For some, the half-term break is a chance to relax, have some down-time, and recharge the batteries for the next half term. For others, it’s about completing astonishing personal challenges. Second Year student Saahil travelled to Africa to hike Mount Kilimanjaro with his father. He tells us all about his incredible experience: 

“Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, is the highest peak of Africa and is also the highest freestanding mountain in the world (i.e. it is not part of a range). Hence it exudes a unique majesty. 

Although I practise rock-climbing at school, and have been on a few day-hikes, this was my first multi-day mountaineering challenge. I do not have the exact memory of when the idea was planted in my mind, but it was perhaps while watching The Lion King as a toddler when my father suggested that we climb Mt. Kilimanjaro together (since it is in the background of the first scene). My father has some prior mountaineering experience and has been keen to get me exposed to the sport. 

Mt. Kilimanjaro was an unforgettable experience, through the many challenges, the views, the lessons learned, and the many exciting and enjoyable days spent. 

The plan was to ascend the mountain over five days – hiking approx. 10 km each day, starting at around 2,000 metres above sea level (m.a.s.l), and climbing up to 5,900 m.a.s.l, the highest point on the mountain. 

While I wasn’t dedicatedly training for the challenge, I had been swimming three times a week to improve my fitness, besides other sports activities at school. 

Our guide, Bairiki, also offered some pieces of useful advice to succeed in the Kilimanjaro challenge, which I thought are also applicable to our off-mountain lives. He stressed that the biggest risk on mountain is inability to acclimatise to high altitudes where the air is thin and oxygen levels are low. This is even more hazardous for me given my small lungs. The most common acclimatisation trick is to gain altitude and descend a bit right after. It was initially counterintuitive to me and seemed a waste of time and effort! However, at various stages of any challenge, the mountain’s lesson was to not be averse to a pause or even a short reversal, to be able to grasp the bigger picture, adapt and learn better, and lay a strong foundation. 

Bariki also insisted on climbing ‘pole-pole’ – Swahili for slowly/patiently – to avoid a burn-out while maintaining consistency. We have learned the ‘slow and steady’ adage for years, and the mountain further reinforced this wisdom when aiming for this long and daunting task. 

‘Hakuna Matata’ were the most spoken words (you would hear people say it all the time) on the mountain: meaning ‘no problem’ and reminding us to stay cool and take it easy, no matter what the adversity. 

On many occasions, I would often get frustrated when the destination seemed close, but it was still another couple of hours of steep hike away! The only thing to do was to continue and not look back, and soon (or after a long time) we would get there. 

The final summit from base camp began at midnight of our fifth day. I woke up with a headache and sleepiness that I just could not shrug off. I fought the conditions and climbed from 4,800 m.a.s.l (base camp) to 5,200 m.a.s.l, but my condition worsened. After measuring my oxygen level and observing my symptoms, my father sent me back to the lower camps with the guide so that my altitude sickness was urgently alleviated. Unfortunately, I was not able to complete the summit on this trip. Hakuna Matata – no problem, next time! 

I travelled on the mountain for six days, and almost summitted it. The learnings about physical and mental aspects of mountaineering, and how to handle adversities in life, will hopefully stay with me forever.” 

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Saahil.

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