I am finally in London safe and sound after my whirlwind trip to Africa for the 2012 Kili Challenge with the School of St Jude in Arusha, Tanzania. I thought I’d give everyone a snapshot of the trip as it was such an amazing experience both at the school and on the Mountain.
The School of St Jude
I arrived at the School of St. Jude after a good 20 hour flight from Brisbane… The school welcomed me with open arms. I was no sooner putting my bags down in my room to be being whisked off for lunch with the kids. It was definitely a sight, 500 upper primary kids at lunch time all very organised and very well behaved. We shared lunch together and then I decided to rest up for the afternoon as I was buggered! Thought Id have a quick snooze that turned into an all afternoon slumber. I walked out of my room in a daze at 5pm and was greeted with a lovely voice “you must be Brenton, so nice to meet you” A group of the volunteer girls, Clare, Anna, Becca & Ange had finished their day and were hanging out. I’d spent 5 minutes talking with them before being invited to one of the girls Birthday dinners… They were soooo welcoming, felt like I was at home already. They escorted me down to the local Waterhole which is the pub outside the school. This was such a cool site, the Community of volunteers joined each other for an afternoon beer and chat. Everyone was so kind and welcoming. And the beers were big and cheap! We all went on for dinner at a local restaurant in a beautiful outdoor setting, it was a great first night.
The following couple of days, I got to meet my fellow climbers and we all hung out at the school, touring the grounds, greeting the kids on the Monday morning, attending assembly, even hanging with Kym who has been with the school since the start which was great. We also ventured out to a local Maasai markets where we bought a goat to give as a present to a local Maasai tribe for allowing us visit their home. The local Maasai tribe was amazing to see, there were lots of kiddies there and we got to look inside a Boma which is there home. These couple of days flew by and before we knew it we were setting off from the school headed for Kilimanjaro! All the volunteers and kids gathered around the bus to send us on our way. We were all pumped and excited.
We arrived at the gate of the Machame mountain route where we had to sign in and were treated to a nice hot cup of Milo to fuel us for the day. This is where we got to meet our entire crew, what an amazing bunch they were. We had Joseph, our head guide, Jeffrey and Robert our main men setting our pace for the trek, our stomach engineers (cooks) El Bariki (legend and loved by all), Ishmahl and Joseph and then the outstanding team of porters, all 45 of them. It was time, we got told that Jeffrey would be setting the pace and if anyone walked ahead of Jeffrey, we would have to carry his pack, rest assured we all walked right behind him! pole pole was the walking motto, which meant slowly slowly. So to introduce the Mount Kili Crew we had:
Dennis – A family man and business owner from Central Coast NSW who is also a Ward so we hit it off straight away
Grace – Our baby of the group, my Kili lil sis and for all the Home & Away Fans, Pipa and Michael’s real life daughter
Matt – A volunteer of the school, a New Yorker and a Marketing/PR genius
Kate – A volunteer PE Teacher at the secondary school and local Sydney sider
Clare – A volunteer on the business team at the school and a cool Accountant
Anna – A volunteer on the Donor/sponsor team at the school and fellow Brisbanian
Helen – A volunteer on the Visitor team at the school and born and bread in Scotland
Bob – A legendary Canadian, 67 years of age, braved the Mountain in 2004 (believe me, we got to know the story) but didn’t make it so was back to tackle the top again
We set off into the forest at a nice pace, everyone was in high spirits. We were only hiking for an hour and a bit when we came to a beautifully set table positioned in the middle of the forest set with our lunch. It was amazing, for what was meant to be a tough week, we certainly were easing ourselves into it. After lunch we moved on and the rain set in. The mountain has its own weather season pretty much so its hard to predict what is going to happen. It rained for most of the afternoon until we reached our first camp. When we got to camp we could hear singing getting louder and louder and louder until when we got to our campsite where we were greeted by all our porters doing a congratulations song and dance. Then all of our guides came and individually welcomed us to Machame Camp, it was truly special. Our camp set up was great, each of our tents were set up with our bags already in them and bed prepared. We had a big dome mess tent that we all huddled into for some warm Milo, popcorn and dinner time chats. The view from the campsite over Mt. Meru, Kili’s baby bro, was stunning.
