Taking on Mount Kilimanjaro in grandma’s memory

Michael took on the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro in memory of his grandma who had muscular dystrophy. He tells us about why he chose this incredible trek, shares details of his climb, and provides top tips for others braving the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.

I grew up seeing the affect muscular dystrophy had on my grandma and my whole family as she declined. It was hard to watch the emotional toll it took on my grandpa and mum. There was little I could do, but decided I would never take the ability to move without help or pain for granted.

Kilimanjaro climb

Climbing to the highest point of Africa

I chose to climb Kilimanjaro to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy UK. Despite being a group of three, we still needed a big team to help us reach the summit – we had two team leaders and eleven incredibly helpful, and strong, porters to carry all the equipment. We took the Machame route which took seven days. This meant we would have more time to acclimatise.

Each day was full of the most incredible experiences. On the first day alone, we completed 11km through the forest zone where we saw blue monkeys in the middle of the jungle. When we walked through the moorland zone the next day, the whole area was covered with beautiful flowers and grasslands as far as the eye could see. Then before we knew it, we were walking above the clouds.

One of my fondest memories is watching the sunset at Shira camp. The camp site was bursting with colour.  After having climbed to the lava towers, we came across a giant sensia tree that only grows a new branch every 25 years and can be as tall as 30 foot high. There is just as much beauty at night; the stars are simply incredible.

A sunrise summit

By day five we had made it to base camp which is 4,673m high. We started the final push at midnight, aiming to reach the summit at sunrise. Up until this point we had stayed warm with the sun on our backs and the exertion of the hikes, but it was bitterly cold walking in the middle of the night. The temperature dropped to about minus 18 degrees. This was without doubt the hardest part of the climb, but the porters started singing lovely local chants to keep our spirits up. When we finally reached the top, I was so relieved. The views took my breath away as the sun came up over the mountain. It was fantastic. We enjoyed some well-deserved hot lemon and ginger tea, before beginning the descent.

I instantly fell asleep when we got back to base camp. I had so many mixed emotions when I woke up the next day – if it wasn’t for the photographic evidence, I would have questioned if I’d made it. It all felt so surreal.

The walk down to the bottom was back through the first jungle we’d walked through. Talk about full circle moment. We saw more Columbus Monkeys and what was called The End Flower which felt very fitting.


Tips for future climbers

One of my biggest tips would be to make sure you’re organised and follow the kit list. This might sound obvious, but it’s such an amazing experience that you want to be able to enjoy it as much as possible. A lost glove or not breaking in your shoes properly might sound small, but it will impact on your comfort and enjoyment.

I would also encourage anyone, who is safe to do so, to take the anti-sickness medication. The leaders told us that they’ve had many people head back down because they thought they would be able to cope with the altitude sickness but could not. Which brings me to my next tip – trust in your tour guides. They have been up the mountain 50 odd times. They know what they’re doing and have your best interests at heart.

Finally, do not underestimate it. The first five days were easier to manage, but the climb from base camp to the summit is seriously challenging. Make sure you do plenty of long hikes. I’m a runner and I only did a few weekend walking trips because I knew I was pretty fit. But I wish I had done more. Running a couple of times a week is a completely different type of fitness to walking eight hours uphill every day.

Overall, it truly was a once in a lifetime experience. I would encourage anyone who wants a challenge to take it on.


Inspired by Michael's story? Join #TeamMDUK and trek Kilimanjaro in October 2024.

Need more information about the trek before you decide to take it on? Join our Kilimanjaro information webinar on Wednesday 28 February at 6.30pm.