Alison's journey up Kilimanjaro

Join Alison Bembridge, mum and full-time Product Manager from the KE office, and find out about her journey to the top of Africa. Alison climbed Kilim... Read more
Alison's journey up Kilimanjaro

Join Alison Bembridge, mum and full-time Product Manager from the KE office, and find out about her journey to the top of Africa. Alison climbed Kilimanjaro at the end of January on our Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route 9 day trekking holiday and has shared everything from her fitness regime to equipment purchases through to what it was actually like to take on one of the world's Seven Summits.

Read her diary and find out how she got on.



Thursday 16th October 2017 - Everything starts somewhere

“So Alison….”

Ahhh… I was thinking…oh dear what is coming next. I was chatting with my boss and was called in to the meeting room, racking my brain to what I had done or what this could be about…. “We would like you to climb Kilimanjaro with one of our groups in the next 6 months”…ok I wasn’t expecting that!  “Yes please” I said…thinking uh-oh I am unfit and carrying a few too many pounds at the moment, and will totally need to get myself in gear if I am able to do this.

So this is the beginning. I will be joining our Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route on the 26th January 2018. I currently am Product Manager for our African trips and Family Holidays. I have just got back from our Family trip in Portugal, which was lovely, active, and has highlighted my unfitness and that I’m not as light as I was before I had my daughter (who is 3yr…yes three years and I’ve not sorted it out!). This is a great opportunity, a lovely cliché, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tick off that BIG mountain Africa. I’ve got to walk my bottom (hopefully a bit smaller than now!) all the way up to 5895m!

I hope that you will be interested in my journey to the top of Africa. I need the support! The first task is to put together a training plan. Any suggestions? Take into account these parameters, I live in the Lake District, I work full time, I have a 3yr old, an understanding partner but who also likes to get out-and-about of an evening.



Wednesday 15th November - Training for the 'Big Walk'

The dark evening brings a different dynamic to training for ‘the big walk up the big mountain’. I decided to upgrade my head torch, which would be an investment for the climb anyway as we have several hours walking in the dark on summit day. I now have a lovely new Petzl Actick, which takes normal batteries (for the climb up Kili) and has a rechargeable battery (for the evening walks in the Lake District). I took my shiny new headtorch out for the first time after work yesterday. It seemed to be particularly dark and wet and mizzly.


We went up Catbells, not a long walk, but possibly not a great choice given the weather conditions as it was just a bit slow going picking our way up the slippy rocks. But we enjoyed it nonetheless. Our next walk in the dark and wet will be along a flatter track so that I can get some more aerobic exercise, and not be a soggy muddy mess in the car on the way home! Having slipped in the mud (and got very soggy) I think that I might need to invest in some new walking boots. They need an upgrade as well, as the ones I have are summer walking boots, and I really need some waterproof boots….any recommendations?



Thu 30th November -The life cycle of my rucksack - new and old

Very exciting lunchtime today! I purchased a new rucksack. I have totally loved my old rucksack, which I actually bought when walking in Switzerland, in the summer of 2002. It was one of those rare rucksacks that you put on it's a perfect fit and you walk out of the shop able to effortlessly carry a heavy pack. It's been with me all over the world since then, and on many summits, splendid ridges, rainforests in Madagascar, on safari in Botswana, sandy beaches in Costa Rica, muddy walks in the Lake District, drenched in Nepal, snowy ski pistes in Canada, ice climbs in Scotland, and more recently baby milk bottles and stickers books on the airplane to it's a sad moment as it's going to have to go to rucksack heaven (sad face). It just seems to have fallen apart and is no longer comfy and the waist clip is smashed up after being stepped on one too many times.

My new purchase is a lovely Lowe alpine, Airzone prod ND Womens, and importantly black and pink, shiny, new, it's comfy, has an inbuilt waterproof cover and lots of fancy zips. I settled on this one after spending rather a long time in several of the many outdoor shops that Keswick is blessed with (outdoor kit is not an issue to buy, but if you want a new saucepan forget it). Also, my friend who I walk with has this pack, so I took it on my back last night (compete with a couple of tins of tomatoes..I don't like weigh it down for training and a realistic load) for our walk and pretty much forgot it was there until we got to the pub for our 'after-walk-quick-drink'. So over said drink, we discussed the merits of the pack, it's pockets, zips and clips which she had taken around the Annapurnas in Nepal and up Gran Paradiso.