We set off early in the morning at about 730am after being woken by Bariki asking what I would like to drink whilst still in my sleeping bag (this is sounding more and more like a luxurious holiday I know but it was all preparing us for the days ahead I promise!). We hiked further through the forest and then stepped it up a notch in altitude to around 3800meters where we hit our second camp, Sheila Point. Sheila Point was covered in clouds and quite gloomy but again our camp was all set up ready to go. You wonder how they do it, but the whole time you are hiking, the porters are zooming past you to make sure they get there first ready to set up. We were again greeted by song and dance by the crew which was no less amazing than the day before! We played cards for a while in the mess tent and thats when I started to get my first bout of headaches and nausea. A quick walk around the campsite did the trick to get rid of it thankfully. In the afternoon we managed to get some awesome pics of the sunset over Mt. Meru. We had a beautiful dinner of beef stroganoff together, heard a few more stories of Bob’s 2004 adventure and then hit the hay… It was bloody cold at this point!
We set off early again as Day 3 was to be one of our longest days as we headed up to Laver Tower at 4600m and back down to our next campsite. We set off and the hiking was steep, cold and slow. Spirits were still high and it was interesting to see the landscape change over the days. It was funny as the landscape changed, it made finding a rock for the girls to go to the toilet behind a little more difficult and when you are asked to drink between 3&6 litres of water a day, you need to go a lot! – Clean and copious was the motto. We made it up to the Laver Tower where the crew had set our mess tent up for a lunch on route today. This is were I started to go down hill pretty quickly. My head was throbbing and I really started to feel sick to the point that I couldn’t stay in the Mess tent for very long. I couldn’t even down the delicious chicken wraps and fried potatoes that were prepared for lunch, thats when the team knew something was wrong with me! After lunch and some time trying to get whatever fresh air I could we started to head down and head down we did. We basically legged it down the side of the mountain back to about 3800m. It took us a couple of hours but we were running hot. I felt slow and sluggish but managed to make it down to camp. However, my body must have known that we were at camp cause all of a sudden I had to be sick and couldn’t stop. I couldn’t keep anything down and felt like rubbish for the next few hours. Joseph, master of the mountain, was all over everything that was happening and made me sit down on a rock and drink some hot Ginger Tea. Well it was like the heavens opened up and shun a light on this cup of tea. It was my miracle cure. I was feeling good again so got into the mess tent played a few rounds of cards and even had something to eat managing to keep it down. At this point I had decided that I had to do everything I could short of IV’ing Ginger Tea into my veins. I had Ginger Tea for breakfast, lunch and dinner and then filled it in my water bottles and camel bak. It became a running joke that we had found the cure to Altitude sickness and developed a range of Ginger Products for mountaineering… AltiJuice, AltiJubes and AltiTune Cookies coming to a local Kathmandu store near you soon (Now trademarked so don’t bother trying to steal this brain buster!)
I was feeling much better in the morning and I needed energy for the day ahead. It was a short day but it included climbing “The Wall” which basically involved going straight up scaling a rock wall for a couple of hours spiderman style. I actually loved this part of the climb and was feeling pretty good the whole way up. The rest of the team was on fire as well. When we got to the top, it felt like were on top of the world. At this point we were high above the clouds which was a beautiful sight. We then legged it down the other side of the wall to our Day 4 camp at Karanga, 3960m. We spent the afternoon playing cards and acclimatising in the afternoon with a brisk walk up a small hill. It was nice to hang out and talk with everyone for the afternoon. We had formed a pretty close bond in the team after spending the last few days with each other which was so nice. Everyone got along really well and it was cool to just hang out and chat.
