Future 2 Foundation, Mt Kilimanjaro Climb 2016 – I’m now a Kili Climber

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Anne thanks her guide Francis.

After 12 months of thinking, planning, fundraising, conditioning and let’s face it, trepidation and denial, on 24th February 2016 we finally reached Uhuru Peak which at 5895 meters is the very top of Mt Kilimanjaro.

After hiking and camping for 5 days, we were fast approaching the pointy-end of the trip. We had an early start with a relatively easy “stroll” from Mawenzi to Kibo which was our base for the summit climb.

Kibo is at 4,730 mtrs and the high altitude affected my breathing and caused mild headache. When resting I felt fine but as soon as I started moving breathing became slightly laboured, as if I’d been running for a while.

The terrain is alpine desert which is a barren landscape (only 600mm rainfall a year) apart from the wreckage of a small plane which crashed a few years ago and the occasional porter/hiker making their way to Kibo, there isn’t much to see.

 

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Life at the top.

 

The 5 hour walk was quite easy and we reached camp in the middle of the day to rest up and prepare for our ascent that night. The afternoon briefing reminded us of the risks to be aware of, in particular managing altitude sickness. We were shown the Portable Altitude Capsule or (PAC) which was somewhat of a reality check – in an emergency the patient would be transferred to the PAC and given oxygen, then escorted quickly down the mountain. Even though when inflated it looked like a giant red hotdog, the remote fact that it could be needed was a reminder of what we were about to embark on.

One of our guides noted that they were to be viewed as “more than our best friends because we need to be honest with them”. They were there to help us and it was that comment that comes back to me during the climb.

After an early dinner of soup, veg stew and rice we all went to bed to sleep for a few hours to then be woken at 11pm for a midnight start. The temperature was quite cold so layers were important. I wore: 2 pair socks, 2 pair gloves, thermals (top and bottom), fleece pants and top, hiking pants, water/wind proof pants and gaiters. On top I had thermal top, fleece top, down jacket, gortex jacket. I had two hoods on plus the Future2 beanie. We had to bring water in our packs – both the bladder with a tube and a drink bottle. Despite insulating the drinking tube, it froze during the climb.

The plan was to stop every hour for quick drink and snack. There were many other groups climbing and although we were constantly moving, it was quite busy at times and 30 minutes in, people were starting to come back the mountain(with their guide) looking dreadful – reminiscent of the Walking Dead. We were climbing over scree (volcanic dust and pebbles) in a switchback fashion due to the steep incline.

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Anne at Uhuru Point.

I was the slowest and therefore the last climber of our small group. I definitely wasn’t alone as Francis, my newfound friend and guide, stayed with me the entire time. In fact, Francis could see early on that I was struggling to keep up so stepped in front of me, told me to “follow my feet” and go “pole pole” (slowly slowly). He set a pace I could maintain, constantly checked on me and offered to take my pack. I had to be a best friend and be honest so I agreed.

At the “cave” which was our second stop there were quite a few other intrepid mountaineers and it was lovely to be given hot, sweet tea. I was feeling pretty average by then though with headache worsening and nausea – and not being able to eat anything wasn’t a great start. Having a doctor with us was great as Jane gave me something for the symptoms and I continued on.

As we moved further up the mountain, it became rockier and physically challenging. It was very steep in parts and due to the thin atmosphere, difficult to breathe. It felt like I was running a marathon but reality was, I was going at a snail’s pace.

Reaching our first landmark which was Gilman’s Point was a genuine achievement. I was overcome with a wave of emotion – still feeling unwell but totally thrilled I’d got that far (after about 4 hours of climbing in the dark). I also knew we had at least a further 2 hours of climbing to reach the Summit!

The next 2 hours or so were tough. There was black ice on the trail, narrow and awkward trails and snow and ice piled up along the edges. The temperature was about -15C and the wind was extremely strong at about 50 knots.

The scenery was magical – snow, ice, glaciers, the stars above and a very bright Mars. Unfortunately I didn’t appreciate it was much as I should have as walking required all my attention and concentration!

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Sunset on the mountain.

The team had reached Uhuru at sunrise – I was about 20-30 minutes behind them. After the obligatory photo, Francis and I started the return journey which was still challenging but much quicker. David had waited for me at Gilman’s point and we made the decent together. Going back down the mountain is an adventure in itself – and I now know why the climb starts in the dark. If we could see what’s ahead, we probably wouldn’t have done it!

It took about 10 hours or so for me to complete the climb and the thoughts that kept me going were:

  • One step in front of the other
  • It’s not a race
  • When you think your body’s had enough, it’s only 40% done. That’s when you need to draw on reserves and mental strength
  • What on earth was Scot of the Antarctic and Sir Edmund Hillary thinking when they took on their expeditions?

At no point did I think I wouldn’t make it and nor was I fearful. There is no doubt that my intrepid and experienced guide Francis was key to my success.

Getting down the mountain wasn’t the end of our adventure. After returning to camp and washing, eating and resting, it’s time to pack up the tents and have a final hike of 5-6 hours for the day! There was no rest.

As challenging as the hike was, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Our amazing team (Julie Berry, Sam Hunt, David Graham and me) raised nearly $40,000 for the Future2 Foundation. Thank you to our generous financial planning community, friends, family and clients.

Anne Graham (with David Graham)

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Read more about Anne’s journey here:

2 November: Future 2 Foundation, Mt Kilimanjaro Climb 2016 – Hiking IS different to running…believe me!

12 August: Future 2 Foundation, Mt Kilimanjaro Climb 2016 – The generosity of strangers (and friends)

22 July: Future 2 Foundation, Mt Kilimanjaro Climb 2016 – training in the US

23 June: Future 2 Foundation, Mt Kilimanjaro Climb 2016 – 1,000 Steps Kokoda Walk

11 June: Future 2 Foundation, Mt Kilimanjaro Climb 2016 – Boots and birthday

27 May: Future 2 Foundation, Mt Kilimanjaro Climb 2016 – Oh, what the hell have I done?

12 May: Future 2 Foundation, Mt Kilimanjaro Climb 2016 – Want to climb a mountain? Of course I do…

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