Intrepid engineer Chris McAneny describes his climb to the top
Over the seven-day trek we covered approximately 100 km, and this took us through six distinct environments
- Moorland Semi Desert
- Alpine Desert
- Scree/Ice Cap/Glaciers
A Map of the Kilimanjaro Summit Routes and Landmarks
It was fascinating to see that, as we ascended, the landscape changed dramatically. This is driven by the altitude, which in turn impacts the temperature and the amount of rainfall. The plants decreased in size from the grasslands (and human planted rice fields) of the plains through to the rich forest, with giant trees and bushes that provide habitat for monkeys and other wildlife. This, in turn, changed to the Giant Heathers of the Moorland that tower over you.
Still higher, the heathers reduced in size and you saw fascinating trees that come to life once every 50 years in the arid, semi-desert zone. This was replaced by Alpine desert where the plants were all dwarf-like and very hardy in order to survive the extreme cold days and nights, as well as the very minimal level of rainfall and poor soil. Finally, at about 15,000 ft., there were no plants; just lichen that clung to the rocks in this hostile environment.
The Temperature Data
As you can see on the below plot from the Altimeter, the temperature varied from -11°C to +39°C, a remarkable spread of 50°C. I should mention that the Altimeter was in bubble wrap and always in my back pack. And, on the ascent night, it was in an additional layer of insulation, as I didn’t want it to crash due to the significantly below zero temperatures I knew were waiting for us at the summit. -11°C doesn’t sound that cold, but when you are not in a backpack and have the wind chill blowing in your face, it’s significantly colder!!
Life on the Trek
When you trek, you really feel far away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. It’s fantastic to be surrounded by such an incredible and ever-changing environment. The business environment, with its challenges and pressures, brings out the best in me. But nothing can top being surrounded by “big and wild nature,” as on Kilimanjaro. Trekking is strange, in that you spend a lot of time looking up and around at the awesome scenery, but also a lot of time looking down at your feet to making sure of that next foot position.
The Beautiful Scenery
After our first night at Bigtree camp, we continued through jungle/forest and into the moorland. Winford advised us that one of the porters had to go back down, as he was suffering with a very bad chest infection that could turn to pulmonary edema (water on the lung).
Instead of stopping at Shira 1 camp, at 11,500 ft., we continued straight on to Shira 2, at 12,200 ft. Our guide felt we were all moving well, and we had a better chance of summiting if we pushed harder on the early days, which would give us more time to rest before the summit night. This proved to be a great judgment on his part. That evening was most amazing, as I never remember having seen so many stars that were so bright that filled every part of the night sky. No light pollution. Maybe it was being at altitude, but if felt like, if you could jump high enough, you could reach out and grab handfuls!!
Day 3 took us from Shira 2 camp, across the Shira Plateau (one of the highest plains in the world), via the Lava Tower at 14,700 ft., and then slightly down to Barranco Camp at 12,800 ft.
I’ve had an international role for 30 years and lots of travel. Consequently, hotel nights are the norm and I think this is why I’ve never been a good sleeper. I thought the physical effort and the fresh air would mean sleeping well, but that turned out not to be the case. The combination of wrestling with my sleeping bag, the altitude and my tent partner Paul’s snoring meant sleep was at a premium. The other factor that definitely impacts performance is food intake. The altitude definitely reduces your appetite, and regularly I’d not be able to eat a full meal. I would try to compensate with the energy bars I brought with me + chocolate.
Chris Hits a Wall
Day 3 started off OK. I ate some breakfast and was moving pretty well for about 4 hrs. With about an hour to go to get to the Lava Tower, I just felt awful. The aggressive headache I had got worse, and the daily dose of multiple Nurofen didn’t do anything. I felt sick, had no energy and literally felt like I’d hit a wall that was both physical and mental. I plodded on slowly, with our group getting further ahead. I tried playing “Aint No Stopping Us Now“ on my iPod, but nothing could lift my spirits.
Enduring this for an hour, I eventually got to Lava Tower. I felt physically dreadful and emotionally very low. I thought, ’if I feel like this on Day 3, I have no chance to reach the summit.’ I thought of my wife Rachel and my kids Hannah and Ben, as well as all the people that had contributed to the charity. I wasn’t going to let them down. Just put one foot in front of the other...and repeat!! The team had lunch, but I had nothing.
The best I could do was stop myself from being sick. I know Winford, Paul and Jeremiah were more than a bit concerned about me and the dramatic change in how I felt. The afternoon session onto Lava Tower was tough, but not as bad as the morning. We were moving across the plain, rather than the ascent of the morning. Winford kept checking on me and telling me we were almost there. I kept going, and we got to Barranco Camp, where I made straight for the tent, crawled/collapsed and crashed out for a few hours until we got the call for tea. I slowly struggled up, but as soon as I smelled the food I rushed out the tent and was promptly sick.
I Was Just Sick!
On a trek, the two things you really want to avoid are diarrhea and being sick, because in both cases you lose valuable fluids as well as salts, etc. As it was, all of us were using more energy every day than we were replacing, due to altitude and lack of any normal appetite. Feeling Better I went back to the tent and, surprisingly, had my best night’s sleep. The following morning, I ate the most for breakfast I had in 3 days. I have to say that Day 3 was a very tough day for me. It tested me physically and mentally...perhaps this was good training for the "summit night."
This post is part of a series chronicling the adventures of engineers
Darren Wenn of Microchip Technology and Chris McAneny of Future
Electronics as they prepare for and climb Africa’s famous Mt.
Kilimanjaro, equipped with a special device they designed for taking
measurements in extreme conditions. Read all the blog posts at our blog Extreme Low Power in an Extreme Location.