At 5,895m, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain anywhere in the world.
It has become iconic
Climbing Kilimanjaro is a once in a lifetime experience and an incredible personal challenge for anyone. It’s an experience we wanted to share with our sponsored students when 14 volunteers set out from Heathrow and Geneva just after Christmas 2015.
The British team paid their own expenses and raised funds to cover all other costs for the young Kenyans (travel, accommodation and food, park fees, kit hire and vaccinations).
Meeting the team
It proved every bit as challenging as we’d expected – and more besides.
For the Kenyan students, the ‘firsts’ started on day one – the hotel pool was the first time many had ever been swimming.
Their tentative first steps soon gave way to laughter as they quickly bonded with the British team. And there were others ‘firsts’ too – like seeing icicles for the first time too. Imagine their curious faces one morning watching these small ice crystals melting in the palm of their hand.
Preparing for the cold!
We were mindful that many of the Kenyans would not have experienced cold weather before. In Nairobi the average temperature is around 15 – 16°C. Rose who joined us from Mombasa reported that it was 33°C when she returned home. So knowing that night-time temperatures would drop below freezing and at the summit could be -5, -10 or even -20°C, it was vital that we had enough cold weather clothing.
So we were grateful to Patra Silks who donated full silk underwear for the whole group – 29 sets of thermal long-johns and vests. This was an amazing donation!
The cold nights were indeed to prove a test for the Kenyan students, especially at 2.30 in the morning on summit day at over 5,000m. We found that hand-warmers are especially effective when put into your socks at night time to keep feet warm.
Altitude sickness is an inexact science which affects people differently. From day one we had people being sick, with headaches and sickness proving a daily challenge.
We followed the guides’ instructions to walk polé, polé (slowly, slowly) and drink often (sippee, sippee) to avoid dehydration.
Even the Kenyans living in Nairobi at 1,700m and used to altitude, found conditions difficult. (For comparison, Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK is 1,344m).
And it’s not just the altitude but the distances walked each day, the extremes of heat / sunburn and cold, disrupted sleep in our two-man tents and unfamiliar food that provided challenges. Energy levels drain very quickly. We had two UK doctors with our party and we relied on their advice and support, especially as the week went on. Summit day was especially brutal, with one person needing emergency oxygen and several others needing support for the descent, having exhausted themselves reaching the top.
We all learned much about ourselves and our capabilities, and about leadership and just what can be achieved with the right support and encouragement.
Our hopes for the project can best be summed up by Getrude, a sponsored student now studying Public Health at University, when asked what she learned, “knowing that there is nothing impossible …. you can overcome any challenge that comes your way”.
John has recently completed his secondary schooling and is waiting for his final results. He wrote in our travel diary, “as time goes, expect more from me”.
We achieved and exceeded
You can read more about our trip to Kilimanjaro and see photos and video on Facebook at Red Rubber ball on Kilimanjaro.
We set out to raise enough funds to cover all the costs for the Kenyans to take part in the trip. In fact, thanks to the efforts of our 14 adventurers and kindness of over 450 donors, we raised enough for this AND enough to begin our mentoring programme for the students back in Nairobi AND start making plans for our cycling club in the Kibera slums. These projects are now well underway.
To keep in touch with these projects as they happen, click here for regular updates.
And you can still support our Leaders Challenge through our online fundraising pages:
or join our 100 Club.
“I am writing this email to thank you so much and the entire redrubberball family for making me have such a lifetime experience. It was one of a kind, and despite the hardships in between, I enjoyed myself. I can’t thank you enough, it was amazing and beyond my expectations. I did learn a lot too from it, I shall forever treasure the sweet memories. Thank you very much.”
Rose, young leader volunteer
You can read Rose’s story in her own words here