Climbing the King of Africa; Kilimanjaro

by | Sunday, 3 Sep, 2017 | Adventure, Africa, Africa Sky High, Climbing, Hiking | 0 comments

  

Words and Photos by Shane Quinnell, Videos by Tarryn Quinnell, Team Tane

Our hands burn. Our lungs heave. Our heads ache. Our stomachs backflip. We step, one at a time. We don’t walk; we don’t have the strength. “Why are we here? Why are we doing this?!” The answer is simple; we are here to meet the King.

In every land, every realm there is a ruler, a King. In the sea there is the Shark. In the skies, the Eagle and savannah, the Lion. In Africa, there is Kilimanjaro.

At 5,985m Kilimanjaro is almost 700m higher than the next largest African heavyweight; Mt Kenya. As the highest mountain in Africa it is one of the mighty seven summits, a group of the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.  To summarise, it is rather massive.

“Its just a hike,” we said. “We have done harder,” we thought. “She’ll be right,” we felt. The truth is we underestimated Kilimanjaro. While it may be a non-technical hike, it is cold, tough and most of all, it is bloody high!

Physically we were mostly ready. Our bodies were relatively acclimatised thanks to the previous mountains, four of the five highest in Africa. However, the month at low altitude since Mt Kenya had reduced our readiness, our bodies were also tired, our reserves depleted.

Mentally, we left much to be desired. We had been climbing mountains for two months, traveling for four, living in our Suzuki Jimny, continuously camping. It was amazing but truth be told it was also tiring. Long days driving, a lack of home comforts and moving house daily, one campsite to another. First world concerns for sure but tiring none the less. Our minds were already on the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar… until reality quickly pulled them back.

The gates to Kilimanjaro are held by a beautiful tropical rainforest… Not what we expected on Africa’s highest mountain.

After the most comfortable night of our Suzuki Africa Sky High lives, spent in a ‘real,’ bed with a ‘real,’ hot shower and luxurious air-conditioning at Altezza Lodge, we were reintroduced to our camp life. Fortunately for us, it was a slow release. Our army of assistants from ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro,’ made sure we were the most comfortable and well fed climbers on the mountain.

Surrounded by the lowland jungles of Kilimanjaro National park and the sounds of countless birds and even more ‘wageni mzungu,’ (white tourists) we took our first steps along the 6 day Machame route towards the King. Accompanied by our friend Julian, who had travelled from Australia to be there, new friend Guillierme Godoy from Brazil and expert guides Musa and Sanga from Climbing Kilimanjaro, we were on our way.

The truth is we underestimated Kilimanjaro. While it may be a non-technical hike, it is cold, tough and most of all, it is bloody high!

Shane and Tarryn Quinnell

Team Tane

After the most comfortable night of our Suzuki Africa Sky High lives, spent in a ‘real,’ bed with a ‘real,’ hot shower and luxurious air-conditioning at Altezza Lodge, we were reintroduced to our camp life. Fortunately for us, it was a slow release. Our army of assistants from ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro,’ made sure we were the most comfortable and well fed climbers on the mountain.

Surrounded by the lowland jungles of Kilimanjaro National park and the sounds of countless birds and even more ‘wageni mzungu,’ (white tourists) we took our first steps along the 6 day Machame route towards the King. Accompanied by our friend Julian, who had travelled from Australia to be there, new friend Guillierme Godoy from Brazil and expert guides Musa and Sanga from Climbing Kilimanjaro, we were on our way.

Our crazy crew, from left to right; me, Musa, Tarryn, Julian, Sanaga, Gui.

Both time and kilometres slipped quickly by. Presently we approached the base of the Lava Tower, 4,642m, having risen from about 1800m within only 2.5 days. The invisible tower eluded us, shrouded in the hazy fog. The fact that we were high, however, was unmistakeable. To be blunt, our team looked terrible. At lunch, Tarryn sat head in hands nursing nausea, Julian grimaced through a headache looking more like an apocalypse survivor than a happy hiker and Gui sat motionless trying not to further unbalance his body. “Welcome to the world of big mountains,” I said, “you’ll probably feel worse than this for the next two days.

