Monday, February 11, 2019

Kilimanjaro by bike

On the 24th Jan, 4 of us attempted to cycle to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro all 5,965m of it, here are my notes from the trip

Day 1, 

Felt nervous and emotional when leaving John and Amanda’s, typing message to the family was hard.

The car journey was pretty long but nice to see Moshi and other places I often hear about but never see, the drive up to Marangu Gate was very beautiful, a lush winding tarmac road.

The gate was fine, plenty going on and we were there for an hour or so having lunch and reading about the mountain - definitely a palpable sense of nervous energy amongst the group. Chatted to some Ozzie’s who were nice, though I bridled at being called a POM to begin with?! We then drove to the Kilema gate as we take the rescue track up rather than mingling with the hikers. Quite a long drive but all good. The Kilema gate was at 1,800m odd I think.

From there we unpacked, had a photo and set off. Straight into it, steep jeep track with loose rock/gravel. Keeping as slow as possible is hard to not lose the front end, standing not an option as no traction. 

The steep bits aren’t too long and nicely interspersed with some flatter sections and steadier gradient. The other 3 were comfortably powering away from me, and I’m concerned we’re going to fast, so I’m not changing out of my 28*50, even on the flats. These are such a wonderful opportunity to breath in the air and the sights and smells of the forest. 

The forest is so beautiful and a lovely temperature, like a hot English summer day but with a gentle breeze. Occasional fireball lilies intersperse the old mans beard on the trees. As we break out of the forest after 5 miles we can see Kibo peak and Mawenzi peak - they look super impressive and very high up.


Camp is in a grassy area and enclosed in trees but it’s comfortable and nice. We relax for a bit as the porters catch up and then we settle down and have a wash/unpack.

Felt a bit poor on arrival but settled down once I’d washed and relaxed. Amanda not well at all but think it’s nothing too bad and rest will solve it. Fitful nights sleep and was so hot in bag, found the zip opened from both ends after a while which helped sort me out! 2,800m so the air is thinner and it’s noticeable when standing up. Blood oxygen at 92 though it started at 88 which was a worry, machine wasn’t quite reading correctly though.

Amanda fine this morning - tangawezi tea is a winner

Day 2 - another beautiful day and a fairly slow morning before we set off at 8.30. Steep from the word go and never let off, we covered the first mile in 30 minutes, which was way too fast and eventually we started to slow the pace. I brought up the rear which is were I’m happiest just cruising doing my thing. All in moorland now and can see Horombo clearly but it’s a lot higher.  

The track continued to wind up with sustained steepness, we took plenty of breaks which was great, keeping the front wheel of the bike on the ground was hard as it was so loose and steep. Gravel interspersed with concrete tracks for the ambulance to get up the steep parts, these solved the traction problem but it was steeper and the tracks were 2ft or so wide so it was hard to stay on them.

I pushed up one but nailed the rest of it! Doing a lot of the riding by heart rate, once it hits over 160 I rest till it returns to 100/110 and then go again, seems to be working well.

Much slower progress but no surprise there, after 3.8 miles and 1,000 metres of climbing we had a nice little drop into Horombo Hut and finished for the day. I felt fine and organised my stuff then had lunch which was great. Then went for a shower where the tables turned and I got a bad headache, I rested in the tent but felt worse, took ibruprofen but no good. Went for a slow walk and the fresh air and cool wind sorted me out! Headache still comes and goes but it’s manageable. 

Really not sure about tomorrow, I want to get out and ride but will listen to the body! Hoping I wake up feeling super perky. Bit of a snotty nose which is worrying but hope to be okay!

Giles in a bad way, hoping it’ll pass with some rest. 86 on my oxygen test which is about what I would expect, John and Amanda at 92.

Giles took some Diamox & big improvement, which is a relief for all! Lights out at 9pm!

Day 3 -

Much better sleep, out for a wee about midnight and the moon was lighting everything up like daylight, it was stunning! Sleeping bag a great purchase and nice temperature most the night! HR dropped back down to 47 overnight from around 70 most of the day which is a good sign! Feeling okay this morning and refreshed though the headache is not far away.

Decent breakfast and getting ready for the saddle loop.

Set off at 9am, thinking it would be a steady 4/5 hours. It was mostly walking/carrying for the first 3.5miles and 400m or so of climbing, that took a long time and the best part of 3 hours before we got on the bikes for real. Giles turned around at that point which was sensible after yesterday’s illness. One last hike and we crested onto a smooth trail into alpine desert. From there it was a long steady climb all the way to just below Kibo Hut. The gradient wasn’t massive but the air was so thin, I was just turning the pedals in my lowest gear and resting when I wanted too. It’s a very odd landscape and epic is not a word that falls short. Excellent view of Kibo Hut, Hans Meyer cave and the crater’s scary how high and steep it is up there, I’ve no idea what to expect other than it will be super super hard. 

