What you need to know:
- On October 7, nine-year-old Elsie Akeyo reached Uhuru Peak alongside her 45-year-old mother Rachel Kungu.
- Elsie's brother Darwin Dulo, 11, and Dr Stanley Mwangi, 67, also made it to the peak.
On October 1, a group of five Kenyans left for Tanzania through Namanga. They were aged 74, 67, 45, 11 and 9 years. They had one mission: Climb Mt Kilimanjaro to Uhuru Peak, Africa’s highest point standing at 5,895 metres above sea level.
A hike up the continent’s tallest mountain is no child play, but four of them made it to the very top, with 74-year-old Geoffrey Kimachia alias Senior surrendering at Stella Point, which is just 139 metres off Uhuru Peak – though such distances can be deceiving when it comes to mountains.
At 11.45am on Thursday October 7, amid chilly and sickening conditions, nine-year-old Elsie Akeyo reached Uhuru Peak alongside her 45-year-old mother Rachel Kungu. Elsie’s brother Darwin Dulo, 11, hiking faster than his mother and sister, had reached there at 9.40am. Dr Stanley Mwangi (the doctor), 67, also made it to the peak.
Having hiked to the top of Mt Kenya last December, Elsie and Darwin have now taken to great heights a passion they discovered in August last year as a boredom-killer during the long school closure. The Sunday Nation captured their Mt Kenya expedition in its edition of December 20, 2020 – where they vowed to conquer Kilimanjaro next.
By reaching the summit, Elsie is among the youngest African girls to climb the mountain all the way. Tourists’ site climbkilimanjaroguide.com says Montannah Kenney from the US state of Texas is the youngest female to summit the mountain. She was seven years old when she achieved that feat in 2018, breaking a 2017 record set by Roxy Getter from Florida who summited aged eight.
It was not an easy journey for Elsie, who had to turn down a request to abort the climb at least three times. She also refused to let the porters carry her when she seemed too feeble to go on. She relays this in a diary she co-wrote with her mother.
October 1: The departure
I woke up early and went to mum’s bedroom. She told me to go dress up but I kept walking around the house, maybe too excited about leaving the country for the first time.
We left at 9.11am after saying bye to our friends.
It was fun in the car, with stories from Senior and the doctor, irrespective of what was ahead of us. We laughed and jokes with the elderly were very interesting. Past Isinya, I started getting tired and felt sleepy, though my mind was focused on the mountain.
We stopped for lunch break and I was told the border was a few minutes away. At the border point, mum got some Covid test. The wait was boring and tiring. I was eager to get to our destination.
At about 1pm, we left for Arusha after some more police checks that kept slowing our journey. The roads were good and well-marked and the environment was beautiful.
On arrival in Arusha, the reception and the meal made me forget the boredom I had had on the road. After the meal, we went to a restaurant where we were to spend the night.
October 2: To Machame Camp
We were finally starting our much-anticipated hike up Mt Kilimanjaro. The bus arrived with many people inside and I was wondering why they were inside our bus. I didn’t know they were there to help us during the hike.
The vehicle left at 10am. It stopped at a supermarket and the group went to buy some items. Things seemed to be very expensive when using Tanzanian money.
As we headed to Kilimanjaro’s Machame gate, I could see the mountain. It looked close but it was quite a distance away. At the gate, some people took our bags for weight measurement. The wait was long and tiring.
We were finally cleared to start hiking through the rain forest. It was to take us five hours to do the 11-kilometre walk to Machame Camp but it took us three and a half.
Our porters pitched a tent at our final destination, and it was my first time to sleep in the wild.
The camp area was like a village, with tents of different colours. We stretched to keep fit, ate and slept.
October 3: To Shira Cave Camp
I woke up heavy-eyed because I hadn’t slept well. My sleeping bag wasn’t warm enough, but my brother had slept very well. He said his sleeping bag was warm and comfortable, and so mum promised to change the bags that night.
Changing was difficult because it was very cold outside. But there was no choice. I changed quickly, brushed and oiled my face to keep warm and ran to the dining tent.