Musa, our head guide from Climbing Kilimanjaro, waits for us to shuffle down from the Lava Tower.

Unfortunately for all of us, I was right. Sitting drinking coffee at 11;15PM waiting to commence our summit attempt, we all looked and felt like apocalypse survivors. Our anticipated elation at finally leaving the tent to head for the top was cold to say the least, frosted over by the 15 degree ambient temperature.

Within hours we had deteriorated into the living dead. The unmistakeable sound of high altitude lumbering melded into the cacophony of howling wind. We were no longer walking, we were zombie shuffling. Tarryn fared worst of all. Her tiny frame rocked with her dropping core temperature. Seeing the situation unfolding, Musa jumped in to save the day by removing his own jacket and giving it to Tarryn. ‘This is the Real Africa,’ I thought, ‘where people help each other to survive the harsh world which awaits them. In reality while an exceptional act of kindness, this was common with our team from Climbing Kilimanjaro, they constantly went above and beyond to help us.

Unfortunately, despite the help, Tarryn continued to shiver and then to collapse. It was clear; she was broken. We stopped and waited. I froze. Pain moved through me from my fingers to my hands and up my arms. The higher we got the slower she went. Until she could go no more.

One of our freezing yet comfortable camps high on the King of Africa. The green tent in the foreground was our dining hall; fit for a King.

At 5,650m, only 250 vertical meters short of the summit, Tarryn fell for the last time. She was done. Frozen, exhausted and starting to show signs of pulmonary problems, she could go no longer. It was a tough decision but there was no choice. We embraced. A long deep embrace full of emotion. My eyes watered. We had come so far together; 4 of Africa’s 5 highest mountains complete, but now I was alone.

 

“I’m happy I didn’t make it… I learnt some lessons far more valuable by not reaching the summit.” Tarryn said. I smiled. I finally realised, we were not really seeking an audience with the King of Africa, in reality all we were seeking was ourselves.

Shane and Tarryn Quinnell

Team Tane

 

In the light of the rising sun I watched her and Sanga turn back. Dejection was clear but exhaustion was clearer. She looked tiny compared to the looming mountain. I was reminded ‘we do not conquer mountains, they merely allow us to stand on them for a time.’ With that I turned, it was up to me.

An hour later we shuffled around the last bend, there it was, Uhuru Peak. We were finally there, wobbling in the presence of the King of Africa. We had made it, Africa’s 5 highest mountains complete. It was mind-blowing. It was bittersweet. Tarryn was not with me. I was reminded of the words of John Supertramp from ‘Into the Wild,’ infamy: “Happiness is only real when shared.” I shrugged off the feeling. She was with me, I could feel her spirit. With a smile I headed down.

Two days later I sat with Tarryn back in Moshi staring at the peak. She had been quiet since the peak, distant. She turned to look at me the haziness gone from her expression, replaced with a look of contentment. “I’m happy I didn’t make it you know,” she said. “I didn’t deserve it, I didn’t want it badly enough, I was already on holiday in Zanzibar. I may not have gotten to the top but I learnt some lessons far more valuable by not reaching the summit.” I smiled. I finally realised, we were not really seeking an audience with the King of Africa, in reality all we were seeking was ourselves.

You’ve read the account, now see the action!

How to organise an audience with the ‘King of Africa’

Route Options and Locations: There are many routes up to the summit of Africa. Some of the most common options include Machame (our route), Lemosho, Marangu and Rongai. Different routes have their own character and challenges and differ in length and number of days required, with longer trips costing more. We took the Machame as we understood it to be one of the more scenic routes and was achievable in only six days. Most hikes are organised from around Moshi in Northern Tanzania.

Contacts: We organised our trip from South Africa with the renown operator ‘Climbing Kilimanjaro’ (http://www.climbingkilimanjaro.com/, info@climbingkilimanjaro.co.za ). They have numerous options to choose from including; routes, trip durations and quality, all prices are on the website provided. We were really happy with Climbing Kilimajaro’s service and expertise and would highly recommend them for Kilimanjaro expeditions.

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