms and before I knew it, I had paid my deposit, booked my flights and signed myself up. My firm buoyantly rose to the challenge and we had bake sales, dinner dates and lots more cake to raise money. I had reached my target of £800 before I left so was feeling sufficiently pressured when we arrived in Moshi Airport in Tanzania.

Our guide was the lovely and strong Wilfred, a man who had also taken part in the Sport Relief Kilimanjaro climb a few years ago and regaled us tales of others who had successfully reached the summit. Wilfred was strong and calm. This was crucial. He patiently overlooked our first error of only bringing a single 1 litre bottle of water each. We naiively assumed there would be water along the way but thankfully Wilfred managed to procure a third 1 litre bottle of water for us so we had errr… 1.5 litres of water each per day. With mistake number 1 under our belts we were shaken but not deterred and set off, “pole pole” slowly slowly, one step at a time. In the first two days we walked from 2865 metres above sea level to 3810, averaging 8km per day. We passed rainforest terrain and reached moorland.

Day 3 was beautiful as we were above the clouds and could enjoy the stunning scenery and the view of how far we had come, but we were now at 3965 metres above sea level so the altitude sickness began to rock us with symptoms of nausea and sickness. We still had some way to go with the goal being the magical 5895 metres for the summit. The pace was relentless and we were now walking at least 10km per day across 7-8 hours. There were some hairy moments, Wilfred telling me to trust the grip of my boots and scale the side of the mountain with a sheer drop was certainly one. I wasn’t sure that my knock off Hi-Tec boots were quite as snazzy as Wilfred thought but surprisingly it worked and I felt a bit like Spiderman. The worst was yet to come though. A few hours later we heard the panicked voices and hurried actions of some guides from another group who were lifting an injured person all the way back down the mountain in an emergency. We were told he would be fine so forced ourselves to look forward and continue.

Day 4 began with a 10km walk and we arrived at our camp site in Barafu at around dinner time. After some food we were told to get a few hours rest before waking up at 11pm to do the final 5km ascent to the summit. This would take us 7 hours. Armed with our head torches, dioralyte sachets, glucose powder and energy bars we began the gruelling walk in the dark. Passing a couple consoling each other as the girl was crying was a low-point. As was watching my boyfriend being fed glucose powder out of Wilfred’s hands when he began to lose consciousness on the dark and gloomy walk up. It was really touch and go whether or not we would make it but we slowed right down and dug deep. We miraculously reached Stella Point for sunrise and had the final hour to get to Uhuru Peak – the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro. We had the best surge of energy and adrenaline at Stella Point and the final hour was the best, most energetic we had felt in 24 hours. It was a wonderful feeling and we reached Uhuru Peak and couldn’t be more proud of what we had achieved. The views were phenomenal and everyone around us was so pumped. We got back down in a day and a half. Except for a few missing toenails and some cuts and bruises, we got away unscathed by the great mountain.

It’s easy to forget what all of this is for. I ended up raising £1,100 for Headway North West London which will go a small way in funding their rehabilitation services, telephone helplines, training days and information packs for family members and carers. Headway are a charity and have over 100 local branches throughout the UK offering their services to people who have suffered from a brain injury. Brain injuries can profoundly change lives and test every aspect of your life – walking, talking, thinking and feeling. The losses can be severe and permanent.

Some of the really scary facts surrounding brain injuries from Headway are as follows;
• In 2013-2014, there were approximately 956 brain injury hospital admissions to UK hospitals every single day – i.e. one every 90 seconds!
• Men are 1.6 times more likely to be admitted for a brain injury than women
• …Sadly women aren’t safe with a 24% increase in female admissions for brain injuries since 2005-2006.

The good news is that the majority of people with acquired brain injuries survive but it means there’s an ever increasing demand on support services – which is where Headway comes in. £1,100 is certainly a start but it’s not enough to sustain national charities like Headway.

Written by Yagmur Ekici