This trip is an odd one, it’s not about getting to the top, I either will or I won’t, it’s about pushing boundaries and I definitely did that today.

At the turn around point I had a bad headache and so we started for home. The first downhill was 2inches+ of loose gravel and super fun across the saddle. Carving lines and hopping rocks when I could was mega fun! 

We had a bit of up and down after that with some technical sections, I did some pushing and some riding through there but all fun and some good rock hopping opportunities. Once over the crest of a ridge it was downhill to Zebra rocks, a gully of loose head sized rocks once fun, if pretty dicey. A few loose moments but no crashes. 

Zebra rocks is okay but we didn’t stay long. The next bit of downhill to camp was slightly smaller rocks so more fun, took it quite steady but had a lot of fun! Had an OTB but other than a bruise it was all good. Picked up a KOM which was cool! 

Home for lunch after 5hours and 50minutes of riding and a whopping 10 miles, scoffed down food and drink and felt a bit funny! Nice wash and a rest and seem to be okay! Poured with rain but avoided the worst of it, hiding in the shower.

Felt really bad again before supper but forced some food down, banana fritters and dark choc for pudding helped me feel a lot better. Oxygen fluctuated between 82 and 86 which wasn’t great, everyone else’s had improved.

Terrible night sleep, kept waking up with horrible headaches and felt very sick at one point. Don’t think my ‘pillow’ is helping, I’d give anything for a goose feather pillow about now.

Day 4 - woke up to a frost but the sun is shining! Feeling really nauseous and quite low, got some breakfast down me and felt a bit better, changed brake pads which took my mind off things for a bit. More rest before we head up for a hike to zebra rocks. 

Hiked up to Zebra Rocks for a bit, was longer and steeper than I remember riding down yesterday, no after effects of the crash thankfully.

Pretty valley with lots Giant sinosio plants around due to the underground streams. Nausea went but replaced by headache, then more nausea on the way back down - feels like the hungover/still drunk feeling- not nice! Had a small doze before lunch but nearly vomited when the veg soup was offered! Banana pancakes went down well...back to the tent for a snooze. 

Couple of hours of rest, not sleep as such but eyes shut and not moving, feel a touch more positive but still nauseous. The end is in sight. 

Last few messages to Kel, can’t wait to see them all again in 6 days 

Day 5 -

No sleep again, brain just works overtime, soon as I wake up it takes hours to sleep again. Felt low when we set off but prepared, my mood picked up as we progressed along the trail and when we hit the saddle I was full of the joys and felt strong.

It’s such a privilege to be up here in this place, it’s quite incredible. Riding across the saddle was good and I ticked along until Ju lolo coil when I was okay but a bit tired. The final few metres to Kibo Hut (200m of climbing) finished me off and I pushed most the way. Felt sick when here and lay down. 

Got some lunch down me and prepared for the hike to Hans Meyer cave. We set off and I trudged along, it was hard but I carried on.

After 70m of height I suddenly thought I would be sick, someone took the bike and I sat down. Cyppy the guide did some checks on me and said I should go down to rest. Going down was hard and I was pretty melancholy. 

I got into my tent and lay down, Alex took my O2 and it was 60...he grabbed me out of the tent and sat me outside, the oxygen picked up but I felt sick and headachy.

After a while we went into the mess tent and chatted, my bloods stayed low and rarely picked up above 65. 

In my head I’ve already called it, that number is too scary for me to continue - maybe I could do it, maybe I couldn’t but I’m never putting myself at that risk level. It’s about the journey and mine just ended, I rode my bike to 4,800m and that’s fine.

The night was not a good one, terrible headache and no sleep, checking O2 a lot and flittered around 57-60 throughout. The others went off at 3am and looking strong.

Cyppy kept monitoring me every 45 minutes and at one point I dropped to 45 but it picked up enough for him to be happy. We left at 7 and made our way to Horombo, I was on a guides bike as mine is at the cave. Euro style brakes which didn’t work was terrifying but made it in one piece. 

I’m happy with my decision not to go again, this was never a goal to put myself in danger for.

Can’t wait to get home now and see everyone.

The others all made it and saw them back into Horombo, dead pleased for them. Mega achievement - pleased I didn’t push myself to do it as sounded pretty miserable to the top! Final descent was fun, brakes boiled and then wheel broke so I walked for a mile before a passing truck picked me up, nice to chat to the local guy.

Beers back at the gate with lunch! 

Post ride notes: - 

Once we returned from the Mountain to Usa River, I started to have breathing difficulties, after an X-ray and some doc checks, it turned out I had some Pulmonary Oedema (water on the lungs) which then turned to Pneumonia. All caught early enough and sorted with some antibiotics, but it proved that my decision to come down was the right one and PO is a killer at altitude. No regrets and certainly no desire for unfinished business!