Ben Cord climbed Kilimanjaro with 360 Expeditions and this is his story of the adventure…
After a year of working at Sainsbury’s, and not achieving anything, Myself and my brother Nathan were busy looking for something that would get us out of the boring loop we had got ourselves stuck in and give us something to aim for. It started as I was awoken by Nathan to the question, ‘Do you want to climb Kilimanjaro?’ Half asleep I answered, ‘OK’ and that was the start of our journey to Uhuru Peak. We decided to raise money for charity, Walking with the Wounded and Diabetes UK. We did this ourselves as opposed to through a charity group as we wanted to fund the trip ourselves and be a part of a smaller group.
On 8th February 2013 we set off on our journey to scale the roof of Africa. After a long flight we arrived at Nairobi airport,We then had to wait for a connecting flight to Kilimanjaro airport , where we met some of our team, Sandeep, Karen, and Georgina, as well as Rolfe and Mussa. After a short ride in the mini bus, with our first glimpse of Kilimanjaro from the ground, we arrived in Moshi and met Alex and Ian, the last members of our team. After getting to know the team over a meal and several beers, we spent the remainder of our night repacking our equipment, watching Match of the Day and sleeping in preparation of our journey to and first day on the mountain.
After an early start we all boarded the mini bus and began the three hour drive to the starting point of our climb. After a few stops and a fair amount of sunburn, we arrived at the start of our route. A short rest was followed by a short easy hike up to Simba Camp. The following morning we were introduced to our support, the porters, guides and the chef through song and dance.
After being greeted at our tents with a nice hot cuppa and a bowl of water for washing, we had our first of many bowls of porridge and began our first full day on the mountain. Although not a demanding day, it was long, hot and we passed several groups struggling, some of whom were vomiting by the trail; all of which was enthusiastically filmed by Ian. After our path diverted away from the rest of the groups, we headed towards camp two. Before reaching camp we stopped at the lava tunnels to explore and passed a memorial for someone that had been killed by a bison a few months before. At camp we were greeted with another dance and settled in the communal tent where we were entertained with stories from Rolfe, Sandeep, Ian and Alex, many of which have been permanently burned into my mind. This is the first night that we made use of our down jackets as temperatures began to drop significantly, in great contrast to the scalding heat of the day.
We awoke to a clear day and a great view of Uhuru peak. Over a bowl of the dreaded millet porridge, we were informed by Rolfe that this would be the second toughest day, behind summit night. We began our hike to Mawenzi camp, being roasted by the scorching heat. Although this was a short day it was steep and gave a small insight into what we would face on summit night, or so I thought. We stayed at Mawenzi camp for two nights to acclimatise, in this time we scaled the scree slope at the base of Mawenzi peak and scrambled up a couple of ridges to witness Rolfe pushing rocks, with the reassuring advice that these rocks would split your head like a melon, and to view the sunset over Uhuru.These days were hard as altitude sickness began to kick in, I wasn’t affected too badly but Nathan bore the brunt, Rolfe dished out some pills and we rested. The sickness withdrew into a nagging ache by the time we left camp on our journey across the saddle to high camp and Uhuru Peak.
The trek across the saddle marked the start of the longest day we would face, not getting more than an hours sleep until the following night at Horombo, as we were leaving for the summit that night and had to reach high camp and rest in the time beforehand. The saddle was vast and desolate, as the clouds rolled over the heat dispersed, replaced by the cold and damp. Half way across the saddle we came upon the wreckage of a small plane that had crashed several years beforehand. Rolfe had told us how long this trek can take, but we managed it in nearly half the time, giving ourselves plenty of time to rest. Reaching high camp, we saw the sign, Kibo Camp, noticing its meaning, too suffer, this was a good indicator of what was too follow. Nathan and myself struggled to sleep, instead spending our time packing for the summit and taking pictures. As we were all in our tents I have no idea whether the others rested much, except Sandeep who seemed to be able to sleep anywhere at any time.
