Second only to my battle with cancer, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro was genuinely the hardest experience I’ve ever been through. Only just though I must say, now that’s not something I would write so nonchalantly, but I think it goes a long way to show you how difficult an expedition it was.

In the first of three columns I discuss the first three days of the You Are The Ref and Steve Prescott Foundation Kilimanjaro challenge; involving meeting my Kilimanjaro colleagues, the flight to Tanzania and arriving at our starting point, the Machame Gate.

Wednesday 11th October

All 43 of us assembled at Manchester Airport  that morning for departure to Tanzania. It was for many of us, the first time meeting those who we’d be spending the next two weeks with, I hadn’t even met Academy members Paige Kulm and Stuart McKenzie.

It was great to meet them finally although they were both very quiet at first, I think it took them some time to get used to us, especially Paige who wasn’t used to some of our twangs and sayings. But they were both raring to go which was pleasing to see. I’ll admit now I had my doubts about Stuart initially, who unfortunately lost his father-in-law just a few weeks earlier, but as you’ll read further down I had my reasons, and eventually I can honestly say I ended up being so very proud of him, probably more so than anyone else.

After our brief welcome and introductions, we collected our gear and off we went. From leaving at 10.40am and a changeover in Istanbul, we finally landed in Tanzania  the next day.

Thursday 12th October

We arrived at our base at Honey Badger Lodge in Moshi at around 7.30am followed very swiftly by a long sleep after an exhausting day of travel. It was so important that we rested that day, not just to prepare ourselves physically, but also mentally. Getting ourselves into the right frame of mind of what was ahead of us.

Friday 13th October

We were up bright and early that morning, we packed our bags and it was away we go. We arrived at Machame Gate which was  our starting point at 1490m high. From there we walked through the rainforest to Machame Camp which took us to 2980m. That took us seven hours after leaving the gate at 1pm.  By the end of the day, another good night’s rest was well needed.

The walk in the conditions are exhausting to say the least, with our backpacks full as well, it was very strenuous, but to be honest, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise as it can slowly ease you into the long hard battle ahead.  All our other bags and luggage are carried up by the Sherpa’s but we carry the essentials in our backpack such as three or four litres of water, food, change of clothes, nappy sacks etc.

On that note, at first, you could tell we were all a bit sceptical about using the toilet. Plain and simply, if you wanted to go, you had to go behind a rock, quite literally. You have to make sure you’ve got hand sanitiser, wipes, nappy sacks and once you’re finished you’ve then got to wrap it up and keep it with you until you reach camp in the evening where you can then dispose of it properly. It was very much an eye-opener.

The Sherpa’s go on ahead of us and set up our camps and build the tents and I think it would be remiss of me not to mention how grateful myself and the team are to them. It’s incredible how they just climb up with all our luggage,  through the tough terrain and then, without rest, set up our camps, I was in awe of them.

One thing I noticed throughout the day was Stuart looking a bit down-trodden, I’m unsure of what his thoughts were but he seemed as though he was doubtful of himself, he was displaying the characteristics of a man who didn’t think he could complete this challenge.

I took it upon myself to have a friendly word with him, to be honest, better put, I gave him a kick up the backside that I felt he needed to fire him up a little bit. I let him know in no uncertain terms that he was there now, he was the winner of this fantastic competition and that he needed to prove that he was a worthy winner.

Paige was also feeling a bit ill, but Linzi Prescott, wife of the late Steve Prescott, looked after her brilliantly, as if she was her own daughter. After a quiet first three or four days, Paige had really come out of herself and was great company on the trip.

After a long day and some food cooked by the chefs, it was back to our tents to try and get some sleep. The first three days having shattered us all, was a rude awakening for some of our team as to the intensity required to climb this mountain. The easy part was over, we were only just beginning.


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