Below is a shared experience from a client Roger Garrett of the NZ Altitude Training Centre who with 28 other individuals as part of raising awareness and funding for the Mental Health association did a group trek to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro.
Roger completed a number of active altitude training sessions at the NZ altitude training centre combining both the treadmill and stair climber in his preparation while breathing reduced oxygen to mimic the effects of altitude.
Rogers story below.
We took 5 days to summit and 2 days to descend. A brief synopsis as follows
Day 1. A gentle 4 hr trek from the Rongai gate (1900m) to Simba camp (2600m). Moorland zone. Gentle start to trip and no real problems with altitude. Time and presence of mind to ‘smell the roses’ and enjoy the surroundings. Lots of jokes and laughter (huh - how things would change!).
Day 2. 5.00am start of gruel (porters called it porridge but that is a slur to porridge) and ginger tea (would eventually become the most awaited part of our meal schedule – made from local ginger). A step up in intensity today with a 9hr hike ascending 1200m to Kikelewa caves at 3800m. Some tired bodies today but a good dress rehearsal for summit day. Good day but fine dust getting everywhere. Haven’t had such dark coloured snot since tube days in London. Suspect I will be coughing up the dark stuff for weeks after the trip.
Day 3. 6am start. Shorter day with a 5 hr trek to the campsite at Mawenzi tarn (4350m). Many now starting to feel the effects of altitude with exhaustion and headaches the most common symptoms. Despite one of only 2 people not taking Diamox (pill to help with altitude) I have been lucky enough to avoid any signs of altitude sickness. Our medic says it is hit and miss – some are lucky, others less so. Actually I felt so good I spent the afternoon climbing a further 500m up to the face of Mawanzi. Most thought I was crazy – I didn’t disagree but the experience was quite surreal – peaceful, cathartic, selfish
Day 4. Rest day – so more exploring on my part! Duh!
Day 5/6. 6am start – 5 hr gentle walk to base camp at Kibo huts (4730m). Really dusty again – we are just 26 ‘pig-pens’ (from Charlie Brown) walking in the wilderness! Get a sense as to the size and majesty of Kili today – it’s huge. Landscape is stark and moonlike. Today is a big day as we have an early dinner, hopefully a 3 hr kip before a 10pm rise for an 11pm departure for the summit. Most struggle to sleep as they mentally prepare for the big summit push. Altitude becoming an issue for many – headaches the most prevalent symptom but nausea starting to hit a few. Apart from a minor headache (Panadol fixed) I still thank my lucky stars that I have so far at least avoided any significant problems from the altitude.
So 11pm we head off, guided by our headlamps. It is snowing and the wind chill is significant. The pace is unbelievably slow (on purpose to help with acclimatisation). As we ascend probably 70% of group now in state of minor/significant distress – vomiting/extreme exhaustion/headaches. 5 people given steroids (including Mal Law who looked out for the count until then). Altitude not a problem for me although the piercing wind has frozen my hands (I hired gloves having left mine at home – big mistake as the hire gloves were shit – dangerously so). Estimates by the guides were that with the wind chill the temp was between -10 to -15 degrees.
However around 6am we finally make Gillman’s point (5685m) just in time for the sunrise .The hard part is over. After another couple of hours we finally hit the peak – Uhuru at 5895m – Pic 6. Wonderful views of Kili crater, Mt Africa, glaciers and some very tired and sick trampers. After lots of pics we finally descend (which proves to be a lot easier than first thought) making it back to base camp around noon. A quick lunch and a further 4 hr tramp down to Horombo huts (3700m) completes a very long and satisfying day. Those that suffered from altitude sickness showed a remarkable improvement during the descent and the mood of the party went from exhaustion to elation pretty quickly.
Day 7 – gentle (relative) 6 hr walk out through forest to Marangu gate and the promise of the first shower in 7 days. So with all the effort, dodgy ablutions, dust, altitude problems – was it worth it – HELL YES – new friends made, a strong feeling of accomplishment and a sense of camaraderie only a trip like this can generate.