Get comfy, this is a long one, especially if you take time to watch the videos, which I suggest you do, because they give you a real sense of being there.
After trying to get some sleep after dinner, we needed to put on our 4 layers of clothing. I felt like the Michelin Man. Putting on all of those layers while lying down and maneuvering around was difficult in the small tent and I practically rolled out of it. I found movement in all of those layers challenging, so I can only imagine how Lucretia, Mark, Justin and Alex were feeling (one of the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease is decreased mobility).
This is what 4 layers of clothing looks like
We all assembled outside of the mess tent, we had our water bottles filled, our headlamps on, our hats and gloves and I had the Team Fox GoPro on. I made sure I had our Team Fox flag in my daypack, we were all set. We gathered in a circle, we had our four guides, Abel, January, Christian and Mathew and an additional 5 porters to come up with us to help us with our backpacks and anything else we might need. They would also be there to take any of us down, should we need it.
January helped me put my gloves on (I have tiny hands, so I bought children’s gloves, I had tried them on with my glove liners and thought I’d be ok, but actually, they were a little too small and they were tight to put on on my own). Because they were children’s gloves, they had wrist strings which were quite handy because I could take them off without worrying about losing them. It also meant that the hand warmers I had wouldn’t fit in them, so I used them as a layer in between my water bottles and their sock covers to prevent the water from freezing.
We were then led with a prayer in Swahili
At around 11:30pm we headed off. It took us quite some time just to get out of camp. Barafu Camp is massive because all of the routes meet here as their last stop before the ascent to Uhuru Peak.
It was difficult to get any range of motion in our legs because of the amount of layers we were wearing, it really restricted our movement, so you had no choice but to kind of shuffle up the mountain. I’ve been told it’s called the Kili Trudge. Slow and barely any movement, no lifting your feet as you normally would, which towards the end is all you can do anyway as your legs are just so exhausted.
We stopped frequently, it felt like every 30 minutes or so. I was happy for the breaks when we would congregate, there wasn’t a huge amount of talking, but if anyone needed anything they would ask and if someone had what that person needed, then they would be given it. Whether that was an energy boost (thank you Lucretia for giving me your Gu), an inhaler (which Kristen needed), or a pep talk (which I needed). It’s at this point I need to apologize to Betty. Betty was the youngest in our group at only 19, but perhaps one of the wisest. During my research before the trip, people had said that you had to dig deep to get through summit night. To figure out how to motivate yourself to get through it. And they weren’t wrong. I never quite figured it out, but Betty gave me some motivation, which I shot down, I immediately realized I was being negative, apologized and tried to get my head in the game. Justin said he just kept counting ten steps and would think of his girlfriend, then ten more. I can’t tell you what I was thinking, I was just so tired.
My memory of the evening is very blurry. A combination of the altitude, tiredness, darkness and hunger affected everything, from my body to my mind. I was struggling and emotional. I took this video during summit night. We had already been climbing for about 6 hours and we had so much further to go, it felt like it was never ending and not knowing how much further we had to go was not helping me. I have realized that I need to have something to work towards and if I don’t have an idea of the end goal or how to get there, I don’t work well. I need to have a roadmap. Working towards something, but not knowing how I’m going to get there, how long it will take and working in the dark and unknown is not something I enjoy - call me a control freak if you like! - I’m this way with anything I set my mind to. Actually as we usher in 2024, one of my resolutions is to relax and let go, instead of trying to control everything! And be open to opportunities coming my way
So while I was in this frame of mind, not knowing how much longer we had to climb, when it would be getting light, if I would be able to make it to the top, I recorded this video. It’s a raw insight into how I was feeling at that time.
I read a lot of books on business and since I’ve been working out more, the same thing comes up again and again. Get clear on your Why. Why are you working out? Why do you want to get fit and healthy? Why are you working on your business? Why is it important for you? My why for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was my Dad and it was at this very dark moment that I needed to think about why I was climbing, who I was doing this for. Having met Lucretia, Mark, Justin and Alex, Kristen, Laura, Connie and Betty, my why was extended to them and their loved ones too. Finding a cure for Parkinson’s is in our reach, there have been so many developments and findings this year alone that have pushed the research further. And honestly, none of this could have been done without the donations from people like yourselves. So thank you. You were all up on that mountain with me. Your support (donations, working out with me, thinking of me) was what ultimately kept me going and each and every one of you were in my thoughts that on that long, dark, cold night.
