Roof of Africa
It is 8:00 am on September 4. We raise our arms victorious, proud to have reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa.
It is our first T1D Challenge with 12 T1D’s representing 7 different countries: France, Belgium, Canada, USA, Barbados, Brazil, and Australia.
Day 1. Road to the Machame Camp (3050m / 11 483ft)
We began our ascent today, from 1800m to 3050m, including 1250m in the middle of a tropical forest on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. It was the first hard physical push, so there were many episodes of hypoglycemia. Our continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) were beeping incessantly throughout the climb and into the evening. We came from seven corners of the world, yet we shared a common bond that brought us together in this challenge. This simple fact strengthened our resolve, and encouraged us to develop strategies that would help us in the days to come.
Day 2. Machame to Shira Camp (3900m / 12 800 ft)
We left behind the rainforest for a landscape that was more barren and rocky. Large trees gradually give way to shrubs, and soon we were above the clouds. The summit of Kilimanjaro was finally in sight!
In the evening we held a large safety briefing, because at this altitude we were vulnerable to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and its related complications (pulmonary or cerebral edema). These are frequent events at high altitude stays, and could easily be confused with symptoms of hypoglycemia. The most effective standard treatment: descend to lower altitudes. Unfortunately, this is not always possible in the time needed for healing. Using a hyperbaric chamber Mobile (CHP) was strongly recommended, which was introduced to us by Dr. Michael Riddell, our Canadian T1D teammate and leading researcher in diabetes and sport.
Day 3. 7h from Shira Camp to Barranco Camp (3950m)
Each tent was awakened at 6:00 by the smell of hot tea. Room service at 4000m above sea level on the slopes of Kilimanjaro!
Today was the real test of acclimatization. There were no symptoms of AMS, which was very good news for the T1D Challenge team! Our medical staff nevertheless opted to give us Diamox, which would protect us against potential disasters as we moved on toward our summit bid.
The landscape was arid, but amazing! Only large rocks were settled at this point on the steep slopes of mountain. We were moving slowly, zigzaging among the boulders without ever taking our eyes off Kili, which dominated our whole view.
Day4. 5 hours walk to Karanga Camp (4000m / 13 124ft)
We started off at the vertiginous Barranco wall. A wall. A wall nearly 150 meters high, all vertical. Our hands will be our precious allies for this ascent. Especially not to look behind: it is the void and the path is very narrow, barely 2 meters wide. We have to manage both physical exertion, hypos and for some vertigo. But success is all the more beautiful!
Once the Barranco wall has passed, we reach the Karanga Camp, 4000m at the foot of Kilimanjaro. We can guess the path of next night, the last ascent, and become even more aware of what awaits us.
Day 5. Karanga to Barafu Camp (4630m / 15 200ft)
Just 3 hours short hours of hiking. We were beginning to feel the affects of altitude, so we savored a relaxing afternoon. We would need it since there would be no sleep on this night, the night of our starlit push to the summit.
A Barafu Camp, you could imagine what it was like to be on the moon. It was completely barren and rocky, cold and dry. The only color that could be found in this mystical world was on the tents and jackets of trekkers and porters.
The camp atmosphere was somber and very tense. It was as if time had stopped. Our eyes were riveted on our ultimate destination that could only be guessed at until the fog dissipated.
Kilimanjaro Base Camp is an intersection of hopeful conquistedors like us, and those descending from the summit. The veterans shared their battle stories of the night, their successes and failures. We processed and waited, trying our best to nap. We laughed and took pictures to capture this magic moment, but the mood was still heavy. We all hoped to reach the top, but we knew the reality—that 100% success is very rare in a group attempting a 6000m peak.
Nothing more to do in the late afternoon. As the pressure rose, and the temperature cooled and the winds began to pick up. Finally, dinner at 17:00.
By 18:30 we were in our tents, trying our best to sleep. It was hard (if not impossible) to close our eyes. Amidst the tension was camp noise, sounds of our sensors and insulin pumps, sleeping bags, plastic bags, whispers. In short, notbody slept.
At 23:00 it was time. The porters came to our tents and beckoned us into the dark night, very cold and very deep. We put on all of our layers (4 layers on the head, 5 on the upper body, 2 on the legs, 2 pairs of gloves). We crammed supplies into every corner: glucose gels, sugar, cereal bars, devices, GlucaGen, insulin . . . Outside it was -15 ° C. Everything was soon frozen, starting with our water.
After a short final briefing, we began our ascent at midnight.
"Hey buddy, what did you do last night? " "Oh, just a little ascent of 4630m to 5895m / 19 340 ft."
After 2 hours, the group decided to separate in order to respect our different paces. Our stops were brief to avoid freezing.
We climbed deep through the cold night, rhythmically and slowly. Our guide reminded us that this is what would allow us to carry through. Fortunately, the wind was not too strong, but the freezing temperatures were relentless.
Along the way, there were a few people ahead, reminding us that we were not alone on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. We kept our minds occupied by speaking in broken English, French, Portuguese, Spanish . . . and even Swaelli! Anything to pass the time.
In rhythm, we move forward.
In rhythm, we stop.
In rhythm, we sing.
Seen from the outside, one might think that everyone was in their own bubble. But no. We were a team, and we depended on each others support in managing our diabetes; we would live and die together.
Finally, at 6 :00 a.m. we broke through the dark and cold night. A light red line appeared on the horizon, signaling the beginning of a new day in Africa. Soon the black gave way to a beautiful orange light, then red, golden. The colors were intense, joyful and warm. It was nothing short of magical.
By 6:35 we arrived at Stella Point (5739m / 18 830 ft). We were almost there! We took some time to ingest some tea and cakes, leaving us charged up. One thing was certain: we could only finish!
Just 40 minutes later, we reached Uburu PEAK , the summit of Kilimanjaro and the roof of Africa at 5,895m / 19 340 ft. We floated on pure bliss and happiness. We savored this fleeting moment to enjoy our success. We turned inward to photograph in our heads this wonderful 360° view. We would cherish it forever. Through our perseverance and our great team spirit, we were able to turn an ordinary condition like diabetes into something truly EXTRAORDINARY!
Along the way, we were able to show that diabetes should not be a hindrance to the realization of anyone’s dreams.
Together, anything is possible !
Check out our documentary : T1D Challenge : 12 type1 diabetics on Mt Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa
PS: 100% of people with type1 diabetes on this expedition reached 5400m.
12 of us (including 10 with diabetes type1) reached the top of Kilimanjaro. The two that stopped made a wise decision to turn backnot because of their diabetes, but because of the wrong day on the wrong mountain.
A huge THANK YOU to our partner Sanofi DIABETES, who believed in this great project!