Climbing the highest free-standing mountain in the world is not advisable for anyone who is not completely mobile and independent, however, I wasn’t going to let that stop ME! I am a quadruple amputee wearing two prosthetics legs (below knee) and had Kili in my sights before my sepsis struck in 2013. I seem to be on a path of ensuring I don’t miss out despite my ‘disabilities’ so I talked myself into trying, knowing I might fail but convincing myself that not trying was much, much worse. With the help of some superb mountain experts in Julius White and his team of 33 porters from Ahsante Tours, I got there, all the way to the top at 5895 metres, as did all 11 climbers in my group (non amputees). These are spectacular results as I know a percentage of every group don’t summit – credit to Julius and his team. I think it is a lot do with their motivational singing! We did the ‘Rongai’ route which seems to be the ‘easiest’ route (if there is such a thing) taking more days than others and therefore helping acclimatise and prevent altitude sickness.
Firstly, the walking is steep and rugged in almost all areas and some ‘steps’ can be 2 feet high rocks and there are many of those, not just occasionally. This is definitely not for wheelchairs, in my opinion, unless they are mean beasts for all terrain purpose. The scree is more like sand near the top and so that would be an issue for chairs too. I needed a lot of support and assistance just to make sure I didn’t fall when I lost my balance. Not having feet and ankles means you don’t correct your footing easily.
Camping was very difficult for many reasons. As I have no hands, zips can be tricky. Loose tent material makes pulling the zips even harder. We devised a method of attaching hair bobbles to the zips to pull with my stumps. Getting in an out the tent was hard enough with legs on – in fact I threw myself in, head first, (bum last) and I crawled out onto the scree on my knees (it is very dirty and dusty) and got myself up on to my feet with difficulty. Trying to get prosthetic legs on at ground level is not easy and there is nothing to push against. I had a few panics when I wakened up during the night and talked myself in to needing the loo. I had worked out that it took me 15 minutes to get my legs on before I tackled the zips (all in the dark with a headtorch in sub-zero temperatures) and staggered to the toilet tent to tackle another zip! No accidents fortunately! I negotiated a folding chair outside my tent to help put on my legs but that wasn’t very stable or able to take much more weight than my 9stones.
The toilets ranged from a shed with a ‘drop-toilet’ which are not easy for females particularly and even harder when you struggle to ‘squat’ to the toilet tents erected by Ahsante. These are portaloos and do flush and you can sit, (luxury) with a sigh of relief. I struggled with the pull flush lever as my stumps were too chunky but a nice porter was always looking out for me to do it for me (lid down , no nasty job really!)
Food with Ahsante was excellent and I ate very well. We had been told horror stories and went armed with jam, oxo cubes and honey to disguise nasty tastes but they were donated at the end to the fantastic chef and ‘kitchen’ staff (a small tent with a portable gas stove. Incredible really.)
Lastly, the descent was always going to be my biggest problem. The jarring on my stumps had been very sore on my training climbs which involved about 2 or 3 hours descent. This was to be 2 and a half days descent. I had the use of smart-crutches which took the load but I was tearing my ‘human’ legs apart. I finally agreed to be supported, carried and karted down in places. No-one cares how I got down do they? As long as I made it up! I struggled a lot with this as I am so fiercely independent and was mortified at letting porters carry me, sometimes in not so comfortable or glamorous ways. I tried to laugh at the indignity of it but deep down, I knew it was necessary and unavoidable if I wanted to not to do real, long term damage. I had also agreed to do as I was told by the guides and although I tried hard to take them on, I knew Julius was boss!
It is worth noting that I had some great friends with me and it was a team effort to get me and them safely to the peak and back down again. I rarely had to fill my camelbak, put in water purification tables, pack my sleeping bag etc thanks to Nicola, my trusted colleague and everyone dished my dinner and made me tea, although I made sure they all knew I could actually do it myself! My pride is important to me!
Good luck if you take on Kilimanjaro. You’ll need lots of inner-strength, pig-headed determination and huge supplies of Compeed! She’s a tough climb.