Mount Kilimanjaro National Park, to be precise. A walk in the park it certainly isn’t. The last week has been a truly amazing experience and one that I will never forget, but it was also horrendous in parts.
It’s only now that I’m back in the UK that I’m starting to realise just what we achieved. 27 people from across the Gaming Industry raised in excess of £150,000 for various charities, made it to the crater rim of the highest mountain in Africa and in doing so made bonds of friendship with a complete group of strangers – and some were stranger than others let me tell you!
Summit night was the night of all nights, for lots of reasons. You attempt to climb to the summit at night as it’s supposedly easier as the scree you have to walk on is frozen at night and offers more grip. When I say night, I mean you start at about 11.30pm and hopefully if you make it you should arrive at the top around 6am in the morning.
We were already really tired. Camping sucks with a capital S. This wasn’t the sort of camping that you do in France with the kids, this was military style camping. We hadn’t really slept much in the last four nights. The temperature at night had been well below zero and on two nights it was below minus 15 and it was so windy. We slept in woolly hats and scarfs, (a first for me) and lots of clothes.
On top of being tired, most of us were already struggling to different degrees with altitude. A few of the group were suffering from banging headaches, feeling sick and all of us had HAFE. High Altitude Flatus Explosion, more commonly known as bad trumping. You don’t believe me, try Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-altitude_flatus_expulsion, it’s a recognised symptom of gaining altitude that echoed around our tents and kept us a little bit warm.
So we set off at 11.45pm. I had four pairs of trousers on (HAFE insulation) and five layers on top including a big down coat that was like a double quilt. I was like the Michelin man, and had six hours of climbing to do. We set off slowly so as not to lose all our breath and energy to quickly. We’d been going for a couple of hours and I was absolutely shattered. Putting one foot in front of the other was a real effort and took all your breath away. Taking four or five steps was the equivalent of sprinting 100 metres whilst being choked. It was brutal and horrendous.
And you can’t see. You are wearing a torch on your head which casts a pool of light in front of you and you stumble along. Looking up you can see a trail of lights in the distance and they go on for a long way.
I fell back from the main group with one other guy and we had a dedicated guide with us. I kept asking the guide how much further and he would say three hours to go and I was starting to doubt myself. I’d bitten off more than I could chew here. Physically this was going to be too much, mentally I’m fighting with myself and questioning whether or not I really did want to do it. This wasn’t a challenge, this was ridiculous.
The other guy was suffering really badly from stomach cramps and when he asked me if I had any toilet roll I knew he was in big big trouble. If you need to drop your pants at 3am on the side of a mountain, 5300m above sea level, behind a rock with a torch on your head to try and relieve some of the pain its got to be really really bad.
I was on my own with just the guide. The other guy was taken down by one of the other guides. How much further? Two hours. For the next two hours I thought of my wife and kids. Karen, Jess, Matthew, Karen, Jess, Matthew, Karen, Jess, Matthew. In time with each step and with breaks every five or six strides.
I made it. The last thirty minutes was really steep and it felt like you needed a rope to get up, but at 5.46am I reached Gilman’s Point at the top. Some of the others were there and people came and went. We hugged and had pictures and a cup of tea from one of the guides. The sun started to rise and it felt warm. I’d walked for five days and given everything I had physically and mentally but I’d made it – somehow.
Overall, it was the people that made the trip, the group was excellent. If you put 27 people together randomly you expect to get a couple of idiots. That’s life. Not this time, to a man they were all lovely, rank or file didn’t matter, Company or role irrelevant and we didn’t even talk shop. We were all in it for each other and we looked out for each other and helped each other.
Memories of the trip will fade in time, but our legacy won’t. We’ve helped the children in Laikipia in a small way get access to clean water. Awesome. This has been proper charity work, not just throwing a few coins in a tin. For us, our first world lifestyle continues but for the children in Laikipia they continue their daily challenge for the basics. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.