Our group of 20 ventured into the wilderness excited at the prospect of climbing Kilimanjaro.
For the majority, this was to be their first experience climbing at altitude, and the toughest challenge we've all embarked on so far. Here's a brief take on the 7 days that followed.
Day 1, Saturday 10th of June
Climbing Kilimanjaro presents a number of routes to choose from with one being the Rongai route. Today saw us set off taking this northern approach to the summit.
This commenced at 2,000m among the wilderness of a pine forest and past farms growing produce before meeting rockier terrain. 4 hours later, our slow but sensible ascent brought us to our destination for the night - Simba Camp, altitude 2,600m.
Along with dinner, so began the first night of Kili awards with winners each receiving a small handicraft prize.
Day 2, Sunday 11th of June
This would be our first full day of climbing properly. We felt the cold overnight and awoke to a light covering of frost on the grass outside our tents. This was a small price to pay for the blue skies above and warm sun which followed a short time later! Plus, our first spectacular views of Kilimanjaro. The warmth of the day had each of us consuming 3-4 litres of water which we were able to replenish at lunch.
Altitude symptoms also started coming into play affecting most of our group with headaches, nausea and dizziness.
After a solid 8 hours of hiking, we arrived at camp taking in spectacular views of the surrounds of Moshi, Mawenzi peak and Kilimanjaro. As the moon rose over Moshi, our camp doctor, Dr Jon Messing treated a few of the team ensuring they'd be good to go the next morning.
Day 3, Monday 12th June
Our team started out in bright spirits on what would be the steepest ascent so far climbing from 3,600m to 4,330m. Old school tunes kept up these spirits as the effects of altitude returned. We made it to camp by 2 pm ravenous and devoured coleslaw, soggy chips and cucumber. Our campsite at the base of one of Kilimanjaro's volcanic cones and the accompanying lake was beautiful - above the clouds we could see the sun set and the moon rise. Tuesday would be a day of rest and allowed us to further acclimatise.
Day 4, Tuesday 13th June
Our day of rest allowed for a later than normal start. The only activity scheduled was an acclimatisation walk around a crater rim which presented spectacular views back to our camp. Back at camp, Dr Jon Messing demonstrated how to use a Gamow bag, a portable altitude chamber which can provide stabilisation in the event of proper altitude sickness.
Over dinner, Antipas, the head guide outlined what was ahead in the days to come: Summit night (a really long day) would have us arising in the early hours of the morning and subsequently minimal sleep over 24 hours, 12 hours hiking, steep climbs, unpredictable weather including subzero temperatures, and lots of darkness.
Day 5, Wednesday 14th June and Day 6, Thursday 15th June
We began our day walking to Kibo base camp. Kibo is the Kilimanjaro's highest peak and the summit. Walking from our camp of the past 36 hours to Kibo base camp we were told to expect rains and high wind but got lucky with mainly sunshine. After lunch, we had a pre-summit night briefing and set about resting ahead of a 10 pm wake-up call.
Awaking at 10 pm we layered up like marshmallows with headlamps and set off at 11.30 pm in the cold and wind.
The next 8 hours would be a slog uphill with many affected by altitude sickness, the cold and general fatigue. As the sun started rising, we arrived at the crater rim and then began the 2 hour trek across the crater to the Summit.
Yes, we had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro!
3 hours later we'd completed our descent back to base camp with a widespread agreement this physical challenge was the most difficult anyone in our group had ever completed. Some likened it to being harder than childbirth!
However, base camp was not to be our final stop for the day. We set off for 4 more hours, the weather eased off and walking became easier as we made our way back down the mountain. By the time we reached Horombo camp, we'd been awake for 24 hours and walked for 18 of these.
Day 7, Friday 15th of June
Our final day. Despite sore feet and fatigue, we rose at 5.30am for a relatively 18-20km long walk out of the gate. The freshness of the morning was overcome by the sun and the alpine dessert soon turned to low scrub, forest and jungle.
We made it to the gate for lunch by midday celebrating with lunch, beer, champagne and even cake.
An hours drive later we reached our hotel and rushed to the pool, bar and showers before sitting down to dinner and reflected on the sense of achievement we each felt, after what was generally agreed to be the most challenging experience that most people had ever felt.
What about joining us in 2018?
As you've just read, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a fun opportunity to challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible, all while raising funds helping School for Life.
Whether you've already made your mind up, or, are just curious pre-register now and we'll be in touch with more information once dates are confirmed.