Before I wrote this I did not know that I was actually rather attached to my old rucksack, and that it has been with me through many-an-adventure. So it's an exciting opportunity for the new one, and I'll need to take it up and over lots of Lakeland hills before it comes on the plane with me to Tanzania.



Tue 5th December - New Boots!

‘More new boots Alison? I didn’t think you needed any specialist footwear for Kilimanjaro?’ – that was my boyfriends’ reaction when I came home last night with my big cardboard box of new boots. He was right about not needing any specialist footwear, but I did need new boots. I showed him the soles of the pair I had just taken off…and he agreed that it was time for them to go in the bin.

It was around 9pm and I had just come off the hill having been on another extremely windy and wet walk up Causey Pike (described by Wiki as a distinguishing summit ‘knobble’ – you’ve got to love Wiki!) and along Scar Craggs. I didn’t have my new boots on. It was slippery.

Boot buying in Cotswolds was more technical than my previous visits. I had a very efficient chap helping me – let’s call him Arthur. He asked me when I had my feet measured last…um… so long ago that I don’t know..? After standing in those metal measurey things, it turned out that they are about half a size bigger than they have been my whole adult life. My arches have also become less pronounced, and I also have a low toe profile (maybe it’s an age thing!).

Arthur asked if I’d ever used specialised insoles, I confirmed that I had and trying to recall the make….” Happy-Feet?, er , um, Friendly-Feet?” (baby brain never really goes away) – he gave me that look (oh we’ve got a crazy one here) – of course they are called Super-Feet. From now on Arthur will think of the penguin movie Happy Feet when selling Super-Feet. Oh dear! After these endless measurements and questions, Arthur picked out a pair of super feet insoles for my (big) feet. After walking around the shop a bit, up and down the stoney ramp, and Arthur pressing the boots on my toes and finding the flexi point and being all technical about it, he said that they were the perfect fit for my feet! So I bought the boots, Salomon Women's Quest 4D 2 GTX W, but I’m going to clomp around the house in them for a while before taking them outside (just in case)…
Coming in soggy after the walk I was lucky that my wonderful boyfriend had made a delicious chilli with loads of veg and chickpeas, which I munched whilst recollecting the tales of Arthur and the crazy winds of Causey Pike.

Another Tuesday Training walk successfully achieved.



Fri 22th December - I love food, I love Christmas….and I’m going up Kili in 35 days

So the plan, drink and be merry! Ok, I’ll need to do some training as well. But low and behold the Christmas period for me is actually going to be a great one to get some additional training! In reality I am off work between Christmas and New Year and my parents, and my cousin are coming to stay with us. I’ll need to get out the house, don’t get me wrong I love my family to bits, but my house is not big – and my cousin is very fit and very into walking up hills. I thought that we would go up Blencathra on the 26th Dec (forecast is rain and snow, so we’ll keep it to the one hill) and then maybe the 27th (sunshine and clouds) we’ll do something longer; the Coledale Horseshoe, or up Red Pike and along the ridge above Borrowdale – I’ll see what my cousin has to tick off his Wainwright list! I’ll post some pics! Happy Christmas.



Wed 27th December - Christmas training

I decided that the slog up Grisedale pike would be good training. And by midday the rain had stopped, the clouds were lifting and we had the most glorious walk. We hit the snow line after about 20mins and the sunshine came out. One of those magical days in the hills that take some beating. Training on days like this is not hard. I certainly walked off little mince pie or two!


Wed 4th January 2018 - Applying for my Visa

Going through the checklist this Tanzanian Visa Form needs filling in now. Applying for a visa I find very exciting. It can sometimes be a pain (the Indian visa form is a nightmare), but this one is relatively simple. Sending my passport away does always make me feel a little nervous, it’s like sending away a piece of your independence – what happens if I suddenly need to travel aboard, and I can’t because my passport is in the post (silly thoughts I know!). I’ll let you know when I get it back. It’s getting very real now...



Wed 24th January 2018 - Wish me luck!