So we all kept going and going and going. And eventually the sun came up. We stopped for a rest and enjoyed the sunrise, you could see the curvature of the earth as we were so high up. It was such a beautiful sight, but not only that, it brought with it a renewed (and very much needed) energy. At this point, it was round 6am, we had been walking for 6.5hours with breaks every 30-45 minutes, which I was happy about. A couple of times I thought I was going to faint, Betty was behind me on one of those occasions when I was a little wobbly, she put her hand on me to stable me from behind and that helped, it sort of brought me back to reality. The second time Lucretia was in front of me and happened to look back at me as I was having another wobble. She shouted ahead to Abel for us to rest. I didn’t faint either of those times, but I was definitely feeling weary, which was a combination of the altitude, lack of sleep, and hunger. The last time we had eaten a meal was around 7pm the night before. We had our protein bars and energy bars, but that was it. The guides gave us ginger tea to drink during the night too, but I didn’t have any, strong ginger is not a taste I can ever get used to!
A little over an hour later and we arrived at Stella Point at 7:15am. I had started to get stomach cramps after sunrise and thought that for the first time on the hike I would need to “send a fax” on the trail (a poo - for those of you that haven’t read the previous blog posts). We stopped for photos, hugs and a welcome sit down. I think I must have told Lucretia I needed to go to the toilet (and by that I mean behind a rock - there were no toilets). The way Stella Point is set up, the sign post is in front of a large rock formation (I imagine it must be a lava rock formation) and that’s where we sat for our rest, so Lucretia and I went behind the rock. As I’ve mentioned before, there were no inhibitions we just dropped our 4 layers of trousers and went, we were close enough to one another that we could reach out to each other. The stomach cramps I had didn’t lead to a number two which I was surprised about, so I just pulled up my pants, as I did so, I looked down. Thank goodness that Lucretia had advised wearing sanitary pads to soak up any drips of pee, because those stomach cramps were not poo cramps, but period cramps. I couldn’t believe I had got my period at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I wonder if it was the altitude that brought it on as I was a few days early. There were some choice words I had at that point! The other thing to note about the rock that we were squatting at, was that it was facing the way we were heading towards Uhuru Peak and since we were slow, climbers from other groups that had summited were already heading back and so we were facing them as they were walking towards us!
So, we got ourselves situated and continued on our journey. Stella Point is at 18.885ft and Uhuru Peak is at 19,341ft, so we didn’t have much of an ascent, just walking for another hour to get to the highest point.
At this point, Kristen and Laura were both struggling. That’s not to say I wasn’t either, but I was doing ok. My breathing was labored and my chest was tight, but the dizziness I had experienced earlier had gone away. So I held back from the rest of the group and walked a little bit of the way with them, going slowly. January, Christian and another porter were with the three of us and I think eventually January got fed up of walking so slowly with me and he took my arm and we continued on, eventually passing the rest of the group ahead of us and for the first time on the mountain I was at the front of the group! It took us another hour to get to Uhuru Peak, it felt never ending, just trudging along, so incredibly slowly. I asked January a number of times if we were nearly there yet!
And eventually we got to see the crater and the glaciers and the signpost in the distance!
(Yes, this is a little long - but we were going slowly! Hopefully it will give you a sense of what it was like at the top)
Whilst I could see it in the distance, it still took a little while to get there, especially at the snails pace we were going at. We finally arrived at 8:30am.
Yes, that is chocolate from my protein bar on my teeth!
Connie arriving shortly after and then the rest of the group and finally Kristen and Laura. It was an incredibly emotional moment. Being someone that is emotionally stunted and tries to keep their emotions in check and not share them with the world, I cried and let it all out, it was impossible to keep the tears from flowing. It was a mix of emotions: elation, exhaustion, euphoria, exhiliration.
