Hiking enthusiast and explorer Sachin Shah recently visited Tanzania to take on the mighty Mount Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately he didn’t make it to the summit, but was able to learn a lot about himself on the way.
My Kilimanjaro experience
As I landed in Tanzania, the warm African welcome I received set my mind at ease. On the way to the airport, I could see Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance, with all its might and power. The driver turned to me, and said ‘I hope you’re ready boy’. With an unconvincing yet nervous smile I replied saying ‘I hope so too’.
I’d opted to do the Marangu Route, more commonly known as the ‘coco cola route’, due to it being the cheapest and quickest route up the mountain. The route also had the lowest success rate, due to the incredibly short acclimatisation time of 5-6 days. However, I suited up, liased with my companions, and set off on what was going to an experience.
The hike was like stepping through the doors of different environments, from the rainforests and moorlands, to the arid desert like alpine zones. Each location brought with it its own unique beauty and difficulty. After 4 days of intense hiking for 6-7 hours per day, we had reached Kibo Huts which was the final resting point before attempting to summit at midnight. As I browsed through my friend Allison’s photos from the trip, the facial expressions from the start as exuberant as we were, till now which was pure misery, made us laugh.
Where it all went sideways
So this was it. The final leg of the journey was near, and we all woke up at 11:20pm feeling absolutely dreadful. Once we had been blessed with a warm cup of tea and biscuits, it was time to leave, and attempt the summit. We walked and walked in the darkness, remembering the words ‘pole pole’, meaning ‘slowly slowly’. As we reached the bottom of the path to Gilman’s Point (second last point before the summit), I had fallen behind the rest of my group.
The water in my ice pack had frozen, so I had to continuously keep taking my bag off and reaching for water. As I continued to climb closer to Gilman’s Point, at an elevation of 5,638m my speech suddenly began to slur and I felt something wasn’t right. I continued to climb thinking it was just standard mountain sickness, and when I finally reached Gilman’s point I took a moments rest, and knew I wouldn’t be able to summit.
A sense of absolute defeat rushed through my body, as only 200m from the summit I was less than 2 hours walk away from the top. But, as I was coming down from the mountain, I collapsed. Two porters had to drag me down the mountain, as I was in and out of consciousness. I felt totally helpless. The diagnosis was that I had suffered from high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which is a life threatening illness as it involves a build-up of fluid on the brain. As I reached the nearest camp, I was put on oxygen and given dexamethasone, where I was then rushed to a lower altitude on a stretcher.
What I’ve learnt
My experience at Kilimanjaro was a unique one. One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is to show respect to the mountain. Realise where you are, the dangers that you face and listen to the porters. I originally was going to summit Kilimanjaro despite how awful I felt, but the main porter said no, and without listening to him I most likely would not be here. Also, I cannot stress the importance of having a full travel insurance package, as costs of missing flights and emergency rescue cars did amount to a lot in the end.
But the question I often get asked now is, would you try again? My answer every time is YES! Friendship was plentiful, scenery was magnificent and I now have unfinished business with Mount Kilimanjaro.