Having navigated a few challenges to get to Mt. Kilimanjaro in the first instance and with the goal of fulfilling my dream of reaching the summit, I was hoping that by the time we arrived on the mountain that things would be more relaxed. By relaxed of course, I mean in a way that includes physical and mental challenges due to the altitude, 10k hiking every day in incredibly dusty conditions and sleeping in tents in the freezing cold.
For our group, we had booked an 8 day trip; 6 days going up and 2 going down, in theory giving us the best chance of acclimatisation and successfully reaching the summit. As happens in life however, things never transpire as you plan them to and despite a huge effort and expectation to make it to the top, the altitude had too much of an adverse impact on Ray. Despite pushing through for days feeling sick and exhausted, by the time he reached base camp his blood oxygen levels were too low for him to safely continue. The world can be a harsh place and on mountains like Kili, there is never any guarantee that you’ll make it, no matter how fit you are.
Ray is a good sport though and for someone who had only signed up to the trip to support me and my personal venture, he remained upbeat and positive, encouraging me and our team mate Martina from Poland to make it to the top. He even woke up at 11pm and helped me get ready for the midnight summit, watching with amusement as I tried desperately to wriggle into my salopettes; trousers I had packed specifically for the long and cold final hike.
“Did you try those on before we came?” he asked as I’m lying on my back aggressively trying to pull the zipper together, his head torch lighting up the problem area, exposing how far away I was from successfully doing up my trousers.
The answer to that question was that yes, I had tried on the trousers before I packed them and that they had been too tight then too. Whilst for most people, they would have maybe found or bought a different pair of trousers, in my mind I rationalised it would not be a problem because by the time I would need them, i.e. summit night, we’d be 6 days into the climb and by then I would have lost a good few pounds hiking every day. What actually happened however, was that not only were we fed very well on the trip, but my body seemed to swell with the altitude and water retention from drinking 3-4 litres of water a day, ultimately creating a situation that was not ideal for me, my trousers or a fun hike to the summit.
Since returning to the UK, I’ve been asked a lot whether I found the expedition hard. For me, the summit night was absolutely the toughest part of the hike. It’s long, it’s cold, it’s steep and of course, as you continue to climb the air gets thinner and thinner so muscles hurt more and every movement takes a real effort. For me personally, it was also especially challenging as despite having finally got myself into the summit trousers, about 10 minutes into the 6 hour ascent, we reached a point which required a big step up onto a rock face. As I went to make my move, all of a sudden my trouser button popped open, the zipper zipped down and I could only just get my knee to bend sufficiently to make it up the step the material was that tight. Panic set in; I had made it so far having survived the altitude test, freezing temperatures and daily lung fulls of dust. Could it be that a pair of trousers would be my downfall?
What’s amazing is that despite being in my 40’s, I still make the same mistakes. Over the years I have bought or held onto too many clothes thinking ‘I’ll wear these when I lose those extra pounds’ or ‘by the time the summer comes round I’ll be able to fit into these as I’ve got 4 months to get in better shape’. Needless to say I rarely lose the weight, my body shape changes or fashion does and I’m left with a wardrobe full of lovely, yet impractical clothes. Not to mention an embarrassing situation half way up a mountain in minus temperatures in the middle of the night in Africa.
Fortunately for me though the trousers held out. Once they’d popped, there was no point in trying to do them up again, so I just climbed for 6 hours and summited with them undone, thankfully held up by thermal underwear. I do however now have a new mantra and that is to focus on dressing myself in clothes that fit and feel good rather than buying clothes with the aim of fitting in them one day. Although it created entertainment at the time, I definitely would have preferred to summit Kilimanjaro in trousers that actually fit me and allowed me to move properly. I’m pretty sure it would have made the trek that much easier too, but then again maybe I could argue that the time spent cursing the trousers overshadowed the pain of the ascent. I’m hopeful I’ve finally learned my lesson on this one - here’s to my next adventure dressed in the appropriate attire and for Ray, below 3,000 metres!
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