At the Solo Female Traveler Network, we want to create a community that celebrates and empowers women and their achievements. We love listening to our network members and hearing stories such as Jen’s, who gives us a first-hand account of her experience summiting Kilimanjaro for her 40th birthday.
I spent six months training for summiting Kilimanjaro – although living in a largely flat area of Australia, that training mostly consisted of endurance. I did everything I could to prepare, and I kind of assumed that if I don’t make it, it’d be because my body didn’t adapt well enough. That was almost the case.
I unfortunately didn’t react well at all to altitude sickness. I had nausea and diarrhoea. I couldn’t keep much food down, and was living off of sugar, like candies, because my body wasn’t able to digest rice and food like that. This wasn’t giving me the long-term protein kind energy – afterwards I was like, I don’t ever want to see a hard candy ever again in my life!
The day of the summit begins at 11pm. You are woken up and fed tea and a biscuit, and then you start walking at midnight. You walk in the dark for six hours to the summit. And I’ve never been more cold in my entire life. I read all the blogs and I had like all the layers – now when people ask me what to pack for the ascent, I’m like, you think you have enough layers? Bring one more. At one point I remember thinking that I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes. I started walking with those walking sticks and I had to give them up because I needed to poke my hands in my pockets within the first 10 minutes of walking.
Along the way I became so dehydrated and hit a crazy sugar low. I just sat down at a rock and started crying. And then the sun came up and I swear it was this moment of like, ‘this is why humans worship the sun’, this moment of salvation of like, ‘I will now live because that ball of fire is coming up over that horizon’.
Within five minutes, all the warmth was back in my body and I thought, ‘I can do this’. A little bit of hot tea and sugar later and I managed to do the last little bit, only another like hundred meters up or so which takes an extra hour to get to the true summit.
I made it all the way to the top on my own power, and from there the guides assisted me down from the peak because I was moving so slowly, and was so exhausted. They literally just picked me up on both sides, like one big guy on either side, with my feet kind of dangling. It was ridiculous, but at the time I felt like the scarecrow from the wizard of Oz. Because I was so altitude sick, I started singing ‘I’m off to see the wizard.’ I was gone. I was very gone.
People say that they hallucinate and see fish. I don’t think I hallucinated, although in my mind I remember seeing an aeroplane flying by, but I think that’s an actual true thing that happens because you’re at 5,800-ish meters. We went up the Lemosho route, which takes longer, but is so scenic. I highly recommend following this route up.
Personally, I’m not hiking above 4500m again. But this experience will always be one of my ultimate success stories, and I am glad that I have done it.
I’m going to Europe next, starting off in Spain and then attending a wedding inside the Vatican, which comes with a whole host of dress requirements!
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