Climbing Kilimanjaro – Chapter 1

What on earth have I let myself in for?

My decision to climb Kilimanjaro was one of those sliding door moments. An unexpected  meeting with Christine, who I had met only once before,  led to one of those slightly rash and split second decisions that we all make from time to time.

With Christine Christine announced that her half century was to be celebrated by a charity walk up Kilimanjaro (note the use of the word walk, so much kinder and gentler than “climb”, implying a leisurely stroll rather than a vertical ascent of nearly 6,000m). I was impressed and slightly envious.  No problem said Christine, there’s just one spare place. And before you could say Hakuna Matata, there I was signed up and with a scary amount of literature, forms, visa applications, medication lists and vaccinations to deal with.

Kilimanjaro hadn’t really been on my bucket list, but I’d seen the Gary Barlow Children in Need programme and it looked like a good challenge.  What’s more, I reasoned once committed past the point of no return, I love the mountains, I love being outside all day, it was a great cause (COCO, a charity which supports kids in Tanzania), and a chance to escape the UK in February.  Let’s do it!

Meeting the children at the COCO Project Fast forward 8 months, the bags were packed (weighed and repacked), and the training complete.  I use the word training somewhat euphemistically, as mine consisted of jogging up the escalators on the Underground complemented by some vigorous dog walking at weekends and a bit of time on the Nordic tracker whilst watching TV. I was slightly concerned that I hadn’t spent any time in the gym, but figured that I would get fitter as we climbed and there would be nothing to worry about.

I had spent a small fortune on a cocktail of injections and pills, and in my bag were items which were novelties to me – strange vitamin drinks, merino wool jumpers, a head torch, hand warmers, a 4 season sleeping bag, socks of every length and thickness and purifying tablets. Also items upon which I did not want to dwell – an industrial supply of baby wipes (to be a poor substitute for washing), antiseptic hand gel, malaria tablets, altitude sickness tablets, an entire range of blister plasters, Diocalm, Dioralyte (thus covering both eventualities), and 36 identical snack bars bought as a job lot (this latter was to prove one of my poorer decisions. What on earth was I thinking that I would want to eat the same thing for every snack?).

These are the kids we are climbing for! After saying goodbye to the family for 10 days (the longest I have ever been away from them), the flight to Amsterdam took me to meet my new tent buddy, Kathryn. An ultra-marathon runner and fitness freak, I had been somewhat nervous that I would be a complete amateur. I knew that she had run (for fun – ha!) across the Arctic and the desert.  What on earth would we talk about in a tent for the next week or so? Would she want to hear about my dog walking stories? Would I ever keep up with her? 

I need not have worried. Kathryn was lovely and very down to earth with a good sense of humour. Sharing a tent with me, I knew she would need it.


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Debbie Marshall

Founder of Silver Travel Advisor

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