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Eugene Owen: a personal Journey on Kilimanjaro

I've bungee jumped at Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa (at 216m, the highest in the world by far), twice scuba dived the Canyon and Bells to Blue Hole dives off Dahab, Egypt, caught the magnificent tarpon surf-casting rapala lures in Gabon, and completed a couple of mass-field marathons, including the world-famous London Marathon twice. But, all of that together does not amount to the feeling I experienced standing on top of Uhuru Peak at 07:10am on Thursday, 23 January 2003. I cannot imagine what it must feel like on top of Everest or any other 8000 meter, but bar my wedding day, summiting the "Jewel of Africa" was the greatest experience of my life.

I'd thought about Kilimanjaro for a long time, but after a close friend, Nick Aplas, summited last year for Childline, my mind was made up. I decided on the Umbwe route to make it a challenge and also to avoid the crowds. Closer to the time, another friend, Russell (Bain) Weyer, decided he was up for the challenge as well. We had a great guide in the form of Elias Minja and a superb support team lead by his son Felish. Arrangements by Trudie Lewis from Destination Africa as well as the staff from the Nakara Hotel, were superb.

At Barranco camp I asked Elias if, instead of the conventional summit route via Barafu, we could climb the Arrow Glacier to the crater and from there to Uhuru Peak. He agreed after a little test on the 3rd day - our acclimatisation day, when we climbed up the Barranco Wall and across to the foot of the Heim Glacier, not being able to see more than a few feet ahead of us due to the thick mist. Back at camp, Elias congratulated us and said we could climb Arrow - according to him he had to make sure as there is no turning back on Arrow - it's up and over..

We started off 01:20am from Arrow Glacier camp with one other group - Ray and Tanika from Namibia and made good initial progress, until on some very steep bits the rock was covered in a hard layer of ice with deep snow either side. Only myself and Elias had ice axes and none of us used crampons. We had to chop some footings and kick some steps but after 5 hours we were over the edge and in the crater! From boiling in my down jacket and climbing with it half zipped open, I suddenly had to zip up and replace my beanie with a thermal ballaclava, as we estimated the temp. in the crater with the wind chill factor to be around minus 15 Celsius - not bad for 3 degrees off the equator! In our excitement of course we thought the worst was over, only after the photo session to see another 45min odd of ice & snow plodding ahead up the sleep slope at the back of Uhuru Peak!

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