/ Traveller Stories: Adventure Mum climbs Mt Kilimanjaro
After Megan Seccull (also known as @theadventuremum) had an awesome experience trekking in the Andes in Peru with World Expeditions, it was time to take on another adventure. So, in January 2016 she took on Mt Kilimanjaro (Shira Route) with her 18-year-old son Rayner and they both had an incredible time, highlighting the scenery, the achievement of summitting the peak and the mother-son bonding as an experience of a lifetime.
Since our return, we have been floating a few inches off the ground in pure elation of the adventure now that it has sunk in.
I like to quote these short, punchy and hopefully interesting facts when people enquire about our trip as I think it gives a really clear insight into the difficulty of hiking in a snowstorm with very little oxygen. However, for those who want to feel the essence of the trip, I am going to attempt to do it justice with three main highlights for me: the scenery, the emotion, and the bonding.
Some undisputed facts first:
- Mt Kilimanjaro is a dormant volcano in Tanzania
- It is the highest free-standing mountain in the world
- The summit is 5895m
- Around 35,000 people climb it each year
- The success rate of getting to the summit is approximately 85%
And now for MY facts; hand on heart these facts are true, even though I have been accused in the past of embellishing a story.
- The day we landed in Kilimanjaro it was well over 30+ degrees celcius, with glorious sunshine
- Seven days later, at the summit, it was at least -5 to -10 degrees and a snow storm.
- From the crater rim, Stella Point, to the highest point, Uhuru Peak you have a mere 200 metres to walk and this takes nearly an hour – longer if you can’t walk in a straight line.
- When you breathe at the summit you take in just 50% air that you would at the start of the trip.
- It took seven days to get to the summit and eight hours to descend.
- The distance walked over the eight days is 84kms, not including acclimatisation walks on most days.
- On summit night, the climb from base camp is just over one kilometre, but the trail zig-zags up, so it's six kilometres of hiking and this takes seven hours to do.
- We had 11 adventurers in our group and 49 Tanzanian awesome support staff
1. The scenery
On the ascent up the mountain, there were days that the terrain could best be described as rocky, sparse and elephant grey in colour as far as the eye can see. It could be argued that this would be what it would be like walking on the moon. Or perhaps, a better description would be that if a dinosaur were to walk past, it would not look out of place; as there was such a prehistoric feel to the mountain, especially as the mist rolls in and out across the vastness of the landscape with very little vegetation. The stony ground and uneven surface made it very important to keep a keen eye trained on the path ahead to avoid any falls, the only danger in this is that the best view then becomes the person’s boots walking in front of you. Important to remind yourself to STOP and take in the scenery around you as it is quite spectacular in its sparseness; also, a good opportunity to disguise a much-needed break with an 'OMG this is amazing!' comment.
2. The excitement and achievement
The entire trip is a build-up of anticipation, excitement and nervousness about the end goal: the summit!
As each day of hiking drew closer to the finale of the trip (the very reason that we all came here), the conversation and banter always seemed to end up focusing on the final ascent.
The Tanzanian Sherpas are amazing; they make everything and everyone feels so much better with their confidence that we will all make it to the top. One of these amazing men was King James.
He turned the seriousness of a potential fall off the mountain, on an unexpected rock climbing expedition, into laughter when he said, “Megan, you are strong like a chicken,” as I was clinging for dear life, hugging the rock face, aptly named kissing rock.
Probably not the kind of words that would inspire you to greatness but it made me laugh at a time that I needed it.
We arrived at base camp by lunchtime on day seven; we were sent to bed for the afternoon to rest, all the while the apprehension of the climb was hanging in the air makes resting difficult. An early dinner and then back to bed till we were called at 11pm to ready ourselves for the final climb.
The compulsory head torches of the hikers before us ascending the mountain made it come alive, like a beautiful night sky filled with stars, an image that will permanently be imprinted in my memory. Personally, anything that is hard work both physically and mentally and has that fear of failure element, but it just makes the victory that much sweeter. The sense of accomplishment that we felt at the summit is the best feeling in the world and the tears of joy that flowed are definitely the sweetest kind of tears.
Finally, the single best overall moment for me was nothing more than a glance and connection captured in a very brief moment. Our group was assembled for the final climb with faster walkers at the back and the slower at the front, meaning that Rayner and I were split up. Our African guides sung in beautiful harmony their traditional songs alongside us as we climbed, to both distract us from the struggle of the hike and to create an ambience and mood that will stay forever.
As we put one foot in front of the other in the dark, on a very rocky, thin trail that zigged and zagged blindly upwards, I happened to glance down at the same time that Rayner looked up, an uncanny coincidence, his head torch shone on his face as he gave me the thumbs up and he smiled. A smile came from deep inside him, no words were needed, but a million things were said in that magical moment that we shared. Of course, I cried!
I believe the strongest bonds are forged by shared adventure and overcoming challenges together fostering mutual respect and admiration between a mother and child.
Please like my Adventure Mum Facebook page or read about the other adventures I have with my other children at www.adventuremum.com.au, as I would love other parents to experience the joy that comes from having adventures with your kids. Feel free to leave a comment below about your experiences too!
You can conquer Mt Kili via five routes: the remote Shira or Lemosho Route, the Rongai Route, the Remote Northern Circuit Route, or the popular yet busier Machame Route. Approaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro by the remote Shira Route is an exhilarating option for walkers keen to explore less trodden trails and who are comfortable in variable mountain conditions.
Beginning and ending at Arusha, the Lemosho Route offers incredible panoramic views where you walk on lava ridges and enjoy extensive views of the plains below. Though there are a few steep climbs via Lemosho, there is a chance for a restful afternoon before the final summit day.
The Rongai Route begins in attractive farmland and delightful forest landscapes, with the opportunity to see black and white colobus monkeys, and passes through several different climate zones and unspoilt wilderness. There's also the option to add on a wildlife safari to your trek, which takes you into Tanzanian's spectacular National Parks, so you can experience the best of both worlds.