The last day at work before you go away is always a bit of a panic with finalising the last few bits and pieces. However I don't really mind as at least this is taking my mind off my nerves which have been around for the last few days. The training is complete, the packing is almost finished and the KLM flight check-in is done.  Working in the travel industry and office environment, many of my colleagues and bosses have summited the mighty Kilimanjaro, so I regularly listen to many stories and tales of long days, lovely walks, tough walks, and the final challenging yet exhilarating ascent to the summit. I feel apprehensive, yet excited and privileged to have the opportunity to climb mount Kilimanjaro. One of the world's seven summits hopefully to be ticked off my very own Bucket List.

Watch this space on Friday 2nd Feb. The plan is to summit at dawn. Wish me luck!



Fri 26th January 2018 - Day 1 - I've Arrived! - 

I landed safe and sound and met the rest of the group (just 4 blokes who are friends on this trip) who arrived around 11pm, with all of their bags still in Amsterdam. Luckily they are a very cheerful and taken this in their stride. They went for a few beers, I went to bed!



Sat 27th January 2018 - Day 2 - The journey begins

We met Onex who is our head guide on our climb up Kilimanjari, he is the main man to get us up the mountain. He chooses his own crew; assistant guides, cook, assistant cooks and the 29 porters who are carrying all the gear for 8 days. Onex met us at the hotel and we drove to the park gates at Londorrossi. It’s organised chaos with what seems like hundreds (it’s not just our group who are starting today) of porters lining up to get their bags weighed. We have some lunch and start walking. It’s about a 2-3 hrs walk through beautiful rainforest with Colombus Monkeys and we arrived at 4.30pm to our first camp spot. Dinner was amazing from our cook Juma, cucumber soup, chips and fried fish yum.



Sun 28th January 2018 - Day 3 - onwards and upwards

Onwards through the rainforest after breakfast of porridge, eggs, pancakes and fruit. More monkeys making a racket. We break free of the forest into moorland with expansive views, but our mountain is in the clouds. It’s a steep pull up to the shira plateau, and we begin to feel the first signs of the altitude and move very slowly ‘pole pole’ behind Gidian our assistant guide. The lads are consistently taking the micky out of each other and there is lots of laughter which is great for moral. Arriving at camp we are greeted with some lunch and a little later the lads bags arrived after a delayed journey. 4 speed, strong, pre-acclimatised porters had been chosen to bring them up today. We rest and have dinner, and are tucked up in our tents and sleeping bags by 8pm. I have to get up in the night and the moonlight is shining, the mountain is out covered in snow. It was a special moment.



Mon 29th January 2018 - Day 4 - Team Simba

One of the lads snores, he has been nicknamed 'Simba' because of his night time roar! We are now team Simba. Our walk takes us along the mainly flat Shira plateau, green moorland. We see some antelope and blue sunbirds. It’s stunning and not what I was expecting. We ascend 200m to Shira cathedral peak. We have some glorious views down the other side of the mountain with cliffs and further green moorland. We can see the Machame route from here and there is word of a little mobile signal to be had ... soon everyone is sending texts to their loved ones and I, of course, sent my daily log to KE for you to read. From here it’s about a 2hrs walk to our camp tonight at Shira II. It’s mainly downhill now except for a nasty pull up at the end. We have a little rain after lunch but the weather clears to see the mountain covered in snow. Once again - it's utterly beautiful.



Tue 30th January 2018 - Day 5 - We are ready!

A long day. Luckily the spaghetti bolognese last night helped. We ascend slowly up to the lava towers at 4600m. 

The pace is silly slow, however I couldn’t have gone any faster, just too out of breath! But, there is lots of time to stop for photos of the mighty mountain (which seems to be getting bigger the nearer we get), and in the other direction, the plains and Mt Meru poke their heads up above the haze. At the ridge line we met the Machame route, with many more people than we have so far experienced on the Lemosho. The lava tower is basically a large square lump of volcanic rock sticking out, it’s striking. Today is a good test of how we are fairing with the altitude and apart from the odd headache here and there,  we are all ok. We descend down a long 700m from the tower to our camp at Barranco through an avenue of giant groundsels and senecio trees. Lunch is an African dish ‘green banana stew’ and is actually delicious. There is one again a mobile signal in certain spots here and this is where I’m sending today's diary from. If I get some 3G I’ll send some pictures. Tomorrow is up the Barranco wall, but a short day of about 4hrs walking - bring it on!

We are ready.