Soon, our journey was underway. We were walking through a grass stretch they told me was called moorland. The sun was up but it was windy. We were to cover another seven kilometres. We were to take four hours but it took us three. I was getting excited that the mountain was very easy.
We had left the camp at 9am, when all the others had left, but we overtook a majority of them on the way. The day hike was steep and the weather had started changing. Heavy clouds passed with only a drizzle. I had a rain coat; so I had nothing to worry about.
In no time, we were at the Shira Cave Camp. I liked dinner time because of stories from the elderly, which made me laugh a lot. The food was also yummy. At night, I got a different sleeping bag and a hot water bottle. I slept very well.
October 4: To Baranco through Lava Tower
It was a cold morning, not very interesting. I was given oat porridge, which was not great and I was not able to drink it. I was also given pancakes and eggs. I didn’t want those either. Mum forced me to drink a little. I couldn’t. I tried black tea, to which I added lots of honey and managed to drink just half a cup. I had no appetite.
I was sure to leave with water in the bag. Water had to be given prominence because I was told that we would be on a very high attitude. I also had heavy clothing because the route was windy. But all the troubles were overshadowed by the beautiful scenery. The largest plateau I saw on Mt Kilimanjaro had a great view.
The long walk left me tired and without an appetite. But I was determined to go to the summit. My guide offered to help me with my day bag. The only interesting thing in the bag was the water. It kept me going.
We got to Lava Tower, at 4,600m. We took photos, ate lunch and since the wind was blowing heavily, we got into the dining tent and started sharing our hiking experience. No one was ready to give up. We were all looking forward. The good thing in this tent was storytelling and the jokes.
One of the things that motivated me was how I used to pass adults on the way and they could not understand how I had made it that far. I still had some energy.
On our way to Baranco, we got to see a river. I was tired but the sound of the water made me relax. I had had some headache after Lava Tower. It was either because of the sun and the wind or the altitude. Since we were going down into a valley, it was always easy for me.
For supper, I got to eat my favourite meal and that made my day. We ate and went to bed early.
October 5: To Karanga
The morning was chilly. I had slept well but the hill before us was scary.
It was a chilly affair going up the valley, as it is very cold. I had to request my guide to remove another jacket from my day bag, which was wind-proof. With that, I was okay.
It was to be a three-kilometre hike that was to take four hours. And it was an interesting hike because you had to “hug” some stones, and it was very interesting. You must step somewhere with a particular foot; otherwise you can’t pass the stone. I did it with ease but Senior had to go down and change his footing to be able to climb. I called it a standing stone. We finished the journey in three hours and in the end, we still had energy for the rest of the hike.
Senior experienced a stomach problem. He said he ate nuts which reacted with his body. He had vomited almost all the way. It was a bad day for him, but by the time he got to Karanga Camp, he looked okay. We were at Karanga Camp before midday. We were tempted to look at our next destination, Barafu Camp, but the guide advised us to eat and sleep early because the area is cold and we needed a good rest.
After some exercise, it was time for dinner and storytelling.
That done, it was time for bed. Problem is, the tent was on a slanting ground. Though I was warm, I could feel my mum pulling me up at night. She did the same to my brother. We had a nice laugh talking about sliding at night. Though tired, there was always something to energise and motivate us.
October 6: To Barafu Camp
The morning was freezing. The ground was white and tents were very wet outside. We could not leave early because some people don’t get down from the next point up before 1pm, and we needed space there to pitch our tent. We left at around 9.30am and it took us two and a half hours to Barafu Camp. It was a journey up the rocks. We encountered loose stones and I was told they are called coin stones because they make the sound of coins. By this point, we were above the clouds, which was very interesting for me. I loved the scenery, landscape, rocks and of course the sounds of the river along the way. I was a bit tired, without an appetite, but I was determined to go up to the end.
Now I had to summon all my energies for the summit night.
October 7: To Uhuru Peak
This was the final day. I had slept in my hiking gear because our next climb was to begin at midnight.
