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As you may recall from his previous post, Rob Balls, our beloved business manager, was going to climb Mount Kilimajaro on the Kenya / Tanzania border and raise a stack of cash for VSO as well.

Well he did it, and, as he doesn’t seem to be any more mental than he was previously, he seems to have managed it without causing himself any lasting damage.

I’m sure everyone would like to congratulate Rob on raising £8000 for such a worthy cause, and if you haven’t made a donation, and would like to you can donate here (They’ll even claim back the tax, so your money goes even further!)

He’s asked me to post his diary of the trip, so here it is:

(You can view more of Rob’s awesome pictures at our Flickr.)

Kilimanjaro Trek January 2007

Rob Balls KilimanjaroAs so many of you were kind enough to sponsor me, I thought I’d write a piece to tell you how it all went. To use one of Paul Adams’ favorite sayings, “I’ll cut a long story short”. Although he then usually goes on to tell you a very long story indeed. Oops, I’ve just finished and realised I’ve just done the very same thing. I’ll apologise it advance.

To those of you brave enough to read on, I hope you find it interesting. If you don’t or stop here then don’t worry, it’s the internet, not paper, and it helped bring back some memories for me that are starting to fade already.

Day One

7am. The phone rings and it’s my Mum. The call is to tell me that Nan has just passed away. She’d suffered a short illness and we all thought she was going to pull through but alas it was not to be. We were close and I knew I’d miss the funeral but I had time to write a piece that my Nephew later volunteered to read. Hmmmm.

I left the house at noon, giving me four hours to reach Heathrow in plenty of time for the 7.00pm flight to Nairobi. Thursday the 18th of January was the day of the worst storms this country had seen for 17 years, yes count them, 17. That works out at odds of 6205 to 1 that I would leave my house to face this weather. I’ll place £10 on that please Mr. Bookie.

Three overturned lorries, four closed roads, one pee up a lorry and eight hours later, I still hadn’t reached Heathrow and had clearly missed my flight. All the hotels outside Heathrow were fully booked so I decided to drive to Oxford and stay at friends for the night.

Day Two

Six of us missed our flight and were all incredibly fortunate that they managed to get us on another one the following night. Sitting on the plane I reflected on all the events of the previous day. Not that I reflected for long mind you as it became clear that I had been lucky enough to get a seat next to an abusive, alcoholic charmer from Birmingham. He proceeded to get completely smashed, racially abuse and threaten another passenger, narrowly avoid arrest, insist on me being his witness and then generally annoy me for the next nine hours. We became firm friends. Tosser. It’s all going so well so far and I know I said I’d cut a long story short but to be honest I’m struggling. This is some kind of therapy. “Nurse!” Right, it really will be just the highlights from now on, honest.

Day Three

We transfer in rickety minibus with broken suspension (feels that way at least) for the journey from Nairobi to a hotel in Tanzania just outside the Kilimanjaro National park where we have a nights rest. I drift in and out of sleep, having got none on the flight, and am bounced around for the 7-hour journey.

Day Four

We’re a day behind the rest of the party and the six of us make a decision to do two days trekking in one to catch up. We start at 1800m altitude. It was a big ask but not doing so would mean we’d miss out on a days acclimatisation at higher altitude and increase the risk of suffering from severe altitude sickness, not completing the climb or worse. All well and good but I soon discover to my horror that I’ve picked up a nasty stomach bug with the kind of unpleasant consequences where you’d really rather not be trekking through an African rain forest. I frequently had to take “the walk of shame” into the bush. Still, I’m not likely to ever again go to the toilet with such amazing views. Is that too much information? I was however concerned about the loss of fluids and body salts. We had to drink five litres a day just to maintain hydration levels.

An amazing but difficult nine hours later we reach our destination just before nightfall having climbed almost 2000m in height, which is pushing it in terms of climbing too high too fast. We’d walked through rain forest, seen monkeys, lizards, waterfalls and travelled through heath land and across plains to reach Horombo huts where we would stay for two nights.

Day Five

Stomach is starting to calm down. Thank Christ. The night was bleedin freezin cold and so completely dark. Neither of which helps when you have to journey to the toilet several times because the drugs you’re taking to try and combat altitude sickness make you piss for England. Still on the plus side I got to see the most amazing night sky, could see the Milky Way, a shooting star and watched the dawn break over the African plains. Incredible stuff and it seems almost like a dream now, it’s just so far removed from this reality. The day was spent doing a leisurely hike and getting to know the people from the group who were ahead of us.

Day Six and Seven

Right, the next two days are where it starts to get serious and they really just blur into one very, long day and night. Today we climb 1000m to reach Kibo Huts at 4703m. It’s only about a 3-mile trek but it takes about 7 hours. Progress is slow and cold because of the high altitude. We reach our destination, have dinner and then have the luxury of a three-hour rest before we tackle the summit. Sleep at this point was impossible. I was cold and psyched up and nervous about what lay ahead.

