Jessica is an Everybody member and decided this year to complete the incredible challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro. Jessica has received support with weight training from Personal Trainer Sam to help her build strength in her legs and back as well as attending Grit Cardio, Grit Plyo, Bodypump and Circuits. Jessica shares her inspirational journey with us.
Kilimanjaro (“Kili”) is the tallest Mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at an altitude of 5,895m. I climbed the Rongai route, which goes up the north side of the mountain and down the south via the Marangu route. All in all this was 62km over 6 days.The decision to climb Kili was quite an easy one for me, whilst I only booked my trip a month before I left, it had been on my “bucket list” for a while and I thought it’d be a good excuse to raise some money for charity. (Although if I had known what I was letting myself in for, I might have thought twice!)
I did a few treks whilst I was travelling last year, most notably the Annapurna Circuit, a 2 week trek in Nepal which I loved and have wanted to do more ever since. I was reasonably confident of my fitness being a regular gym goer, I go to the Nantwich and Crewe Everybody gyms about 4 times a week and particularly enjoy the Grit, Pump, Circuits and HIIT classes.
It started with a long journey via London and Doha, ending up in Moshi, a small town near Kili. I spent a few days there acclimatising, wandering around and having early nights! My favourite memory was getting my first glimpse of Kili from behind the clouds from the rooftop bar at my hostel the night before my trek, it looked so big!
Day 1 of the trek started with a 4 hour drive to the north side of the mountain. From there it was a relatively short 3 hour hike to the first campsite through the forest.
Day 2 was a 7 hour hike, mainly through a scrubland/volcano like terrain and day 3 was a much steeper, 4 hour hike which took us above the clouds for the first time. These first 3 days were great and there weren’t any real signs of altitude sickness.
Day 4 was more challenging, a beautiful 6 hour hike through desert like terrain to our basecamp at 4,720m altitude. The hike was interesting with our first close up views of the mountain and we saw the remains of a crashed plane! By the time we reached base camp, everyone was very tired and had headaches (me included) so we spent the afternoon resting in our tents.
Day 5 was summit day. We started hiking at midnight after very little sleep and it was obviously very dark. I had a bad start, with my body switching from being really hot to freezing (I was wearing a lot of layers). Our group of 7 people soon split up in 2; I was with 2 others and 3 guides. I found the first 5-6 hours (hard to say as I lost all concept of time) really hard. I was sick twice, so couldn’t eat and had no energy. One of the other girls was struggling too, so we were literally taking a few steps at a painfully slow pace before having to stop. There was a really steep section which seemed never ending. I remember looking up and seeing the headlights of people who were so much higher up than us!
After 7.5 hours we eventually reached the end of the really steep section at Gilmans Point, the sun had risen and I was allowed to rest for about 5 minutes. I was completely exhausted, we’d had lots of breaks on the way up but these were really short as the guides were worried about us falling asleep on the mountain, which was highly likely and apparently very dangerous! I couldn’t decide what I needed more at this point, sleep or food (thankfully I had stopped feeling sick) so I decided to eat a small bag of skittles with my eyes closed!
It was another 2 hours to the summit, I knew we were close when I could see the snow! I couldn’t quite believe it when we finally got there, the views were amazing and I was so relieved we’d made it! We didn’t stay for long for safety reasons, just time to take some photos and rest a little.
The journey down was a lot quicker. It was fun running/skiing down quite a steep section with loose ground. I was going so fast and had no control of my feet! Luckily I was linking arms with my guide who was holding me back and trying to stop me from falling over.
My guide was brilliant, for the majority of the 12 hour hike, all I had been able to do was put one foot in front of the other. He did pretty much everything else for me, from taking the lid off my water bottle to doing up the zip on my coat and taking millions of photos on my phone (most of which were not very flattering and have been deleted)!
I collapsed in my tent when I got back to base camp, I’d taken tiredness to a whole new level! We had a few hours rest and then lunch before having to pack up and walk another 3 hours to our next campsite, luckily it was a gradual downhill trek!
Day 6, the final day was much easier. 7 hours hiking through a changing terrain of scrubland to forest. When we finally reached the end I was quite sad it was all over. That said, it was a great relief to take my boots off, have a long shower followed by several beers back at our hotel!
Looking back, I’m really glad I did this trek. I will never moan about being tired again after summit day! I have been told (and I agree) that success in climbing Kili is largely due to your mental strength, then how your body deals with the altitude, and to a much lesser extent, your physical fitness. For me, I was physically fit but really struggled with the altitude. The thing that really got me to the top was my stubbornness and my refusal to give up and of course the support of my guides and fellow trekkers.
I think this also applies to everyday life (except perhaps your ability to deal with altitude)! If you believe you can do something, and are prepared to work for it, there is nothing stopping you. As my good friend Nike would say…. “Just do it”!!!
By doing this, and another trek across the Moroccan Sahara desert next March, I am hoping to raise money for the EY Foundation and Lord Taverners. The EY Foundation helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds find alternative routes to employment and education and set up businesses. Lord Taverners uses sport and recreation to enhance the lives of disabled and disadvantaged young people. Please visit my fundraising page: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/jessicafleet1