Polly’s Trek to Kilimanjaro (edited by me)

By July 30, 2014blog

The Roof of Africa was my 4th challenge as a participator in Gulf for Good’s charity Trek to Kilimanjaro. The challenge supported two projects in Tanzania- Village Education Project, Moshi town and Larchfield Charity Organization ! The sponsorship funds raised by each participant will be collectively used to build classrooms in the Village Education Project and build a purpose built children’s home, initially for 50 children, but phased to accommodate eventually up to 300.

All challengers visit the Village project and experience an amazing welcoming from all the kids- I shall never forget their smiles and innocent little faces – full of hope and grateful for the chance to be given a change in life……

The Trek to KIli was one of the most challenging and life -changing experience I have ever had! It was like entering a fairytale land but it also required pushing yourself to almost inhuman limits! I never knew what to expect! I was fearful on a daily basis. We did the trek over 6 days and took the Marangu route, one of 5 different routes you can take.

Over the course of the hike you travel through the rainforest, catch glimpses of monkeys and strange crawly things and witness curious vegetation. Gradually you have to walk more slowly as you are beginning to go higher and higher! Our porters were constantly saying to us: ‘Pole Pole’ (Swahili for ‘slowly, slowly’). I shall never forget that word, it will haunt me forever! You are climbing through an indescribably beautiful landscape and we were fortunate to be blessed with good weather. On the first day we climbed to Mandara Hut and slept over; the second night we ascended to Horombo Hut at 3750 meters and stayed there for 2 nights in order to acclimatize and then we headed off to Kibo Hut situated at 4000 meters where we had to rest, have a meal and try to sleep for a few hours before the final attempt on the summit! It was one of those days and moments where you were waiting for the unexpected to happen- how would you perform? Are you going to succeed or fail, how is your body going to react to altitude, are you going to be warm enough, will you have what it takes to make it to the very top? …….. We were given brief after brief and felt prepared but deep inside you couldn’t avoid the knots of fear and nervousness – fluttering butterflies in your stomach! After a fitful sleep, we were woken by a knock on the door at 11 pm to start the final climb to the summit! We filled up with water and bars of chocolate broken into small pieces to take when energy is fading and you feel you cant climb another step! There were going to be plenty of those moments. And then the time came and we were off, 14 people ready to attempt our dream, accompanied by the wonderful, ever watchful porters- we had 1 porter per 2 people – they were there to guide us and help if necessary! I started very enthusiastically but slowly it started to get more and more difficult. The climb by now is almost vertical, there is no air, and it’s cold – around minus 15! Every time you stop for a short break – which is literally every 3 minutes, you almost freeze! Those 10 hours of summiting are brutal, damaging, almost insane. It is impossible to imagine the impact on your body prior to the challenge. You knew it would be difficult, demanding, but the reality is well beyond. The altitude makes your brain hurt! There is so little oxygen and it’s so thin that you can barely breathe! No one warns you that the last 1000 meters are almost vertical and you are climbing on scree and rocks in the absolute dark and every step you make on the side too! I was trying to keep myself from falling – we were walking up and up and up and I was growing colder and colder and colder and it was getting harder and harder and harder! I had moments where I thought to myself – what I am doing here? I can’t go any further. But then the thought of failure and disappointment was somehow cutting into my consciousness and the support of the porters and my fellow challengers was helping me! Suddenly, just before Gilman’s point, the sun came up and it was one of those life moments, the most beautiful sight, the sunrise bringing you tomorrow. All at once you could see in the clear, life giving sunlight and you are almost on top of Kili! Slowly, slowly we were going up! At Gilman’s point I burst into tears, I couldn’t believe I was there; it was unreal, so emotional! But still there was more. To continue to Uhuru peak you had to climb further! I wasn’t sure – the pain was almost unbearable by now, my drinking water had frozen and I felt like I could just lie down and die. But I had to carry on, I couldn’t give up. Those last 200 meters were soul breaking, impossible. I had drunk no water for about 4 hours and the elevation was making breathing torture, there was no air!

The body is capable of some incredible things, and if you can overcome self-doubt and mental weariness, you will discover the depths of your capability and strength. We each individually were working our mantras. Denise was counting steps, 1 to 5 then stopping. I was trying to live within each second, each minute, ignoring the ones already passed and the ones to come. That is all you can do. Take one step at a time and then start again! But at 9 am I summited Uhuru and I was on the very top, feeling an amazing sense of achievement – yes and victory. I was on top of Kili. Tears of joy were bursting from my eyes. I couldn’t believe I had made it. I cried for 10 minutes because the view was so spectacular and the emotions so charged, I felt I would never stop crying. But then I realized I had only 5 more minutes to take photos. I somehow put the Bulgarian flag upside down- with all the turbulent feelings I wasn’t thinking straight but I’m sure they will forgive me in Sofia! I took photos with all my sponsors’ flags! The glaciers and the walk to the top on the rim of Kili were out of this world! I touched the top for everybody- my husband, my son, my family and all my sponsors who I didn’t disappoint and the kids for whom we were giving a chance in life! And then we turned around and started the descent. Coming down was equally difficult and very slippery but by then you don’t care – you’ve been through the pain and the way down is just a celebration of life, a feeling of incredible achievement, something that will live with you forever.
“Kilimajaro Hakuna Matata” the song that the locals sing to you all the way up and encourage you not to give up will resonate in my mind for the rest of my life. Haunting, full of strength, urging you on.
Would I do it again for the right cause- Yes I probably would.