In hindsight it was a very enjoyable experience but it was also one of the hardest things I have undertaken to date. We actually walked through 4 eco systems starting with the lush pine and rain forests and finishing with the baron, moon like terrain of the final day. We climbed in good, clear weather so the scenery was quite stunning. All the guide books advise you to stop on several occasions throughout the climb and take in your surroundings. This is good advice as you spend most of the climb looking at the back or the feet of the person in front so to stop and look around is amazing. After day 2 we were well above the clouds and it was quite stunning to wake in the morning and see the sun come up with Kenya appearing far below between the clouds.
The higher we went the colder it got with the loss of the sun each day sending the temperatures falling well below zero at night. Sleeping in a tiny two man tent on the side of a mountain in freezing conditions is not something I would like to repeat however!
I was in a group of 4 climbers, all climbing for different charities. To support us we had a lead guide, two assistant guides, a cook and a team of porters. In all we had 21 support staff so there was 25 of us in all. The food was particularly good considering the difficult conditions.
The final push to the summit started at midnight in the biting cold (-12). It is quite an easy sight to look up and down the mountain and see groups of lights moving slowly up the mountain and to realize these were all groups like ours. Slowly slowly (or pole pole) is the only way to climb this mountain, the oxygen levels as you near the top are only 50% of that at sea level so even to walk 10 meters is an exhausting activity. We witnessed several people being carried down the mountain and that really brought home the difficulty of the climb, good fitness is useful but ultimately everyone’s body reacts differently to a lack of oxygen.
It took almost 5 hours to reach the summit and a further 2 hours trekking across a massive glacier to get to the summit. Our timing was perfect however and we all made it just as the sun was coming up leading to some quite amazing scenes. What no one really tells you about in advance is the obvious, once you get to the top you have to get down again! This took a further 5 hours so it was a really long, exhausting day.
Lots of people have asked us what challenge we will take on next, for me the answer is a flat,sandy, sunny beach but one or two of the other guys I am sure will look for something else next year.