It was time to head to our base camp of Baranku. We took off early in the morning and got to the base camp at around 10.30 so not a really long hike to get there although we were getting to pretty high heights, back up to 4600m so the air was thin, heads were throbbing a little and the pace was pole pole. Once we had arrived at Baranku, we could see the peak of the mountain just hanging over us watching, waiting. There were quite a few people at the basecamp, a few who had just come back from their summit attempt, mainly with gruelling stories of sickness and struggle.. yay! can’t wait! For the remainder of the day we did cycles of sleeping and eating to prepare for the midnight summit. Joseph and Jeffrey checked all of our kits to make sure we had enough clothing and then we did our final rest before waking at 1130pm. It was show time. We all kitted up and had some porridge before grouping together in our line and setting off. The 6 and a half hours of step by step trudging towards the top began. The mood was positive but we were all fairly quiet. I decided to switch my music on to keep my brain pre-occupied but man oh man was it tough. Each of us just focussed on the next persons foot steps to take our minds off the exhaustion and lack of oxygen. The hours went by, the pain lingered but the sun started to peek over the horizon and we finally made it to Stella Point which is about 45 mins from the Summit. At that point a wave of excitement swept over us because we knew we had nearly made it. The weather was crystal clear and the sunrise was breath taking. We staggered on towards the top only to be greeted by Bob who had been walking alone with Robert for most of the trip after getting sick early on. We couldn’t believe it, he had made it to the top, enjoyed the view and already started to make his way down whilst we were still heading up! We were so proud of him, an amazing achievement. We all hugged as we walked past and continue to trudge our way to the sign that peered its head in the distance. We would have to keep stopping to try and get some sort of breathe to keep going. We finally made it to the sign, 5895m, all 9 of us. It was an exhilarating experience, a huge achievement for all of us and a pretty emotional peak when we got there as we were just so exhausted. The beauty of the view was overwhelming but very much welcomed. We all took some happy snaps in front of the sign before quickly heading back down. Joseph didn’t want us up there for long so we scooted back down to Stella Point. From there we literally skied on our feet down the mountain. It took half the time to get back down but when we saw the camp site again, it was amazing! We were all absolutely stuffed when we got back to camp. All we wanted to do is crash, but Joseph told us it would be better to keep heading down as the further down we went, the better we would feel. So down we went, firstly hitting Millennium point where we had lunch, it was a silent lunch with our eyes half shut and every bite seemed to take effort. Then we kept going for another couple of hours until we were back down to around 3000m at our final campsite for the night. We all did feel a lot better by this time and it was so nice to see our tents and a hot cup of Milo. We were amazed to see that Baraki and some of the team who had summited with us had also ran down the mountain, set up our camp, made our dinner and were there waiting to help us around our camp making sure we were all ok, they were seriously incredible.
This was our final morning with the crew. We had breakfast, packed our things up and then the whole crew gathered to sing us a beautiful song to thank us for the week. I made an on the spot speech in my best swahili (well english and then Joseph translated) on behalf of our team. Each one of them then came around and thanked/hugged us good bye which was a special moment. The walk down to the gate was a nice one through the forest. It was a couple of hours before we were met by the bus and crew who had a bottle of bubbly waiting to congratulate us. It was all over, the week seemed to go quick and slow, we kind of lost sense of time for a while. We all jumped on the bus and headed back to the school. When we arrived back we were welcomed by a group of students singing “my heart is full of joy” for us and then hugged each one of us as we got off the bus, was so nice! Some of the crew joined us for pizzas and beers in the kitchen for lunch which was very much welcomed by all. A kili beer tastes all the better after you’ve been to the top of it! We had a tonne of laughs and swapped details before the lads set off and we headed for a much deserved hot shower. We decided after that to reward ourselves with a session at the Water Hole, which only took another beer to see most of us half pissed and sharing stories with the rest of the volunteers. We checked in for some dinner before heading for a very deep slumber!
The remaining days at the school were great. We spent more time with the kids, we got to attend their break up awards ceremonies, visited a local coffee farm, a local game park, an orphanage, the markets and some good local restaurants. It was hard to say goodbye to the Kili team but one by one we all left. It was an absolutely amazing experience which I will tell the stories of for many many many years to come. Im so glad I got introduced to the School of St Jude. What they are doing in Tanzania is mind blowing, but from what I saw and heard they still have much more they want to achieve which I will be gladly helping with. Im now in London reflecting on the last couple of weeks and having a great time doing so.
If you want to check out the great things the School of St. Jude are doing see their website – www.schoolofstjude.org