Wed 31st January 2018 - Day 6 - The Barranco Wall

It’s cold this morning with frost everywhere. After some omelette, beans and bacon we start the ascent of the wall. It’s an easy scramble and a great change from the walking we have been doing. The views are splendid above the cloud, Meru is out again. At the top of the wall (4200m) we rush for a photo with the KE Banner before the clouds cover the mountain, phew! It’s then a rocky descent down to just below 4000m to camp at Karanga. It feels more exposed here at camp and I’m feeling nervous again about the upcoming summit night. Luckily the lads are great at laughing and the feeling in camp is relaxed.  



Thu 1st February 2018 - Day 7 - Walk to the final camp 

The weather is stunning and we have breakfast outside the mess tent. A bit of porridge with tonight's goal behind us, and in the other direction the clouds below us – stunning. Onex and the assistant guides then demonstrate the safety equipment, PAC (Personal Altitude Chamber) and the oxygen so that we are familiar if any problems occur. Then we are set for the last walk before the big one. It’s an ascent of around 700m, and I am out of puff very quickly again. Pole, pole we go along up to Barafu Camp. It’s super windy at camp. We have some lunch and are instructed to go to the tents for a sleep. I faff with my kit and rucksack and get everything in neat piles to pop on later, but I don’t sleep. Dinner of butternut squash soup and rice and veggies is served at around 6pm and although we don’t want to eat we try very hard. I am excited again, as we all are. It has finally come. Good luck to us. I do get a couple of hours zz’s before getting woken up at 11.30.



Friday 2 February 2018 - Day 8 - To the summit  

Starting the final push to climb Kilimanjaro at midnight, the wind is howling a total gale. It’s mighty cold. I have just about put on all of my clothes. The first hour is really steep, and 

after about 10 minutes I have to sit down feeling nauseous. I think maybe my body doesn't like all the layers as I’m about to evaporate of heat, and maybe it’s the getting up in the middle of the night, and of course let’s not forget that I am around 4800m higher than where I live!

Luckily it’s short-lived and I’m off again. And then it’s hours and hours of granny steps of ascent in the dark. It’s a very special time where you are lost in your own thoughts and just see the heels of the person in front. There is no way that I can go any faster, and it’s cold. The lads have shuffled on a little faster than me, I am with Onex. I have tried not to look up as I don’t want to see how much further it is…however I am beginning to hear the chatter of people…which means Stella Point (5756m) on the rim of the crater is tantalisingly close. I sit down on a convenient rock. Onex says that this is it, no going back now, Stella Point is just 10mins walk and then the summit a short further 1 hr. There was never a ‘going back’ clause in my head, just keep plodding, but Onex’s words encourage me and soon we are having a photo at Stella Point. Between Stella Point and the summit the sunrises, it is much much more beautiful that I could ever have imagined. The glaciers as beautiful and the clouds are far below us. Wow. I reach the summit of kilimanjaro at 7.25, 10 mins after the lads. What an incredible moment, one to treasure forever. 

Now it's light it is a little warmer, and we can see the immense descent ahead. So for the next few hours it’s down, down and then more down. Back at camp the porters and crew greet and cheer us and sing songs – they are so lovely. After some rest, we descend further to camp at 3100m. When we arrive I am exhausted, totally – but elated by all our summit success.



Sat 3rd February 2018 - Day 9 - Back to reality and homewards

Our summit night seems all a bit surreal, but we have the photos and the aching legs to prove it! We tip the porters and crew, who have been such an essential part of the trip, so friendly, cheerful and immensely strong! They sing and dance, and we say goodbye. A 2-3hr descent to the vehicle this morning and we are on our way, with our certificates in hand, back to Arusha. At the hotel I have the most wonderful shower – I wash my hair twice. A beer, or two and a cheeseburger in the bar is also bliss. In fact, just having some running water feels marvellous – it makes you appreciate the small things.

Our adventure has finished, and we are all feeling extremely proud of ourselves. This is one of the most amazing trips I have done in my life and standing on one of the 7 summits, the highest mountain in Africa and largest free-standing volcano in the world was worth every ounce of energy that it took. Totally brilliant.

The lads I summited with have been raising money for a small charity called Momentum, which helps families with children with cancer. Never having done anything like this before in their lives they have done very well. Let’s hope their final total helps those who need it.

>> Find out more about Kilimanjaro Lemosho Route Holiday

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