Trek4Mandela – 5,895 m above sea level for a good cause

As I was climbing the last few meters of the summit, feeling the cold and thin air that only exists roughly 6,000 meters above sea level, the sun was beaming in my face and I could finally enjoy the breathtaking view … I knew: All the effort of the last days was worth it, I am so incredibly thankful for this experience.

All of these beautiful moments I had the chance to experience with the program Trek4Mandela. Trek4Mandela is an annual trek up Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, to raise money to support unprivileged schoolgirls with hygiene articles. Our goal this year: Collect enough money to buy six million packs of sanitary pads. The first hike started in 2012 after the CEO of the Imbumba Foundation, Richard Mabaso, overheard a conversation between his mother and niece on that topic.

It means a lot to me to participate in this unique project in honor of Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. Here I want to share my experience and take you with me on my journey.

Send off at O.R Tambo Airport to Kilimanjaro:

Our family and friends came to send us off at the O.R Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa in the morning of the 12th July 2018. We even had television media teams and guests speakers to encourage us. One of the guest speakers was the wife of the late Mr. Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, which was very inspiring. After that we took off to Dar es Salaam before connecting to Kilimanjaro Airport. Once we arrived we lodged at Kilimanjaro Resort and had a rest day before our real journey would start.

14th July 2018 – Day 1:

Feeling excited. Before we started our hike we had to sign in at the Kilimanjaro National Park. We walked through the rain forest following the old Marangu Route where it was cold and misty. Walking slow (“pole pole” as the locals would say) was the order of the day. I personally enjoyed it as it gave me time and breath to talk to the people of our group. After 8 km and approximately 7 to 8 hours we finally arrived at Manadara Hut (2,720m above sea level).

15th July 2018 – Day 2:

Every morning our porters (I call them supporters) would get ready before we depart and carry our duffle bags to the next hut. The weight of the bags was limited to 15 kg. The huts we slept in there and the following night (Mandara and Horombo Hut) were rooms of 4 sleepers with no electricity besides basic light. I used power banks to charge my phone and bought a local sim card that worked now and then.

Toilet facilities, I had to get used to – we shared them with 200 other people from various groups. This all became irrelevant, the second we saw the BIG Mountain for the very first time. The view was breathtaking! The scenery suddenly changed from rain forest to shrubs, rocks and trees, before we arrived at Horombo Hut for the night.

16th July 2018 – Day 3:

If any of our trek days this can be described as our lazy day :) It was set up to be our acclimatization day, we walked for 4 hours to Zebra rocks at a higher altitude and then back to Horombo Hut. I used the day to rest and pack for the summit night.

17th July 2018 – Day 4:

I prepared my departure from Horombo Hut to Kibo Hut which is the basecamp before we finally summited. Breakfast was served: Porridge, eggs, sausage and bread. Also purified drinking water was provided. We arrived at Kibo Hut at 5pm and had to get ready for the summit. We had time till 10pm to eat supper, rest and get dressed into the summit clothes.

At 11pm we started our hike up to Uhuru, once again we walked very slowly and I wore a head lamp. I could only see up to the next person in front of me. We were surrounded by total darkness and the stars were very bright. Team work was essential and we all walked at one pace. Hydration was also very important in order to avoid altitude sickness which was experienced by some people with different symptoms (vomiting, headaches, nausea etc.).

18th July 2018 – Day 5:

At 6 am we reached the top of Gilman’s Point and managed to catch the sunrise. From that point to Uhuru we had 1.5 km to walk which was estimated to take 2 hours. The path towards Uhuru Peak seamed endless and headaches started to kick in. If ever I wanted to give up it was at that point. But giving up wasn’t an option. The best motivation? Our goal was insight!

I became very emotional that day and I could not believe I made it to that far. Unprivileged school girls have mountains to climb because they can’t afford sanitary pads and therefore miss up to 50 days of school per annum. Helping to raise awareness to that topic and money – that was my “Why”. That made me overcome my physical boundaries and reach that point.

And then suddenly the moment I’ve been waiting for was there – we stood on top of Mount Kilimanjaro! On the 100th Birthday of Nelson Mandela, remembering him and his achievements. I felt overwhelmed and honored to be a part of Trek4Mandela!

Pictures and interviews were taken. We arrived in different, small groups and were the second group to reach the top. We each only had 30 minutes up there and had to walk down to Kibo and then Horombo the same day.
See link for more info on the summit night.

Impressions 18th/19th July 2018 – Day 5/6:

We walked from Horombo back to the Gate of Kilimanjaro National Park which was a 20 km hike. The Summit was over and exhaustion kicked in. I felt pains all over my body. But hey, I didn’t care because I managed to summit the highest point in Africa!

That night we were awarded with a certificate that showed we summited Kilimanjaro. (Uhuru Peak).

20th July 2018 – Welcome Back Home:

I was welcomed back home by my family and friends at O.R Tambo International Airport. They were very relieved to see me returning in one piece. Out of the 47 people that left only 28 of them summited and one lady was slightly injured and dislocated her ankle. But all the 47 came back in one piece.

I want to thank Trek4Mandela for their initiative raising awareness to an important issues of everyday African school life – proud to be a part. And I want to thank Mercedes-Benz S.A for their generous sponsorship and to ensure 100 school girls will have sanitary pads for one whole year.

Calvin Sindile Tshaka works as a Business Development Manager for Mercedes-Benz Busses in Southafrica.