Day 7, Base Camp. 15,331 feet.
After a tearful farewell to Dan we begin our final ascent. It was immediately intense. We asked Meshack why we leave at midnight. He said "So you cannot see what you are attempting to do". Comforting. But for us completely irrelevant. For the few hours before we left, it had snowed. The entire path ahead had been dusted in white. That coupled with the full moon ahead gave us a luminous lunar landscape to trek through. We switched off our head torches and allowed our eyes to adjust. This was the Arctic region of the mountain, a barren, lifeless area covered in ice and rock. At this altitude the oxygen is half that of sea level. And we would feel the effect of that greater tonight than any other night.
The temperature drops to -5 degrees. It's fine when you're moving but stop for a few seconds and the cold seeps straight into your bones. This is brutal. We climb at a snails pace. My head is screaming and I began to feel sick. A couple of hours in and Lauren starts to waiver, Meshack takes her daypack and offers her his hand. I wish I could help her but it takes everything I've got to keep going. Slowly we move on, I focus on the back of Laurens shoes and as we get to 4am I find myself starting to hallucinate. My eyes want to close, my mouth is watering, I can see little faces in the floor, like something out of labyrinth, stony little gremlins laughing at me struggling up a mountain. Damn you Malarone. I tell myself "Just keep going, Just keep going" And we do. The seven hour climb lasts forever and as we lose the moon behind the peak we reach Stella Point at 18,885 feet. Apparently, people are happy to stop here. Not us. We want Uhuru (freedom) Peak. Another hour around the rim of the volcanic crater.
This part vivid in my memory, walking through a cloudy ice land, feeling detached from my body, running on autopilot but fighting for breath. We made our way slowly around the horseshoe passing electric blue glaciers, to the summit.
There are no words. Just utter exhaustion. We made it. We hug, cry, hug some more. It's incredibly emotional. 19,341 feet. Lauren's hair has turned grey with ice. My water has frozen in my back pack. We make videos for our loved ones, take photos at the famous sign (of which their are two for the busy season) thank everyone who donated to our chosen charties, play Ain't no mountain high enough on the slide whistles, obviously. Then we take a second to film Lauren writing "The Lullaby Trust" In the snow.
Its a lovely moment to take in what what have accomplished. a huge personal challenge alongside raising money for two lesser known charities that do incredible work. We climbed in memory of my beautiful brother and sister, Dominic and Alicia and at this moment I feel closer to heaven than anywhere else. I hope I've made my angels proud.
Running on fumes we started our descent. Skidding down the scree slopes, falling over often for nearly 5km we arrived at base camp at 9am. We still have had no word from Dan and were desperately worried about him. We were allowed to rest for an hour and then we got up to continue our descent to Mweka camp (go on, say it out loud). This part was a killer, 7km through the pouring rain through slippery old river beds. Back down through the alpine desert and moorland and into the rainforest. My knees and hips were in agony but we had to keep going. We realised that Dan would have had to make this trip in the dark. We finally reached camp in a deluge and sat feasting on ugali maize and spinach whilst a river ran through the tent. After a particularly taxing game of I spy, Lauren screamed "Get me out of here" I couldn't agree more. Now we had done what we came here to do we were really keen to get back to civilisation. To our surprise, we were brought a cake with our names scribbled on. It was a nice touch, we cut it up and gave it out to the team. Who doesn't love a bit of cake. We lay in the tent for the last night listening to the tropical rain thunder on to the canvas around us.
Day 8, Mweka Camp 10,065 feet.
Up at 6am for the last breakfast. The porters gather round and sing the Hakuna Matata song, it's a lovely ditty quite dissimilar to the Disney classic. After drawing the short straw, Lauren did her best Ed Milliband impression and delivered a totally awkward speech thanking the crew. It was cringe and brilliant all at the same time.
We gave the crew their tips, a tradition amongst expeditions and well deserved. These guys were my heroes. I was amazed at their resolve on a daily basis and was appauled to see them climbing in such basic attire. Hitting the mountain in trainers and tracksuits must be hell and I wondered how they could be left to fend for themselves in such a way by the western trekking companies who must be making a fortune. At least the Guides were provided with decent boots and clothes. Life for the porters has apparently improved dramatically but I hope it improves further.
We started our final decent. 10km to the Mweka gate. Each step the air became thicker as we passed through families of monkeys swinging in the branches overhead and stepped over huge colonies of ants. Attenborough would have had a field day. The rainforest was stunning and Meshack pointed out the beautiful and aptly named Impatiens Kilimanjari. A horn shaped flower native to the mountain.
As we reached the final path we saw the gate in the distance. There was a familiar shape waving at us. It was Dan. We ran down to meet him and were overjoyed to see him back to his old self, showered, colour in his face and a twinkle in his eye. He was a million miles away from the man who had left us on summit night. He debriefed us on his rescue mission, 11 hours trekking through the night and an ambulance ride to the clinic. Turns out he had a chest infection which was masked by the effects of altitude. He was right to go down. Carrying on could have proved fatal. I can tell he'll be back to conquer the mountain another time.
We headed back to the hotel for the first hot shower in over a week and the joy of using a toilet that wasn't a long drop hole in the floor. The beer I had that night was the sweetest I'd ever tasted. What did I go for? A Kilimanjaro of course.
I'd like to thank Lauren and Dan for being such amazing and inspirational team mates, Vanessa at the Lullaby trust for such great support. Francis at Bliss, Martin Hope and ATG for helping us organise bucket collections and most importantly every single person, friend and family member who sent messages of support and given donations, small or large. You have enriched this experience no end and we couldn't have kept going without you.
Time for the next adventure.
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