Mandy Bunn climbed Kilimanjaro and raised a huge amount of money for MS-UK
I decided I wanted to do something big for my 50th birthday in January 2019. I wanted to see how far I could push myself both mentally and physically whilst raising money for a great cause. My partner, who has multiple sclerosis, uses MS-UK’s wellness centre Josephs Court in Essex regularly. I booked to climb Mount Kilimanjaro through Discovery Adventure. Located in Tanzania and standing at 5,895 meters above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. It has always been on my bucket list and my father inspired me to do it!
The climb would take four and a half days, plus one and a half days to descent. The steep unpredictable terrain coupled with the altitude would certainly be the challenge I was looking for and very much a change from my day job. After roping in my friend Sue to join me I began fundraising for MS-UK. It is a national charity that is close to my heart and does great work. It is dedicated to empowering people with multiple sclerosis to make the most of today, and live life to the full.
After flying from Heathrow to Nairobi and then catching an internal flight to Kilimanjaro airport, we finally arrived at our hotel ready for the start of our adventure. After meeting with the commander Helen from Discover Adventure and the other group members we set off from Machame Gate at 10am, which is already at an elevation of 1,800 metres.
At this point we were all full of enthusiasm for the next seven hours of walking which lay ahead. We set off through the rainforest, the terrain was incredibly steep and therefore we had to go very slowly.
We carried four litres of water each and every day which we were advised to drink throughout the day in order to prevent altitude sickness – as you can imagine, there were toilet breaks aplenty! With an elevation of 2,835 metres, we arrived at Machame Camp at 5pm for some hot food and an early night.
The next day we were woken at 5.30am, the temperature had dropped to -5 degrees and I found myself trying to get dressed in my sleeping bag!
We started walking and spent six hours walking up boulders – the rainforest was beginning to end, the trees had disappeared and we started to walk on a path through ferns before we arrived above the clouds at Shira Cave Camp – with an elevation of 3,750 meters above sea level.
The porters were absolute troopers in carrying our kit along with their own and endeavoured to keep our spirits high by singing local songs. Unfortunately, the first member of our group dropped out due to altitude sickness. We enjoyed another cooked meal and another early night.
We were woken up at 5.30am again after a disturbed night’s sleep – although I was sleeping, the sleep quality wasn’t good.
Sue put the group through the usual morning warm up session which was entertainment in itself, more so for the locals!
Today was going to be a big test on altitude – we were climbing up as high as 4,600 metres above sea level to Lava Tour before dropping down to 3,900 meters to sleep. The reason we climb high and sleep low is purely to adapt the change in oxygen levels.
The terrain was “Mars-like”, very rocky and unsteady under foot. I really enjoyed that day and was still feeling good, however some of the group were showing the first signs of altitude sickness and really struggling.
After being woken up at the unearthly hour of 4.45am we started off by climbing the Barraco Wall, which was huge. It took two hours to climb up it before spending the rest of the day walking up and down hills in very hot weather. We had lunch at 10.30am and arrived at Base Camp at 4pm which stands at 4,900 meters above sea level. Unfortunately that day, two other team members left the trip, one pulled out, but the other was advised by the doctor he couldn’t continue. He had high-altitude pulmonary edema which is a life-threatening condition where fluid was on his lungs, so to continue the trip would have been deadly.
After six hours of terrible sleep, we were woken at 11pm to start the summit. I was given porridge (which is more like gruel). Just as we were about to go, another team member dropped out. Head torches on we started walking in absolute darkness, uphill and very slowly.
During the seven-hour uphill walk, people were being very sick, suffering from dizziness and becoming delusional, luckily for me, the only thing that remained was the slight upset stomach which I had on day two. The lack of air was hard, and everything became a big effort and I was really struggling with the cold.
We arrived at Stella Point just as the sun rose, but we still had 45 minutes to get to Uhuru Peak which at the summit stands 5,985 metres above sea level. As we walked to the peak, we were surrounded by other zombie-like walkers – some were being carried either to the peak or back down the mountain, and people were still vomiting, but I made it!
The overall relief of making it to Uhuru Peak gave me a second wind and after some photographs, I quickly got myself back down to base camp. The downhill walk was a killer on the feet. When we got back to basecamp, we had a quick lunchbreak and then another two hour walk to Millennium Camp (just because we hadn’t walked enough that day!) for a well-deserved sleep.
I was absolutely exhausted to the point I couldn’t unzip my bag to get my sleeping bag out. Everything seemed to require so much energy, which I just didn’t have. I just fell in the tent!
More force feeding and the final Kilimanjaro sing song and dance with the 50 strong crew who had supported and looked after us all the way. It was so infectious we were all singing and dancing in our exhausted state, it so lifted the mood.
Overall, my trip was varied with huge ups and downs and lots of laughter and camaraderie. This is undoubtedly up there with my best and most rewarding challenges. I’ll always a grateful to be able to have had the experience.
So thanks Pops for planting the seed!
What’s next you might ask? Well watch this space…
Always dream big and chase those goals because you never know when you will not have the luxury to be able to do it again.
I am extremely grateful for my family’s support and the generosity of everyone who has donated. There is still time to sponsor me and if you would like to, please click here.