This blog was written by Ela Antosiewicz who, lead a team to Kilimanjaro in August 2016, climbed Mount Kenya in July 2017 and then joined Dig Deep as a Fundraising Support Officer in July 2019.
Trekking up a mountain is not something I ever thought I’d do. On a complete whim, I applied to be a Team Leader for the Kilimanjaro trek after randomly receiving an email from Dig Deep and never thought I’d actually be selected; but surprisingly I got a call saying that they loved my enthusiasm and wanted me to recruit and support a team. Having extensively looked into the work of Dig Deep and really loving the cause I was going to be supporting, I became super proactive about recruitment and fundraising, and had a team made up of nine people within the next few months. Ironically, this did mean I actually neglected to research Kilimanjaro itself and it was only about a month into the process that I realised I was trekking up THE WORLD’S TALLEST FREESTANDING MOUNTAIN and it made sense as to why my entire family thought it was hilarious that I had signed up to such a challenge.
Although I spent the next ten months talking about the challenge with anyone who would listen to me (by month ten my family were ready to push me onto the plane and turn their phones off for some peace and quiet) it wasn’t until I arrived at the airport was when it really hit home that I was actually trekking up the mountain! Having never been outside of Europe at this point, I found every aspect of the experience exciting, starting from the plane journey – I’d never been on a plane that has onboard entertainment and food. Arriving at the airport late at night, I was exhausted and fell straight to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow in the hotel. I was up bright and early the next morning for the bus drive to Moshi. On the drive all I could think was how awesome seeing the landscape of Tanzania would be from up Kilimanjaro.
The morning of the first day of trekking it dawned on me that I might not be all as prepared as I thought I was. I had all the kit, I wasn’t particularly unfit as I went to dance classes five times a week, but I had done little walking in the past and my priority for the year had been fundraising, NOT making sure I could walk 6-8 hours a day – oops! But I got through the first day enjoying the rainforest environment. I struggled a little more on the second day, as it was clear that the oxygen was starting to thin out, but I made it through and the porters supported me to no end, giving me extra breaks when I needed them and repeating “pole pole” (slowly slowly) whenever I tried to walk too fast or when they knew I was struggling a little.
Day three was acclimatisation day and I can’t say that at first I wasn’t slightly annoyed that I had to walk up a massive ascent to walk back down it on the same day, but I definitely appreciated it so so SO much when it came to summiting to the peak. I slept best on this night because I felt like I had more oxygen that day than in previous days and I realised that I was OVER HALF WAY – already an amazing achievement for someone who used to get the bus to a shop that was 20 mins walk away (no I’m not joking – I was very lazy in third year of university).
Being so far into the trek set me up for my favourite day, that was just before the summit night when we did some scrambling up Barranco Wall. This initially scared me a little as I’ve never been the best with heights but the porters were there to support the team and the scrambling was a nice break up from walking that could sometimes feel a little monotonous. At this point I knew I would summit; I don’t really know how, I just had a feeling that it was meant to be and that I would reach that peak no matter how long it took.
I did suffer from altitude sickness and I got a headache from the first day trekking, that never went away, but when I look back on the trip, it’s one of the least stand out points from the experience. What I remember more is the relief of being at the top and then the overwhelming thought that I’M AT THE ROOF OF AFRICA, which led to tears (happy tears, of course!) and then dread that what goes up must come down!
Trekking Kilimanjaro was never going to be a breeze for me – so how did I get through all the bad moments? I remembered what I was trekking for! Dig Deep and their work had become such a big part of my life over the year so that was what I focussed on when I felt like crying. I wanted to make everyone I had donated to proud and thinking about that increased my motivation and got me to continue walking. But I think the biggest thing that made me continue was the porters! I cannot explain their support in enough words – they were there for whatever I needed, meeting all food requirements, helping on a 1-2-1 basis when I needed it, dancing and having fun with us to keep us going and just so much more.
Overall my experience was not what I expected because it was so much BETTER than I could’ve ever imagined, so if you’re thinking about signing up but you’re worried – that’s completely understandable but you can do. Take the leap!
Oh, and if you’re wondering how true all of this is…. I signed up to Mt. Kenya about four days after getting back from Kilimanjaro, so I definitely enjoyed it.
To find out more or to sign up for this challenge head to www.climbforcleanwater.org/kilimanjarochallenge