Sixth Form student Kathryn took on the “chance of a lifetime” to climb Kilimanjaro alongside her father and raise funds for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance. We caught up with her on her return to find out about her experience on the “roof of Africa”.
What made you decide to take on this challenge in particular?
I was invited to take up this opportunity and decided it really was the chance of a lifetime. Kili is the highest free standing mountain in the world, the roof of Africa and one of the only places in world you can stand and see the curvature of the earth - I could not miss this opportunity.
How much training did you do and where?
I have been training for 6 months a combination of going to the Gym and long walks at the weekend.
Why did you choose the Air Ambulance as a charity?
The village where we live is half way in between two ambulance trusts so the Air Ambulance is regularly required as the Ambulances take too long get here. Additionally, they are only funded through charity donations and fund raising efforts (they receive no government funding). They are very important, as you never know when you may need this important live saving service. My dad and his friends has raised over £100,000 over the last 10 years for Thames Valley Air Ambulance through various fund raising events and we thought this would be another great one to add to it.
How were you feeling as you set off on the challenge?
I didn’t really know what to expect, having done nothing like this before, so I was quite apprehensive. After the 13 hour overnight flight we got to the hotel and you could see Kili through the clouds, it was incredibly daunting but I was excited and confident that we could do it.
The two main challenges were the change in temperature, as it was 30C at the hotel and -15C at the summit, and altitude sickness, which I’d never experienced before. The mountain is 5895m high and many people start suffering at around 3000m. Most people on the trip suffered sickness, dizziness and one person had a cerebral oedema, which is lethal if not treated quickly; fortunately, we had a brilliant doctor on our trip.
The scariest moment was climbing the Barranco Wall where I had to make a leap to be caught by one the guides as I could not reach across the gap. The drop was terrifying as it was a high cliff face.
The first four days was spent getting acclimatized to the lack of oxygen which made even the simple things like putting on my shoes in the morning tiring. Every morning I woke up with a bad headache due to dehydration so we had to drink 2-3 liters of water every day.
The final ascent started at 11:30pm so we had to climb 2000 metres (twice the height of Snowdon) in the dark. With the wind it was -15c so I had to wrap up warm and keep walking "poley poley" (Swahili for slowly). Half way up it started snowing as well, just to add to the challenge. Just before dawn the moon came over the horizon as a bright orange crescent and I could clearly see the curved horizon. Shortly after this, the sun rose showing just how steep the next 2 hours of climbing would be up the scree slope.
The feeling when we finally got to the top at 7:30am was amazing and the view was beautiful, there was a great sense of achievement.
I then realized that Stella point was not the real top but I had to walk another 45 minutes in the strong wind to reach Uhuru Peak, the true highest point at 5895 meters. The view across the glaciers and over the top of the clouds was amazing.
The walk down was very hard, not only was I very tired from walking all night but the steep slope felt harder to walk down than up, this was made harder by the very harsh sun that did not warm the cold wind but it did burn my face and hands.
You took on the challenge alongside your dad. How did you get one with one another?
My dad said that he had cheated by bringing me because the challenge is as much mental as physical and he could not stop all the time I was walking. I think having each other there made it easier as we get on well and so we could joke around which lightened the mood when other people in camp were suffering from the altitude and therefore causing a slightly negative feeling in camp.
Were there any funny moments or things you’ll particularly remember?
Singing along to grease with the whole group whilst walking trying to keep everyone’s spirits high and listening to the guides and porters singing at camp, which was beautiful.
How much money did you raise?
Together so far we have raised £9,000 but are still hoping we can reach £10,000
Would you like to do a similar challenge in future?
Maybe in the future I’d do similar challenges such as Machu Picchu in Peru, but I have nothing planned for any time soon.
Do you take part in any hobbies or activities that helped you make it up the mountain?
I did the Silver DoE and I did the Thames Path Challenge, in which I walked 25km overnight in aid of the charity Daisy's Dream, when I was 14.
Are there any people that you’d like to thank for helping you complete the challenge?
Thames Valley Air Ambulance for organizing the trip and providing us with Stuart the most amazing doctor, he is also one the Thames Valley Air Ambulance Doctors as well as volunteering to support teams doing high altitude challenges.Congratulations Kathryn for completing this extreme challenge in aid of an incredibly worthy cause.