I was given some black tea and biscuits but I can’t eat that early. Even when going to school, I take breakfast later in the morning.
It was a challenging night because I was unable to eat. Mum was getting herself ready, and so she wasn’t there to force me to eat. I had snacks in my day bag but my guide would carry it for me. I didn’t want to think about the mountain; so I occupied my mind with stories from the guide.
But it went too quickly and my thoughts were back to Uhuru peak. I will make it, I convinced myself.
I was with my mum. Senior had left already with two guides since he walks slowly. At 2am, we started off in darkness and with our forehead torches.
I was sleepy but I had to go. We started all together but I started feeling tired. My stomach was aching and I was told to drink water. They had carried some warm water for me.
The stomach ache got worse by the minute. My team asked me to eat some chocolate. I declined. They forced me to take an energy drink. I tried taking it in but that caused me to vomit virtually everything that was in my stomach. By then, I hadn’t walked for even a kilometre and the hike was five kilometres. It was a very steep climb and I could see a torch ahead of me. I was glad that even at my pace, I was maybe overtaking someone. But the road was tough.
Surprisingly, after vomiting, I was able to walk nicely for a while. Then my sleepiness resurfaced and the stomach ache restarted. Part of the group had left us behind but we could see their torches up somewhere. There was hope.
I was left with mum and two guides. Almost halfway, I started feeling cold on my toes. I was told to move them as I walked to keep them warm. We continued walking and more and more people were visible ahead of us with their torches.
We found a place to rest and on turning, I saw a golden horizon.
I drank some water, and the view of the sun as I rested was beautiful. I temporarily forgot I was tired as I enjoyed the sun.
Soon after, we were on with our climb. We could see the top and the guide told me that we had to reach the summit before 10am or else the journey had to terminate at the second-to-last stop, Stella Point.
I told the guide I would make it to the summit. It was about 6.30am and all I could see was some peak. I didn’t know if this was the summit but the guide told me that’s where we were going. So, my mind set it as the summit.
I walked slowly, pausing in between for some rest. The guide asked if I wanted to be carried. I said no; I will make it by myself. Mum stayed by me. I told her to walk slowly but non-stop; so that I could follow. There were moments I felt like giving up but my determination was still high. I was asked if I could go back with my brother. I said, ‘No way.’
We finally reached the peak I had been setting my eyes on. Shock on me; this wasn’t the summit!
I sat down for almost 15 minutes to gather strength to continue. They had carried black tea with sugar for me but I had no appetite. I helped another hiker with it.
Just before Stella Point, where I was, I met two guides dragging a hiker down very fast. He looked like he was drunk. Then near Uhuru Peak, a lady hiker had been put on oxygen and was also being dragged down. To me, all this was strange.
But all I wished for was to summit and then start going down. But the 45-minute walk to Uhuru Peak wasn’t easy.
I got to the peak very, very tired. I had little time to rest but the excitement at the summit was overwhelming.
I took some photos but I could not eat. Then we started going down with mum. It was fun sliding down but my stomach was irritable. I vomited six times by the time I returned to Camp Barafu. I went straight to the dining tent and I was given some oranges, which I ate but I vomited after some time.
I went to our tent and slept for about 45 minutes as mum packed so that we could leave for the next camp. I was told we couldn’t sleep at a high attitude; that we needed to go down so we could feel better. I walked again for two hours to Millennium Camp, where we spent the night. We had time to sit outside for evening stories. But I didn’t eat. I had no appetite.
October 8: To Mweka Gate
It was a sunny morning and I woke up to sunrise and a great view of Mt Kilimanjaro. I took breath-taking photos and all felt good. I managed to drink some tea. It was a 13km walk down to the gate. We started at a fast pace at 8.30am and by 12.30pm, we were done. On the last 3km down, I was very tired. It seemed like an endless road. However, I was happy to pass many hikers along the way. The rainforest was beautiful, with huge trees and nice landscape.
The great Mt Kilimanjaro hike was done. Painful but beautiful. I have tonnes of stories to share with friends.