The moment everyone reached at the summit
We all got our photos at the signpost, our group photos and any other videos that we wanted. One thing I didn’t do, which I wish I had, was to take some time to explore the top and take a moment for myself to reflect on where I was, admire the view and the achievement I had just made.
Kili9 at Uhuru Peak
Alex, Justin, Mark and Lucretia at Uhuru Peak
We left Uhuru Peak at around 9:10am, I had been at that elevation for 40 minutes. Kristen was really struggling with her breathing and when I had asked her earlier if she wanted a photo at the signpost I clearly remember her response was “No, I feel like dog shit”, so I didn’t force her, but we did manage to get a few group photos, so at least she can prove she was in fact there!
So once again I held back to be with her, she had 3-4 guides helping her get down and once we were past Stella Point on the way down she was able to get some oxygen. I want to share this photo of me at Stella Point on the way down. Lucretia had stopped for a photo since she didn’t get one on the way up. She is looking great, I would almost say she was looking refreshed (considering we had been hiking for 10 hours pretty non-stop. Meanwhile, there I am in the background, looking disheveled, lost and unaware of my surroundings. Altitude bloats you, plus the 4 layers of clothing and I look like I’ve gained 50lbs!
I was obviously of no use to Kristen, but I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone, even though she had January, Christian and a couple of the Porters with her. January asked me a few times to head down, but I didn’t. Eventually he shouted over “Jo, I beg you, please go down!” And so I took my orders and I went down with Zakaria, one of the Porters.
It took 3 hours to get down, I had very little water because January was carrying my backpack with my water bladder, which would have defrosted by then, but he was with Kristen. I kept looking back for the others, Laura was on her own behind us heading down and Zakaria had her backpack with her water (and he was with me). The others I couldn’t even see, so I’m not sure who was with them apart from Abel. Zakaria ran out of water before I did, so we shared the last drops of mine. We could see Barafu Camp, it was getting closer and closer, but because it was such a big camp, it seemed to take forever to get there and our camp seemed to be the furthest away! I eventually sat down outside the mess tent at 11:30am waiting for the others to arrive. It had been 12 hours since we left camp the night before. There was some fruit on the table in the mess tent and although I was starving I didn’t touch it, I knew that if I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop and then there would be nothing left for everyone else! One by one everyone else apart from Kristen arrived at camp. We stayed in the mess tent hoping more food would arrive, but it didn’t.
Not the most flattering photo of me, but I wanted to share what I looked like when we got back to Barafu Camp. My lips are chapped, my legs felt like they would never be able to work again, I was a little sunburnt and my hair was sticking up from days of not washing it!
We discussed with Abel about where Kristen was going and he said she was being taken down to the next camp that we would be staying at. I think originally the plan was to stay at Mweka Camp which was 6 hours away, but Abel knew we would never make it in the daylight, so he asked a Porter to go down to Millennia Camp where Kristen was and tell them not to go any further.
We tried to nap before packing up, I might have slept for maybe 30 mins, but then we were at it again, packing up all of our gear and we were on the trail to Millennia Camp just before 4pm.
The stretcher graveyard on the way down to Millennia Camp
We arrived at Millennia Camp just before 6pm. Lucretia fell into the tent and didn’t move she was so exhausted. I left her to it and went to the mess tent for dinner, she and Kristen didn’t join us for dinner.
High Camp also known as Millennia Camp
You would think that it would have been an evening of celebration, each of us regaling one another with what we experienced, but that wasn’t the case, we all sat there in stunned silence, so tired we couldn’t even make conversation, all our energy was spent putting food into our mouths. And then we went straight to bed, ready for our last day on the mountain.
We have put together a GoFundMe (read some of the porters stories) and Amazon Wishlist for the porters so that we can get them the hiking and camping equipment they need to keep them safe and uninjured on the mountain. We would love your support.
Day 1: Morum Barrier Gate to Shira 1 Camp, Wednesday August 9th, 2023
Day 2: Shira 1 Camp to Shira 2 Camp, Thursday August 10th, 2023
Day 3: Shira 2 Camp to Barranco Camp via Lava Tower, Friday August 11th, 2023
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp, Saturday August 12th, 2023
Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp, Sunday August 13th, 2023
Day 5-6: Summit Night Sunday August 13th into Monday August 14th