Kilimanjaro: I wanna stand with you on a mountain…

Guest post from Alan Gosschalk, Director of Fundraising

Last autumn while planning Scope’s challenge events, we realised that two departed on the same day – one up Kilimanjaro, the other to Everest Base Camp. We needed a Scope rep on each… step forward the fearless Fundraising Director, aka yours truly, for the former. To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for but others had enjoyed it and many had conquered it, so why not?

It started with a briefing session in October and a trip to the pub in December. Between them, I met half of the group of 20 going on the trip. People seemed nice enough. They were already doing well with the fundraising, arguably as big a challenge as climbing Kili itself, but people are resilient and determined. Toby and Anna raised £1,500 at a band night, Marz £630 by collecting at her town’s train station, Nat raised £46 packing bags at a well-known supermarket in Hendon and Ali did a sponsored run of 250km, the distance from Nairobi to Arusha, and raised £600. I went the easy route, generating £3,000 from eight very generous suppliers and a few friends.

Training was a washout. I did manage a few walks but was ill for three weeks from Christmas day on. I decided to rely on the residual fitness developed from a long distance walk last June! Our leader, Simon, pointed out that only extensive trekking at altitude can prepare you properly for Kili – result! I was no worse off than anyone else.

And so D Day crept up on us until we met nervously at the airport, all polite, maybe a little daunted. The next day, after the first sleepless night of many, we were in another world – hot, excited, eager to get going. And so began the daily ritual of packing and unpacking a variety of bags and rucksacks. Si (not the leader) broke the world record for the number of times a bag can be repacked in a one-hour period.

And then we set off, through lush vegetation, climbing 1,300 metres on day one. Within no time, we were singing, sipping water (vital) and telling jokes (poor). In no time, we became a team – the camaraderie was palpable. We were supported by the most amazing crew who sped by us daily to set up camp, cook our food, provide us with clean water, and even sort our toilets. We were in constant awe at their strength and stamina. Camping was a challenge for most – it was cold and uncomfortable. Food became fuel – though we didn’t want to, we had to eat… porridge, soups, stews – amazing food in the circumstances.

AMS (altitude sickness) affected many of us on day two as we plodded up to 3,900 metres. Diamox, the drug that counters its effects, worked pretty quickly. And so began the daily routine. Shiver through the night, ‘wake’, force down porridge and eggs, up and out in 45 minutes. We walked through amazing landscapes – past lava towers, moonscapes, past huge pineapple-like plants, scrambling up the Barranco wall – the variety was astounding. The one constant was the support that we gave each other. Inevitably people had low moments but they never lasted for long as others noticed and joked, sang, played 20 questions and asked inane questions. Well, do YOU know how long eggshell takes to biodegrade?

But we all noticed that it was getting colder, we were having to walk further and get up earlier each day and the mood became altogether more sombre as we were briefed twice about ‘summit night’. Simon’s view was that there was no point in sugar coating the truth – no one could possibly accuse him of that! We went to bed at 7pm (!) terrified, quaking in our sleeping bags. We were up at 11, cold and nervous. By midnight we were moving, slower than a snail due to the steepness and altitude. We trudged upwards, following a line of lights ahead. I counted every 100 steps, then started again. Trevor started singing along to his iPod – it was Coldplay, “nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be this hard”. We’d put up with thousands of his jokes, mostly bad ones, but this was nearly the final straw.

There was no respite – when we did stop we always seemed to be in a wind tunnel. It was tough, the toughest thing any of us had ever done in our lives. Yet we persisted, on and on through the dark, until after six hours the sky started to lighten and we knew we weren’t far away. Gradually the sun came up. We got closer and closer to Stella Point until finally, we were there – hugs and tears, Jo cried for England. Then another 45 minutes before we got to Uhuru, the top of the highest free-standing mountain in the world and of Africa at 5,895m, almost 20,000 feet. Inevitably we’d plodded at different speeds and just behind us came Amrit, so determined having had to turn back last year. She had returned to complete the journey and she made it – mind over matter. We were all so very proud of her, the heroine of our trip.

We still had a long way down, three hours of scree then another two hours before a descent of 2,300 metres the next day – equivalent to more than twice the height of Snowdon. Then a celebration dinner, fun awards, too much Kilimanjaro beer and dancing to The Cult with Rik! Amazing.

Then finally back to reality in the UK but we’d all changed and learnt so much. We had made friendships that will last forever and share a unique bond. And we now know that we can achieve (almost) anything we set out to, if we’re determined enough. A life-changing trip in just six days – you can’t ask for much more than that. It’s a journey I implore you to go on.

Ain’t no mountain high enough… 

Alan Gosschalk, Director of Fundraising

Inspired by Alan’s experience? Sign up for one of our Kilimanjaro treks now!

Kilimanjaro trekkers