Warnock Brothers: A Kilimanjaro Adventure
I think it was the Altitude…
In November 2016, Rory and I made the abrupt and impetuous decision to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Short of barely being able to spell Kilimanjaro we had no idea what we had signed up for…
Fast forward to T-Minus three months. Other than a pair of boots and a walk to Clapham Common, my preparation had been slim. Rory was outshining my efforts with regular purchases of our required ‘stash’, much more inclined walking and his skin even seemed more acclimatised to the African conditions that awaited us. Despite better advice given to myself by loved ones, liked ones, and other ones, I decided to continue with my training regime of the occasional pull up complimented by the not so occasional microwavable meal.
In the weeks leading up to our jaunt, we ramped up our training. Alongside fellow Cavalier Scott Mckean I walked up Ben Lawers, testing the boots in tougher than sought-after conditions. Buoyed by my performance on our 4-hour hike (a fraction of our average daily walking time on the mountain) I treated myself to an extended rest. When back in London, Rory and myself began attending acclimatisation sessions at The Altitude Centre in Bank. During these hour-long sessions, we would starve ourselves of Oxygen to replicate the conditions we would face on the mountain. Whether these worked or not, we will never know. However, I can attest to the service and professionalism of the centre – that often hosts much more elite athletes – and the fact that we did reach the top (spoiler alert) could very possibly be due to this fortnight period.
Game Day – As Rory and I rocked up to Heathrow Terminal 4 with our matching North Face duffle bags and naïve grins, we painted the perfect picture of ‘all the gear and no idea’. We met our lovely doctor, Claire, took our boarding passes and were on our merry way. It was not until we began boarding the plane until we actually began to meet some of our teammates. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and began to learn of some of the wonderful causes for which people were taking on this adventure. We too shared the story of Steven, and it was at the moment the gravity of what we were doing truly dawned upon me.
After my usual performance of providing impeccable airline company (falling asleep from start to finish) we eventually arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport after a short stopover in Doha. We met Danny, our head guide, and Rhiannon, our Action Adventure rep. Both of whom were heartbreakers in their own right. We packed ourselves into the minibus and headed to our hotel in Moshi.
The first thing you notice as you roll into the hotel, and any African inhabited area, is the smile on everyone’s faces. People seemed genuinely happy to see you as they waved and beamed despite having no way of communicating with you. We were shown to our room and collapsed on our beds because we thought travelling on planes was exhausting…
The next 12 hours are a bit of a blur. We were briefed/frightened by Rhiannon ( a recurring theme) and enjoyed a dinner before getting some much required shut-eye. Before we knew it we were re-packing the minibus and heading to Londorosi gate. On route through Kilimanjaro National Park we were lucky enough to see a dusty horizon painted with giraffe necks and more enthusiastic locals waving us on our merry way. After a brisk 2 hours we arrived at the Gate where we would be signed in to the Park and meet our porters.
Organised chaos has never been exemplified so clearly. We stood and watched as people moved all around us, but with purpose. Each person answered to another, and to another, until suddenly everyone was on buses again and we were on our way. Each porter was supplied a 20kg pack, weighed exactly, and thrown onto another minibus in our convoy.
After another short bus ride, we tucked into a lunch of Avocado Salad, Bombay mix and Viennese Swirls (it got better I promise) and started our hike. We spent 3.5 hours hiking through dense forest, spotting Columbus monkeys and getting to know one another. Once we arrived at camp, all proud of our efforts, we were shown to our tents by the Camp Porters and we lay down – ‘That’s not so hard’.
After a relatively easy first day, our group had quite a bit of energy left in the tank. We were debriefed on how to use our portable toilets, how to wash our hands and when we could eat dinner. It was like being back at a school camp. Dinner in the mess tent was a great experience, and one we loved throughout our time. Anytime in that great blue tent was one for great conversation and mutual exhaustion, we became so comfortable amongst one another that we could speak about anything, or nothing. We went around the tent introducing ourselves and our causes, from head teachers to air conditioning engineers, everyone had a fascinating story to tell, and we would hear it over the next 5 days! I gave the portable toilet a trial run and headed to bed.
The next few days were all about escalating the mountain before then acclimatising. We rose early and began walking each morning in the early light, should the clouds permit. After a miscellaneous porridge, combined with whatever sugar-filled condiment would mask the taste, we wore the clothes we were told to wear and began walking, left…right…left…right.
By Summit Night, we had exhausted everything from our legs to the subject of ‘summit night’. The collective angst of the group was only outweighed by the support that we showed for each other. This is not to say we didn’t have fun on the way to this point, the conversations on the mountain were always entertaining as you learn about those completely different from yourself, and also those eerily similar. It was also an amazing experience on a personal note to have got to this point with my brother, living out of a tent and not throwing each other from the precipices we so frequently walked past.
We began our hike up to Uhuru Peak at 11pm on Wednesday. A bright chain of head torches lit the way, not that I would know as I barely lifted my head for 7 hours. When I did, I was briefly captured by the beauty of the starry landscape that met the darkness below, only until the point at which I remembered my nausea and exhaustion. I walked past my teammates as they rested beside our single-file chain, it was a struggle. These were comfortably the most difficult 7.5 hours of my life. I am not sure how to measure or compare this type of difficulty, or how to define something as ‘the most difficult’, but Tthe sheer emptiness we collectively felt was so powerful and strange, combined with pure muscular fatigue made for a near impossible task. Near.
We did eventually make it. After an incredible sunrise, Omi, our pacesetter and inspiration, led us to Uhuru Peak. At this point I hugged Rory, I hugged everyone I could find. The moment captured all of us and I was overwhelmed by emotion. We took photos and were ordered to evacuate the summit. Amazingly, the second you turn the opposite way from the sign at Uhuru Peak, energy does begin to flood back (at indifferent speeds).
We scree skied half way down and returned to High Camp for early morning. Losing all concept of time, I headed to bed.
After waking, our tent had decided to transfigure into a sauna, I separated my face from my sleeping bag and began packing as we prepared to descend further. The group began to congregate and recollect the incredible achievement we had just shared. For those who could clearly remember the night, we discussed our hallucinations, our favourite music and our photos.
The next day we descended back down through the clouds and back into the rainforest. Buoyed by our achievements and our newfound lung capacity, we yakked our way to the bottom of Kili. A group of us were given lectures by our guides on the Tanzanian education system, the revolutionary 1960s and whether or not to trust women met at parties (the jury is still out). We were met by our glorious choirmaster and all 120 of our porters at the bottom, alongside Angel, the owner and chief operator of Big Expeditions (the Tanzanian partner of Action Challenge), where we enjoyed a frivolous boogie and some suspicious Champaign.
We sat together and discussed our achievement and our future plans. These experiences provide so much more than what they say on the tin, and the people we meet provide so much of this more-ness. The party that night was excitable and overzealous, and I paid for it for what seemed like a fortnight… But it was more than worth it for the experience I gained climbing that mountain.
I would like to thank the Steven Sims Cavaliers for the support provided in the build-up to the hike. The love of my friends and family, which was utilised at all sorts of points on that mountain; the people we met on the mountain, including the porters, guides staff and our wonderful teammates.
who pushed me to sign up,
wake up and hike up Kilimanjaro.