Written by our trip leader Alex Kay, who lead our Kilimanjaro trek from October 3rd – 14th, 2016.
I felt excited in the knowledge that I would soon be guiding once again on the highest mountain in Africa, with what would soon turn out to be one of my favourite groups that I have worked with to date. The Welsh and the Irish were about to combine; A force to be reckoned with, ready to take Kilimanjaro by storm!!
The team and I first met at the Outpost Lodge in Arusha where we would spend the night getting to know one another, complete numerous itinerary and kit briefings and do what we do best: tasting the countries’ beer. Laughter echoed around the bar, a familiar sound to be heard over the coming days.
We departed at 08:30 the following morning, picking up some supplies before heading over to Machame gate to begin our 7-day hike up to the Roof of Africa. It was obvious that there were a few butterflies in stomachs as the team waited with restless legs for all of our mountain crew’s equipment and luggage to be checked before we could begin our ascent. But soon enough we were on our way, taking our first baby steps towards our goal.
Along our trek we would journey through a plethora of ever-changing ecosystems; From tropical jungles under-canopy, to open, dry heath and moorland, sub-alpine desert and an ash-filled, arctic, glacial summit.
We spent the first day and a half beneath the forest camo peyote, free from the glare of the burning sun, but under close watch from the eyes of Colobus and Sykes monkeys, however it would not be until the final day that we would catch a glimpse of them!
Our daily routine consisted of rising with the sun at 06:30 with a cup of tea brought to our tent, with hot water to wash with breakfast following at 07:00. The banter ensuing from 07:30 onwards leaving us usually to depart around 08:30.
Many of the team had spent time in the mountains of Ireland, with some, Helen for example (our mountain queen) having completed many a previous expedition in places such as the Alps and Iceland! This allowed for the routine to be settled into swiftly and meant for smooth departure from camp each morning. There were a few late risers however, our young, enthusiastic and forever-smiling Clodagh was definitely one who enjoyed the comfort of her warm sleeping bag a little more than others!
By the end of the second day we had left the dense forest and approached the drier environment above. The going began to get tougher with the limited attainable amount of oxygen taking its toll on us. We had soon rose to Shira Cave camp at an altitude of around 3,800m and enjoyed our first of many beautiful sunsets.
The weather held out for us over the coming days and if the sun was not beaming down on us it was at least dry, sheltered beneath the haze of cool clouds forming high above.
It was at Lava Tower (a high point of 4,600m), that Peter the team Doctor (assisted by our duly-appointed nurse, Luke) and I would see, if any noticeable signs of the altitude was getting to people. But undeterred, the team charged on effortlessly with not a single headache or complaint! This was great news, as over the coming days we would not venture much higher, allowing for plenty of time for our bodies to acclimatize. The group were showing zero signs of weakness at this altitude already and my confidence was growing in them. It was at this point that I felt it was a great possibility that all of us would reach the summit, if over the next few days everybody continued to stay strong.
Another obstacle that the team pushed over like an empty plastic bottle was the Barranco Wall. The steep and ominous wall rising steeply from Barranco camp was enough to put any non-mountaineer out of their comfort zone. But with the assistance of our fantastic guide team, a few of my personal favourite stories to keep the team distracted and ‘Boolabonday!’ (the whereabouts and reasoning behind this chant is still a little unknown to me) being chanted out loud intermittently we soared our way up and over, ever closer, ever more excitably, towards the top.
We were accelerating our way towards the summit and soon reached our penultimate day. We covered the next day’s distance and our ‘4 hour trek’ to Barafu Camp in just 3 hours, an impressive margin to shave off at such an altitude.
The night before our final effort we discussed as a team what lay ahead. For some this would be the hardest thing they would have done in their lives to date and each member of the team had to be mentally prepared. On these big mountain expeditions sometimes the hardest part is staying motivated and positive, but fortunately by now the group of friends that had formed over the recent days knew exactly how to keep spirits up.
Over the last six days numerous games of Irish snap had been won, lost and left undecided; Mischief and pranks in the form of charades had been duly delivered; Songs and poems resonated the walls of the mess tent, led by John; Crazy stories and blunt humour had been exchanged by Lizzy and David respectively; Our Loved-up Willie, smitten by the Moroccan stunner that passed us by each day, and nurse Luke, even conducted a pub quiz, and finally the witty banter from our Red Light Girls kept the humour flowing. Spirits were high and everyone was excited and ready for what, at 11:00pm that evening, was about to commence.
For it was at 12:00am on the 10th October 2016, after an hour’s worth of faffing with platypus’ and chowing down porridge, we began the steep climb up unrelenting scree slopes to first reach Stella Point and subsequently climb the final few 100m’s to stand atop the Roof of Africa. They knew if they could reach Stella Point then there was no reason why they couldn’t get to the top! Gee’d up by Mags’ war cries and reinvigorated by an awe-inspiring sunrise, the team from Ireland did just that!
I could not have been prouder. At 08:30am 19/19 happy Irish men & woman, 1 thrilled Irish doctor & 1 extremely delighted Welshie stood together and shared in the elation of reaching Uhuru ‘Freedom’ Peak, 5895m. Emotions ran high and many tears were shed (and those were mainly of our BFG David’s and his father’s papa John), even I may have been dehydrating behind my glasses, but I will not comment.
A 100% successful trip, not only for the fact of everybody reaching the summit, but for the incredible journey that was had along the way, and the friendships and bonds that were made at the best and toughest of times.