Climbing Kilimanjaro – An Epic journey for An Excellent charity.

Kate & Keith are immensely proud to have summited Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free standing mountain back in September this year in aid of Perennial –- the UKs only charity dedicated to helping people who work in horticulture when times get tough. After some intense fundraising and thanks to the generosity of clients, friends, suppliers and of course our corporate sponsors Deepdale Trees and Thompsons. Kate and Keith smashed the £9000 fundraising target, raising a whopping £10,240! Your kind donations spurred Kate and Keith on the extremely harsh conditions, freezing temperatures, altitude sickness and extremely sore feet! They are super proud to be a part of industry who is willing to get behind and support so willingly – from everyone at Kate Gould Gardens, THANK YOU.

Both Kate & Keith have said it is the hardest challenge they have ever undertaken including building a three story garden at RHS Chelsea… Kate has written a first hand account of their epic climb which gives some insight into their unforgettable journey to Africa and their summit of the mighty Kilimanjaro.

Day 1:

The climb begins… We left our lodge bright and early Sunday morning and travelled by bus to the Machame Gate of Kilimanjaro (The Machame gate stands at an altitude higher than Ben Nevis!!) I put my backpack and boots on properly for the first time of this six day adventure and set off nervous but excited for what was to come. A 1700 metre climb through the jungle followed, taking us through lush jungle flora of ferns and huge leaves whilst Blue Monkeys and black-and-white Colobus’ swing through the trees over our heads. It’s at this point the enormity of what we are doing hits me, we’re in AFRICA.. climbing a MOUNTAIN to raise money for a fantastic charity – Perrennial.
As we walk, we get to know our amazing guides and porters as well as the rest of the group and we learn the importance of ‘pole pole’ (slowly slowly). You can never walk too slowly up Kilimanjaro. We arrive in our first camp about 4pm. Hot food and an early night almost as soon as it’s dark (6pm!!) It’s my first ever night under canvas… Keith is super patient with me as I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing with inflatable sleeping mats, giant oversized down sleeping bags and sleeping bag liners, this is all well out of my comfort zone! Fortunately, night one isn’t as cold as I was expecting; but I can confirm I don’t like this ‘tenting’ business much!

Day two:

We’re awoken at 6am by the kitchen crew with a hot drink (don’t think this is glamping, it’s not – it’s just their way of checking up on us!) The morning is cold and we’re served a hot breakfast of Porridge and tea (And a large amount of Milo). We pack our bags and leave at 7am and walk from jungle edge through a sparser landscape of heathland plants. We walk up and over rocky crags to our next camp, gaining another 800m in height. Arriving in camp about 3pm I have now begun to feel very unwell. I pass on lunch and then am promptly violently sick (Keith going above and beyond the call of duty… I leave the details to your imagination). I am sent to bed and told by the amazing camp doctor that if I am no better in the morning then the climb is over for me. At that point I really want it to be. I felt like I’d drunk a bottle of whiskey on a cross channel ferry in a force eight gale. The rest of the party head out for a short walk to the Shira caves to gain altitude and then come back to ‘sleep low’. By the time they are back the drugs have kicked in and I feel less like I want to jump off the mountain! Altitude sickness is NOT fun…

Day three:

I wake up feeling better and want breakfast. I’m conflicted – I now know I can continue. Keith has been amazing (my turn to return the favour will come) We walk up to the lava towers and spend the day at altitude (about 4000m) but come down to Barranco Hut to ‘sleep low’ at about 3600m. We’ve gone from lush jungle to sparse alpine desert in only a couple of days. Everyone is feeling the height now but the guides, team leaders, doc and the camp staff and cooks keep us going. The meals are hot and thankfully stodgy. Salad is not going to get you up Kilimanjaro!!!

Day four:

We are now climbing on scree – grey, loose, ankle twisting scree through alpine desert, no plants and a loose surface that sends you one step forward two steps back. Breathing is hard and to make it even tougher we are traversing Barrenco wall. It takes about an hour and a half of climbing and although it isn’t a difficult climb, lifting one leg in front of the other and coordinating arms as well is a challenge in low oxygen. A plateau at the top is a welcome break before pushing on to camp at 4600m. It is cold now with a fluttering of sleet and the climb tomorrow (or rather at midnight tonight) is playing on my mind. We get changed into our summit clothes to sleep in – thermals, base layer, mid layer, fleece – only leaving off the down jacket and waterproofs until we are ready to go. We all know we have to climb but I suspect none of us really want to. We are all climbing for charities so there really is now backing out now!

11pm that same night:
We head out after only four hours sleep in temperatures below freezing with only head torches to light the way. As we walk, the lights from the climbers up ahead highlight false summit after false summit. The first rays of daylight bring the reality that the top is still a very long way off. Breathing is hard. We do as the guides say ‘pole pole’ (slowly slowly) but it is excruciating. We see people being taken back down with Altitude Sickness. Finally we find ourselves at Stella Point about 8am – but that’s not the top! Uruhu is another hours walk! Keith determinedly sets off for the last stretch, I follow after him, albeit reluctantly… Keith summits first but I make it too only around 5 minutes behind him – the view from the summit is simply stunning and a welcome reward for our efforts. We are only to spend around fifteen minutes at Uhuru Peak before the porters rush us back down to a safer altitude. We are all utterly shattered but so proud that we made it!

Reflections on the climb

There really isn’t enough praise to heap on the wonderful locals that guide us safely up the mountain. They singlehandedly carry our bags, their own bags and all of the camping gear and never utter a word of complaint, in fact, they make it look easy. They don’t wear any fancy climbing gear, often jamming their hands into their pocket for warmth as we gain altitude. They keep a smile on their face the whole time, laughing and joking and generally keeping the rest of us going, I will never forget the dawn chorus they put on during our last climb. They truly are incredible and I can say with total honesty… we would never have made it without them. Tanzania and it’s wonderful people have truly left their mark on us, the mantra of ‘more fire, more water’ may become one we take up in the KGG office.

If any of you decide to make this climb, any thermals or warm gloves/hats etc you may be able to leave behind for the guides when you leave will always be greatly appreciated and put to good use!

Kilimanjaro Facts!

  • The tallest free standing mountain in the world. Standing at a whopping 5895 metres (or 19,341 feet)
  • Less than 50% of people attempting to climb Kilimanjaro actually summit due to altitude sickness.
  • Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano.
  • Our intrepid explorers passed through 5 different ecological zones on the way to the summit.
  • The oldest person to successfully climb Kilimanjaro is 88 year old Dr. Fred Distelhorst.
  • The youngest person is 7 year old American Coaltan Tanner.