Kaddy Lee-Preston climbs Kilimanjaro
Since leaving the BBC 2 years ago I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give up a lot of my time to local charities. I still have to remember to earn a living too – but now I can juggle my time to suit me, and that’s how I came to sign up for climbing Kilimanjaro for an educational charity based in Tanzania.
A point that people don’t often mention about charity challenges is that the contacts you meet through fundraising can often help you in your business. Your mind is also in a better place after having done a physical challenge, and your sense of wellbeing at having given up a heck of a lot of your time to charity actually restores your faith in yourself as a person. These benefits are an unexpected bonus, and something not to be forgotten if you are undertaking a challenge like this. It’s OK to get a bit back yourself!
The Climb: A group of 21 of us flew to Kilimanjaro International Airport and of that number 6 didn’t make it all the way to the summit of Uhuru (meaning ‘Freedom’ in Swahili). 1 in 4 who attempt Kili don’t make the 5895m (19, 341ft) true summit, either being taken down with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), or worse, or having to turn back at the crater rim, unable to push to the peak.
There are 5 main routes up Kili. We did one of the longer routes, Lemosho, allowing an extra day for our bodies to acclimatise to the hostile oxygen-depleted environment. Camping for 7 nights without any creature comforts is tough in itself, but add to that the fact that from night 2 you’ll pretty much be subjected to freezing temperatures, invasive sub-zero fog and, if you’re lucky, only the minor side effects of altitude sickness like sleeplessness, headaches and vomiting.
The walking aspect of the challenge is definitely doable. You just trek very slowly for several hours a day gaining small chunks of altitude equivalent to climbing a Snowdon or Ben Nevis every day. Camaraderie in the group is brilliant and a real boost when the lack of privacy and your resilience to yet another night listening to people snoring threatens to awaken your inner grump monster. The porters did a superb job, and I’m half embarrassed to admit that for the 21 of us we had a crew of 81 porters, cooks, guides, water carriers and one poor chap in charge of the camp toilets (small tented cubicle with a chemical toilet in it) but each of them were instrumental in getting us up that beast and we couldn’t have done it without them.
Whilst each day has its own difficulties, it’s the summit night itself which really hurts. You have dinner perched at 4,600 metres at a bleak, post-apocalyptic boulderstrewn camp site, enveloped in pervasive freezing fog above the snow line. It is here the doubts – and the cold – really start to creep in. Just after midnight we set off for the long slog to the summit. At about 5,200m we passed the bleak sight of an evacuation stretcher, sombrely caked in snow and ice, little knowing that it was to be used about an hour later for an American lady in another group, very obviously suffering the dreaded AMS. Around 1000 people are evacuated from the mountain each year, and about 10 people lose their lives each year. In fact, more people die trying to climb Kilimanjaro than Everest, something I was grateful to find out AFTER completing the trip.
After this we became silent. Partly due to the unbearable cold, but also due to the 1 in 3 gradient and an inability to breathe normally or easily. I can hardly even remember the details of that 6-hour, pitch-black stagger up the mountain.
So, what makes it all worth it?
Aside from immense elation and satisfaction from pushing your limits, seeing dawn break over a volcanic crater rim and glaciers slowly lighting up in warm pink rays is an out-of-this-world experience. For our ten minutes or so at the summit, we basked in delirious high-altitude pride, before turning back to begin our 2 day descent…
A huge thank you to www. outdoorhire.co.uk, who lent me all my expedition kit which kept me as warm, dry and comfortable as is possible in those conditions.
If anyone is interested in sponsoring Kaddy’s achievement or in joining in the next Kilimanjaro climb, please contact Kaddy at www.kaddy.tv or via Twitter: @kaddylp