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Ain't No Mountain High Enough....

Posted by: Peter Bottomley
08/03/16
Much like working life right now in the Oil & Gas industry, my latest trip to Africa was certainly rocky, challenging, testing, and cloudy! The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak, stands at an enormous height of 5,895m, and was without doubt the challenge of a lifetime… 

You may have read my previous article in August, stating that I intended to trek to the peak of Kilimanjaro in aid of Alzheimer Scotland, a charity offering care, information and support to people with Dementia, and their carers in Scotland. This disease does not yet have a cure. It is progressive and destructive, and is one which has affected my family in recent times. Fundraising was the real goal, and I am pleased to say that due to the kind generosity of my friends, family, and professional connections in the E&P industry, we have raised £17,000 for Alzheimer Scotland and Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland. I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to all who donated to the cause. Along with my brother and two close friends, we are incredibly proud of this achievement, and hope we encourage similar fundraising efforts.

We set off for Tanzania on Thursday 18th February, with a mix of excitement and nerves. Training had gone well in the hills and munros of Scotland, however the altitude of Kilimanjaro was to represent a new experience for us all, one of which caused apprehension.

We were to trek the Machame Route for six days, starting off at 1,900m. Packing light was a challenge, but the local porters and sherpas were not fazed one bit. The strength and durability of the local sherpas is simply incredible, regardless of their familiarity with the mountain and the altitude involved. Physically carrying +20kg on their heads, as well as food, water and camping supplies on their backs makes you wonder how it is possible in such steep terrain. Our 30-35 litre day rucksacks looked like child’s play in comparison!

Trekking up and through the rainforest was our first experience of the mountain. Scenery and sunlight was somewhat blocked by the humidity and tropical climate, but we made it through to the low alpine zone of +3,000m with no real problems. The semi-arid grasslands and moorlands take over and the temperatures begin to drop. Trekking becomes more difficult when you can see the miles of nothingness ahead….

Day three took us to 4,650m, which did result in one or two bouts of altitude sickness. I was one of the lucky ones, who only felt a mild headache and some dizziness… entirely common symptoms of being at high altitude. “Pole Pole” is the pace dictated by the Tanzanian guides… translating to ‘slowly’. The trick to acclimatise is to trek high, and sleep slow. This resulted in some dejected faces in our group, as we began the descent back down to 3,800m….

Barranco Wall is the trickiest, and most technical part of climbing Kilimanjaro. It is only 257m high, but on first glance looks a daunting challenge. In actual fact, it ends up being the most enjoyable and fun part of the trek, with the group ‘scrambling’ up the wall after breakfast for around 2 hours. All four limbs are required, and the trekking poles are tucked away for a couple of hours!

Day five was the start of a gruelling 48 hours. We begin trekking at 7am, and after 6 hours walking we arrive at 4,650m again and try to sleep from 2pm – 10pm…. which is an incredibly difficult task in such high altitude. The shortness of breath wakens the body regularly so it is hard to sleep continuously for longer than 30 minutes or so. We then wake and prepare for our summit attempt in the dark!

Six to seven hours of literally putting one foot in front of the other leads you to the majestic Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, in a state of exhaustion. I am glad to say our entire group made it to the top, battling through high wind speeds and temperature of -15. The extreme altitude zone dictates that you should only spend a small amount of time at the peak, taking the necessary pictures and locking in those memories! Next is a three-hour trek back down to camp, a fairly quick rest and regroup, followed by another couple of hours’ descent to Mweka Camp. One final night on the mountain and then a five-hour trek to Mweka Gate is met with a well deserved Kilimanjaro Beer, and memories to last a lifetime!

If you would like to contribute to our fundraising via JustGiving, please use this link, Alzheimer Scotland.

Peter Bottomley

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