An unforgettable experience

It was in October 2006 at the BDTA Dental Showcase when I signed up to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with Bridge2Aid. I agreed with so much confidence and excitement knowing I was going to climb up this ‘big mountain’. Five days into last month’s trek and I was wondering what on earth I was thinking!

We all arrived raring to go at Kilimanjaro airport on a Friday morning, having got to know each other on the flights from Heathrow. In our group was Simon Baxter from A-Dec, dentists Simon Roland, Bal Sekhon, Cisco Casserley, Janet & Tim Singleton, Raj & Kali Sehmi, Shindy Vasir, Judy Wheble, Alan & Izzy Frampton, doctor Allistair Dow, our tour manager Henk Blanckenberg, my girlfriend Chloë Bradbury and I.

Seeing the mountain from the plane certainly made me realise who was the boss. I hadn’t really anticipated the sheer size of it and, with a base the size of Yorkshire, you can understand my concern! You could clearly see the different climates at different altitudes; dense rainforest, shrub lands, desert and glacial planes. Nevertheless, I was still very excited to be hours away from starting the climb.

We set off on the Saturday, trekking through rainforest and managing to bump into a few monkeys (Colobus and Blue), who unfortunately weren’t as interested in us as we were in them. That night we stayed at the first camp called Mandara at 2,700m.

On Sunday we trekked through what looked almost like British vegetation. I suppose the climate at that altitude must have been similar to ours. The sun continued to blaze all day and eventually we arrived at the next camp called Horombo at 3,700m. This was our first experience of being cold at night.

Monday consisted of an acclimatisation walk and we trekked to around 4,200m, only to return back to Horombo for the night! This seemingly pointless exercise is well known to help climbers get used to the altitude, and we also got a chance to see the route of our final ascent (which looked relatively easy from there!).

Tuesday was the day I realised that no matter what I tried I couldn’t get my hands clean! None of us had showered since Saturday and I was definitely feeling grubby. Tuesday was a long day and we trekked for hours along a long path leading to the foot of the final ascent, known as Kibo. The Kibo camp was basic to say the least, but at 4,700m you can understand why. The infamous vegetable stew that had been prepared beautifully every day suddenly became less appetising, apparently due to the altitude, but I think the cause was that we had eaten it for four days running!

On Wednesday we took part in another acclimatisation trek, reaching 5,000m. In the afternoon it was time to rest in preparation for the summit climb that night. After a quick sleep we woke up at 9.30pm and got ready to go. I was wearing a lot of layers as it was going to get much colder during the final ascent.

Everything went well for the first few hours and we were all in high spirits. The guides helped us along with jubilant singing as they skipped effortlessly up the mountain alongside us. We zigzagged up the slope at a painstakingly slow pace to cope with the altitude. Then without warning I hit rock bottom and had absolutely no energy. I decided it was time for an impromptu break at one of the turning points of the zigzag and the doctor was there to help. He force-fed me a frozen energy bar and gave me a glucose drink. It was this little bit of energy that got me to the point at which you have officially climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Gilman’s Point (5,681m) at 5.25am. In an instant I sat down on a rock and fell asleep for a minute or two.

We had arrived early and didn’t even get a chance to see the sunrise! Henk, our tour manager, decided that we would carry on immediately for the remaining 200m or so to reach the highest point, Uhuru Peak (5,895m). I got up but didn’t stay up and decided that sitting back down on my rock was a far more sensible option.

It was then that Henk asked if I wanted to call it a day and I couldn’t have been happier to oblige. If only I had eaten my vegetable stew, maybe I could have gone on for that little bit more to see the highest point! The main thing was we had all done it and that was enough for me.

When we had all returned to Kibo I spoke to some of the other groups that had attempted the climb through the night and I was amazed by how many hadn’t made it. It is very rare for the entire group to reach the top, so Henk was a very happy man!

I’d like to extend my thanks to everybody who sponsored me, especially Ivoclar Vivadent, Digital Print Factory and FMC. The money that they all gave will make a huge difference to people living in Tanzania. Bridge2Aid is a fantastic charity and I aim to take part in future challenges to support it. The porters (who carried about 25kg of baggage up the mountain everyday), the guides, the doctor Allistair and Henk all deserve a huge thank you for helping us to complete what will probably be the hardest thing we will ever do. It was a truly unforgettable experience and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to take part in such an amazing event with a group of exceptional people.

About Bridge2Aid

Bridge2Aid is a fast-growing UK dental & community development charity working in Tanzania. Its clinic, Hope Dental Centre, provides much-needed dental services in the city of Mwanza. It operates on a unique self-funding basis which generates income for the charity as well as enabling B2A to offer free treatment to those in need. B2A provides training in emergency dentistry utilising UK volunteers which affects up to half a million people each year.

The B2A Schools Dental Service – the first of its kind in Tanzania – will provide free screening, pain relief and oral health education for Mwanza schoolchildren from October 2007.

B2A’s community development programme works with the disabled and people affected by leprosy. Profits from Hope Dental Centre as well as funds raised in the UK and Tanzania go towards delivering a long-term programme which includes health, education, agriculture and infrastructure projects with the aim of involving the community itself in this process of transformation.

Charles is FMC’s digital commercial manager, and at the time of going to press him and Chloë had managed to raise over £6,000.

About Mount Kilimanjaro

One of the tallest mountains in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro is located in north-east Tanzania near the Kenyan border. It is actually the tallest free-standing mountain rise in the world with its highest peak at a staggering 5,895 metres (19,340 ft), providing a dramatic view from the surrounding plains.

The mountain’s peak, known as Uhuru Peak, is the highest point in Africa. Kilimanjaro is an extinct volcano. The approach and climb provide spectacular diversity in both climate and terrain, with scrub-lands thick with African wildlife, lush forests and flowering alpine tundra giving way to snow and rock once above 15,000 feet.

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