We were roused at 11.30pm for a kit inspection and were given bottles of hot water. This was to prevent the water freezing in our packs as they were expecting temperatures of -15c for the night climb. So off we set at around midnight, pitch black and freezing with head torches on, hoping the batteries would not run out and wearing everything I could that would keep me warm and dry. I don’t mind admitting I was dog-tired, excited and add then add in a bit of fear for that extra edge.

A short while into the climb I realised that my gloves were really not up to the job but there was nothing I could do about that now. Every now and then I’d have to put away my climbing poles and ball up my hands in my gloves to try and get them warm. All you could see was the stars in the sky, a few feet in front of you and up ahead, the lines of other groups head torches as they made their own way up the mountain.
Progress was incredibly slow, it was all about just carefully and deliberately putting one……foot……in…..front…..of the………other.

The path was getting steeper and steeper and seven and a half hours later we reached Gilmans Point at 5685m. I was exhausted, slightly delirious and felt ready to drop. The incredible and inspirational sight of the dawn breaking, a few minutes rest and encouragement from the guides and I was ready to start off again to make the final leg of the journey towards the summit. This would be a journey around th
e rim of the crater to Africa’s highest point.

The rest of the journey would be entirely made on snow and ice, which was all a bit surreal. After a while the temptation to sit or lie down and just have a little rest was growing stronger. I was getting a headache and was starting to experience problems with my vision. All of these are classic symptoms of altitude sickness or a normal Saturday night so I decided to carry on. I didn’t want to get that close and not make it. “Tiny steps to climb a mountain, just lots of tiny steps to climb a mountain”, was the mantra I had going round in my head to keep going. At these times I thought of my friends and family and everyone who had been so generous with their sponsorship. It really did make a difference.

Blah, blah blah, stop banging on about climbing a bloody mountain for f**ks sake! If anyone is still reading I apologise but I’m trying to get across something of what it was like but it’s taking a while. Maybe the editor will split it in two like Kill Bill or just take out the boring stuff.

Rob on top of AfricaReaching the summit was the most amazing experience of my life. So many emotions were flying around it’s very difficult to put into words how I felt and I’m not even sure I want to. We had fifteen minutes or so at the top and were then told that we needed to get off the mountain before our brain cells started to swell and die in great numbers. Hmmm, nice. It’s only then as you start off that the realisation that you’ve got to climb all the way back down really starts to sink in. Where is my damn helicopter you bitch? You’re so focused on getting to the top that you don’t think about the climb back down at all until you start it. Just as well really, cause you’d probably never bloody do such a stupid thing in the first place if you did.

I got back down to Kibo huts at about 1.30pm, ready to collapse. Literally. But it’s ok, no really it is. Feel that sarcasm? We had lunch, a whole hour to get our shit together and then set off on another three to four hours trek back to Horombo huts. Just what we were looking forward to.

Day 8

Today we trek back through the heathlands, the rainforest and out of the Kilimanjaro National Park and through the gate where it all began. We get back to a hotel where we have the most welcome shower I think I’ll ever experience followed by a celebration dinner. We had a really good success rate, most people made it although there were a few causalities and a stretcher case but nothing that no one won’t get over

Day 9

On the last day we journey, on a slightly better bus, to Nairobi through the plains of Africa which was like going through a BBC wildlife documentary, without the wildlife. I did see a Giraffe though, if that counts. Beautiful scenery, awesome.

Before reaching the airport we visited a VSO supported project, which provides healthcare for children with HIV and aids living in the slums of Nairobi. It was good to see an example of how your sponsorship was making a real difference to people’s lives. The poverty we saw over there was just breathtaking but regardless, all the people I met while there seemed to be happy, friendly and open. That’s more than could be said for a lot of us at times.

Day 10 and a couple more…..

Back to London and then drive home. Out for a curry and a couple of beers. Sleep. Spend the next day with the family and then back and work on Monday! Now that part was completely unreal. It was so very strange, coming back to my life when only hours before I’d been in the Nairobi, and hours before that on top of Kilimanjaro! Complete head bender.

Well that was it, it may not feel like it to you but that is the edited highlights. This was my first time doing anything like this and I could not recommend it highly enough. It was incredibly hard, I probably should have done more training but it was soooo worth it. If you don’t fancy Kilimanjaro there a plenty of other treks and it’s certainly given me a taste for this kind of experience. It certainly will not be my last and when your muscles recover you’re left with some great memories, a sense of achievement and something more than that too.

Thanks again for everyone who sponsored me, they have made a real and genuine difference to many peoples lives and helped me to start and actually finish something. Doesn’t always happen that way.

Cheers. Rob

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