Only now, one week after arriving back from our Tanzanian expedition, has it sunk in that I have summited the tallest mountain in Africa and standing at 5895m, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro.
I’d been thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro ever since joining UK Youth as Trustee in December 2016. So, when UK Youth’s corporate partner PwC arranged this Kilimanjaro trek I couldn’t turn it down! It was an experience as brilliant as I had imagined and made better by the company of the team, most of whom work for PwC, as well as our guide Jon Gupta and his local team of porters and guides.
We were well briefed before the trip by Jon but, having arrived a day before the rest of the team, I also got some valuable advice from locals and our hotel staff. But the reality of our task only set in on the morning of our briefing day with Kilimanjaro, standing in all its majestic glory in the backdrop of our hotel.
Starting the 7-day trek from the Machame Gate, days 1 and 2 consisted of trekking through jungle-like terrain while days 3 and 4 saw the trees and monkeys disappear to be replaced with a more open and barren landscape.
Some things, however, remained constant throughout the trek: reminders from our local guides to ‘sippy sippy’ water regularly; Dave providing periodic updates of what the altitude was in feet (“but what’s that in metres Dave?!”); plenty of jokes and banter; and my UK Youth flag flying proudly from my backpack.
Jon had forewarned that summit night would be the toughest of all the days: we would set off from camp just after 1am with a 1,100m ascent ahead of us in what would become sub-zero temperatures as we neared the top.
Walking up to the summit in pitch black with the only light coming from zig zagging line of trekkers up the mountain was akin to being Frodo watching the orcs and uruks march out of Mordor to Minas Tirith. The combination of altitude, freezing temperatures and darkness made it a tough mental challenge for all of us.
But having overcome the beautiful but “bloody annoying” minefield of ice glaciers 200m before the top, words can’t describe how I felt when I finally reached the summit. We had done it!! Many hugs were shared. Some shed tears. After the obligatory photos were taken, we only had 15 minutes or so to savour our triumph before heading back down to camp. Having just about made it down in one piece, I conked out and had one of the best sleep ever.
As we departed one by one from Kilimanjaro Airport, we left more like a Band of Brothers (and sisters!) bound by our shared experience of having achieved something we weren’t sure we could accomplish. Having ticked off one of the seven summits, naturally, I’ve caught the mountaineering bug: I can safely say it won’t be the last expedition for any of us.
It’s only fitting to end with some ahsante sanas big thank yous. First, to Jon Gupta, Mountain Expeditions for always keeping us upbeat and relaxed. I returned without the sore legs, blistered feet and severe altitude headaches I had expected, which speaks volumes of the experience Jon has and the preparation he puts into his expeditions. Also, to Jon’s team of local guides, porters and tent crews, for making our trek such a memorable experience. Their large smiles, singing and dancing every evening kept our spirits high.
Second, a huge thank you to PwC for supporting UK Youth as its social mobility charity partner. I think this partnership has gone beyond what we envisioned at the beginning and we look forward to continuing this flourishing relationship for the next couple of years and hopefully beyond!
And a final thanks to everyone at UK Youth, PwC, family, friends and colleagues who supported me from when I signed up, the team have collectively raised almost £20,000 for the PwC Foundation. Ahsante sana!
So, if you’re considering climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro but are not quite sure, I hope that I’ve pushed you off that fence – go for it! Have fun and most of all hakuna matata – have no worries!
Written by Aaron D’Souza, UK Youth Trustee