We caught up with our intrepid explorer and fearless Project Manager Alan MacKenzie, to get the low down on what is was really like to scale Kilimanjaro and find out how many pairs of socks he really did need!
The following is a transcription of our interview with the great man himself.
Alan, thanks so much for sitting down and agreeing to being interviewed – we appreciate that now you are a bit of a celeb in the Cubex office that your time is precious, so thank you!
Here comes my first question.
You’d mentioned before that you had always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro – why was that?
[Alan] You always see the most amazing pictures of a snow capped mountain taken from an African plan. It just looked amazing, and I wanted to experience it for myself.
What kind of preparation, both mentally and physically did you do?
[Alan] Physically, a lot of running! 7 Miles, 3 times a week and resistance training (mainly on the legs) for the other two days in the week for about a period of 6 months.
Mentally, I’d say there is not much you can do. I pushed myself when I was running to make a faster time or extending the route to cover a longer distance, that definitely helped, and as it was normally 5:30 in the morning when all I wanted to do was stay in a nice warm bed. That really tested me.
You had a large team to help carry everything, but how much did you actually take and what was it?
[Alan] The Porters were only allowed to carry 20kg, which meant after their own gear, they could only have about 15Kg of your own. So as you can imagine there wasn’t much room for luxury items. You had to pack light and for different climates as on the first stages it was about 23 degrees dropping to a very cold -20 degrees on the summit.
What about socks – how many pairs did you really need?
[Alan] I packed three pairs of socks, but they were Merino wool which was amazing at staying fresh. An extra pair of trousers and about 3 tops, again made from Merino. I’d recommend that stuff to anyone, oh and about 5 pairs of boxers
(Yes if you do the maths that meant I wore a pair twice)
How difficult was it to eat properly and get the rest you needed when you were on route to the base of Kilimanjaro?
[Alan] The Porters actually cooked for us and the food was very good, considering that one member of the party was a Vegan, we ate very well. For everyone else they cooked Chicken Wings about 4 days in to the climb, hmmm we tried not to think too much about the potential bacteria on the meat, and we certainly hadn’t passed any chickens in the recent days – so knew they weren’t fresh! Other than that, the food was really amazing.
It was difficult to sleep properly as the altitude made for very light sleeping and I was constantly waking up – one night I woke up gasping for breath which was scary. We always went to bed at sun down which was about 6:30pm and on the evening before the final push to the summit we went to bed a bit earlier because we had to get up at midnight to start the ascent. That was a very long day!
Were there any lows during your journey and how did you overcome them?
[Alan] The first bout of altitude sickness was a bit of a shock – I was the first one effected and started staggering around like I was drunk. On the final ascent it was really tough because I had a constant headache and felt strangely removed from the situation. I was having to concentrate really hard on putting one foot in front of the other and following the Porter in front of me and my vision and hearing were badly effected. What kept me going was knowing I was raising money and that people had sponsored me to get the top. I didn’t want to let anyone down and I just had to focus on keeping going and telling myself I could do it.
Another Low was using the worse toilet in the world – it smelt dreadful and anyone could have walked round and caught me in my glory!
Alan! That’s what we call an over share!!! Honestly…
Apart from reaching the top, were there any other highs?
[Alan] Well, despite the toilet being revolting, it did have the most beautiful view in the world as well!
Another high was when we descended from the summit, the Porters sung us a ‘conquering Kili’ song – it was a really uplifting and emotional moment as the Porters stood around us singing.
The first shower in 8 days felt pretty good as well!
How did you feel when you reached the top of Kilimanjaro?
[Alan] I was obviously thrilled, but very detached as well because of the altitude sickness – It was very much about reaching the summit and descending safely – the real high was getting down safely to the camp after the summit and hearing the Porters sing.
What was the first thing you did when you got home?
[Alan] Apart from giving my beautiful girlfriend a huge hug, I cut my hair and had a bath!
And finally, Would you do it again?
[Alan] I think it’s a bit like childbirth for women – when you are going through it you think never again. But once it’s over, you can’t wait to do it all over again!
Well there you have it – a first hand account of what it’s like to prepare for and scale the summit of Kilimanjaro. We hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about all the highs and lows, and bet you are glad you’ve never had to use a loo like that.
If Alan has inspired you to get on with your own adventure do let us know, and send us photos too. If you’ve been moved to donate a few pennies to Alan’s JustGiving page. All the proceeds raises will go to RNIB – so please do help (even if it’s just a little) if you can.