We gathered in the main tent around 11pm to prepare for the last push for the summit. As we were briefed several other groups began their attempt, leaving us the last to leave Kibo camp. As time approached midnight we affixed our head torches, checked our gear and began our advance on the summit. The way was steep and crowded, as we passed group after group, we heard shouts of ‘Another one bites the dust’ and pressed onwards. In the total darkness all that could be seen were the narrow beams of our torches and of those behind and ahead of us. During the entire hike we were constantly being told Pole Pole, to be slow, this soon gave way to songs from the guides, the occasional ‘Oh mama’ from Eric and shouts of encouragement from Rolfe.
“If a 6 year old can do it, you can do it; If an 89 year old can do it.”
“Pain is temporary, Glory Lasts forever AND CHICKS DIG SCARS!”
Soon the path ahead was enveloped in darkness as we had passed all other groups and had made a huge advance on them. This was in no small part due to Rolfe’s eagerness for us all to reach the summit, often jokingly telling us that conscious or not you will get there.
Thirst soon hit everyone as all water had frozen over. Rolfe would occasionally tell us we had 5 minutes rest, then what seemed like seconds later we would be back on our feet. We reached Gilmans point, making our first steps onto the rim of the crater; beginning to feel the fierce force of nature we would soon be confronting. As we made our way round the crater the conditions began to worsen, we had been told to expect -18 degrees and 30kmph winds, but this was surpassed and we were soon being battered by winds of 100kmph and a numbingly cold -27. Stella point gave false hope, appearing as a false peak only to be told that we need to continue. Ice and dust began to cut across our faces as mother nature continued to test our resolve. With heads down and poles forward we continued to battle our way to the summit. As the howling winds pressed on, the sign atop Uhuru appeared out of the darkness. A huge sense of accomplishment and joy hit the team, we were the first to summit that night, we later learned that many turned back and very few reach the summit that night. Hugs and handshakes all round, we tucked our bags down by some rocks, passed our camera to Rolfe who then took the only picture we have of the team on the summit. Unfortunately this meant Rolfe is not present in the picture. Alex and Ian had planned to para glide from the summit, but it soon became evident to them that it would not be possible due the unexpected weather.
We only stayed for the picture and began our trek back to high camp. The sun began to rise during the descent, revealing a majestic sight of the remaining glaciers and giving light to the path we had ascended. The cold, dark scree slope of the previous hours had turned into a seemingly never ending desert with the sun bearing down upon it. With the water still frozen and wearing the layers needed for the summit the heat became unbearable and to me proved to be the most exhausting part of the trek.
Collapsing into the tent at high camp, with a very welcome cold drink, we began to prepare for the rest of the day, hiking down to Horombo.
Over the next two days we continued to descend the mountain, stopping for a night at Horombo where we celebrated Rolfe’s 50th summit and took part in the tipping ceremony. During the descent the surrounding area turned from moorland to jungle, passing local children holding chameleons for photos. We eventually reached the gate and received our certificates. Once we arrived at our minibus, we watched as the porters received their tips and once more celebrated our successful trek.
That night we celebrated with drinks and a well deserved meal, some of the group continued on to a local club. The last day was spent preparing for the final trip home, exchanging emails and saying goodbye to Alex, Ian and Sandeep as they were staying in Africa for a while longer. We set off, getting one last look at Africa as we made our way home.
The trek is one that is definitely worth doing as it is a great feeling. Meeting and getting to know the team, Georgina, Karen, Alex, Ian, Sandeep and Rolfe was a great experience, from the stories of adventures they had taken part in to the sleep talking from Alex and the resulting yelp as Ian was awoken by this. The stories that have been heard and those that have been gained from the experience will be forever remembered. Reaching the summit was one of the greatest feelings, one that will extend onto future expeditions that have now opened up. Nathan and myself will be continuing onto further mountains with 360, with Mt Aneto and Aconcagua already lined up this year, to be climbed once more alongside Rolfe. This in itself is a testament to Rolfe and 360 as they provide an amazing time, one worth repeating.
I look forward to all future expeditions that will hopefully be made with 360.