A friend reached out to me in July 2018 with the crazy idea of climbing Kilimanjaro, in aid of raising money for a small charity she was involved in. It was nothing like anything I had ever done before but they do say that life starts at the end of your comfort zone, so I thought ‘let’s do this’ and booked it the very next day.

The training began in January 2019 with walking one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and then it carried on from there with other adventures such as Snowdon and walking in the Lake District.

After months of training, preparation and draining my bank account of money for all the equipment I needed, it was finally time to begin my adventure.

Our first flight left London at 9:30pm and we landed at the Kilimanjaro International Airport at 3pm the following day. After a lengthy process of getting through security and passport control, we eventually loaded onto a coach and settled in for a three-hour drive to our hotel. Upon arrival we checked in and had a well needed shower before having our first evening meal together as a group, where we had our first briefing about what we had to look forward to over the next seven days of trekking.

The next morning, we packed our bags and got back onto the coach for, what was meant to be, a short journey. Unfortunately, due to the raining season coming early, we managed to get extremely stuck in a very large patch of deep, thick MUD. We were soon surrounded by over ninety porters who went above and beyond to get us out… we weren’t far off being picked up and carried to safety! Two hours later than expected, we eventually arrived at Lemosho Gate. After a quick packed lunch, we began the four-hour trek to MTI Mkubwa Camp at 2,650m above sea level.

The night was mild which meant we slept well and woke up feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for a gruelling day of walking ahead.

Day two started off with a walk through the jungle where we heard and saw all different types of monkeys swinging through the trees above. It was warm and sunny which meant we were in t shirts most of the morning. While following the path which included lots of ups and lots of downs with a few bits of flat in between. We broke for lunch at Shira I camp where the mess tent had already been set up and we were given a hot drink before being seated and served a lovely, but random, three course lunch.

The weather was taking a turn and the thick clouds set in. By this time, we were out of the jungle and beginning the tough five-hour trek to Shira II camp. We managed to arrive just before dark and the amazing porters had set up camp for us already meaning we were all set to relax. As the sun was setting, the clouds began to clear and we got our first view of Kili and what a view it was! It suddenly became very real and we were all reminded of the tough times we had ahead. The summit seemed so far away and despite the amount of ground we had covered, there was still a long way to go!

The next morning, we were met with the most incredible sunrise and we had an even better view of the Summit… it was truly spectacular. After another hot breakfast and briefing, we were surprised with a song and dance from all the porters… something I will never forget! It was so uplifting and gave us the morale boost we needed after the exhausting day we had had before.

Water bottles filled and snacks restocked, we headed off to tackle day three. The breath-taking views of the clouds and Mount Meru in the distance were a hot topic of conversation and before we knew it we had hit snow! The waterproofs came out and the hats were put on as we got closer to Lava Tower Camp which was where we stopped for lunch. Feet frozen from the ice on the ground, we tried our best to stay warm with hot drinks and lots of layers! At this point we were at 4,600m above sea level. We were told by our guide, Joe, that the key to success is ‘climb high, sleep low’ which meant we would be heading back down to allow our bodies to acclimatise.

The afternoon was hard but exciting as we scaled down a ravine with porters helping us every step of the way, our safety at the forefront of their thoughts. A short afternoon of decent weather meant we were at Baranco Camp just three hours after lunch where, again, we were met with a complete camp and hot water for washing. The views just kept getting better and better at each camp that we stayed at and we finally started to look like we were getting a bit closer to the top.

Our tea time briefing had us all excited for the following day; we were promised an exciting day and fabulous views.

This night was by far the coldest and windiest which kept me, and most of the camp, up until early hours of the morning until finally exhaustion hit and I managed a few hours of sleep.

The next morning, the sun was shining once again when we set off to tackle the infamous ‘Baranco Wall’. There was something quite exhilarating about scrambling up the side of a mountain… not for the faint hearted! After about two and a half hours we had our first break where we were promised the best view of the whole trip, but of course, the cloud was heavy and we could hardly see the poles we were using, let alone the whole of Africa! We carried on for a few more hours before reaching Karanga Camp at 3,995m above sea level. We were all ready for an afternoon of chill time and for a few of the group, this was one of the very few spots we could get a couple of bars of signal to call our loved ones and let them know we were safe.

As it was Hannah’s birthday, we were surprised with the most amazing cake that night after tea, fully iced with her name, candles and even a sparkler on top! Some of the porters and chefs presented the cake while singing Happy Birthday in Swahili, it was truly something special and something we will always remember. Feeling extremely full, it was time to hit the hay ready for our final day before Summit Night!!

Day five was short and steep! We did lots of uphill followed by a bit of downhill and a few flat bits in-between. It was pretty demanding with some rough terrain but paired with good views, it was manageable. Our guide, Joe, pointed out the route we would be taking that night to reach the Summit and it suddenly became quite exciting!

We arrived at camp in time for a nice lunch before heading off to our sleeping bags to try and get some sleep in before awaking at Midnight to begin the trek to the top!

Midnight soon came and we were awoken with a hot drink and a biscuit by the porters who were as happy as ever, the group maybe not so much.

After another hot drink and a water bottle refill we set off with just our headtorches to guide us.

The first hour was tough. Our bodies were tired and the rocks underfoot added to the difficulty. Unfortunately, after a couple of hours walking, my friend Hannah made the decision, along with the Doctor and Guide, to head back down to camp as she was struggling with altitude and was unlucky with catching a bug which was really hindering her walking ability. I felt then that I really had to carry on and do it for the both of us.

At about 4:30am, there was an orange glow appearing which was the beginning of the most beautiful sunrise I think I will ever witness. My porter and I took a minute to sit and take in these breath taking views before carrying on again up to Stella Point where I caught up with a few of the front runners. After a quick cup of tea we set off to Uhuru Peak, the very top of the mountain! The 80 km winds blew the snow and it felt like needles hitting the side of my face, it was tough and I’m glad I had my poles to keep me upright.

I could see the sign!

Olivia Clark, Vida Hall

We were so close and suddenly, I felt a huge wave of emotion come over me. It was the best feeling in the world walking up to that sign knowing that I was at the highest point in Africa, 5,895m above sea level, what an achievement! The views were spectacular and it felt so surreal to be standing there looking across the plains of Africa. My porter, Priscous, sat with me for a photo and we both admired the views together. I can’t thank that man enough for getting me up that mountain, I couldn’t have done it without him. He carried my bag for me and sat with me when I needed a break, always checking I was okay and I had been eating and drinking enough. He was a true hero. After a few more pictures and tears it was time to head back down to camp where I met with Hannah again who was tucked up in our tent, still feeling lousy.

A few hours sleep and a hot lunch later, we headed off back down the mountain to our final camp which was significantly warmer and much less windy! We all had the most amazing sleep and woke up feeling fresh and ready to get off the mountain, back to the hotel for a nice hot shower!

Six hours after setting off we were officially off the mountain and we were greeted with the most amazing song and dance from all the porters and guides who then served us a well earn’t hot buffet lunch.

We were extremely sad to leave after building such a good relationship with everyone and we all came away feeling extremely grateful for the love and support we received from each and every one of them.

It was the experience of a lifetime and I’ll never forget the hospitality of the porters. It was very humbling being so well looked after by people who were just wanting to help and make us smile every day.

Kilimanjaro, you truly were a trip of a lifetime. 

Kilimanjaro - Olivia Clark, Vida Hall