Mount Kilimanjaro: The Trip Report

“I don’t believe you can truly conquer a mountain;
if you climb her, it’s only because she let you.”

These words sent chills up and down my spine as I stared back at her. 8 months of training, fundraising, and preparing has lead me to what we will begin in 4 hours time and I’m already feeling tired and defeated. I suppose I should have a word with her. ‘There are 18 type 1 diabetics wishing to summit by daybreak,’ I thought, ‘please give us the strength to summit Uhuru Peak.’

Of all the reasons why I’ve prepared to trek Mt. Kilimanjaro, there are 3 reasons left to summit: 

1. The person I’m doing this for.
2. The person who said I couldn’t do it.
3. The initial reason why I decided to join the team – for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

I have to make it.

The Challenge

The challenge was to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro; the highest mountain in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 metres or 19,341 feet above sea level. We had our personal reasons for joining the team. There is one common goal that brought us together; to help raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Our efforts have helped fund research in prevention, management, and a cure for type 1 diabetes (T1D). On top of helping raise funds for JDRF, one of my own personal reasons to join the team was to raise awareness of T1D. We are often stereo-typed as people who eat too many sweets or don’t take care of ourselves. T1D has its challenges; it’s a common assumption that we are bound and limited by this auto-immune disease.  My objective is to help prove this is not the case by reaching Uhuru Peak, the ‘Roof of Africa’, in the healthiest state possible.

The Challenges & Risks of Diabetes at High Altitude (to name a few):

– Controlling blood sugars;
– Management devices (insulin pump and glucose meter) working properly;
– Managing blood sugar symptoms and acute mountain sickness symptoms;
– Increased insulin resistance;
– Decreased blood sugar sensitivity;

The Team

On June 16, 2014, a team of trekkers set off to ascend Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was fortunate to take on this challenge with incredibly inspirational people. Type 1 diabetes has touched each of us and it was humbling to be part of such a strong group. Before meeting on Sunday, June 15, 2014, we spent months exchanging stories, tips, training stats, and helping each other answer questions leading up to the trek through an online group. I almost felt like I knew most of the team before we met.

An honorable mention goes to Chris Southwell, the crazy guy who thought it was a good idea to take 19 type 1 diabetics on a high altitude trek! Big thanks to him for bringing this challenge to life and inviting us along to be a part of his own journey.

The Gear

Here is a generic list I pulled from the net to show what ours similarly looked like:

My thoughts? This was slightly overkill.

I followed the advice of someone who told me I will be out of my comfort zone for the duration of the trek and to bring items to ensure I will be comfortable. Things I found useful were my choice of base/mid layers and a clean pair of wool socks for each day. I stocked up on merino and smart wool base layers and these made a world of a difference on summit night. My mid layers were down and fleece and my outer layer was a gortex shell. Additional items I found helpful were my down sweater, smart wool long johns, down toque, fleece sleeping bag liner, well worn-in hiking boots, and mitts – I highly recommend mitts over gloves, summit night was the coldest I have ever been.

Items that I either used very little or not at all were:

– Pee funnel (I didn’t use this at all).
– Half of my body wipes (I imagined 8 days of hiking without a shower and thought I would use these religiously, that didn’t happen).
– 2nd skin/moleskin (I probably should have used these sooner than I did, the descent was painful on my feet).
– Glove and sock liners (I didn’t bring these, glove liners may have helped though I had fleece built into my mitts).
– Gaiters (I wore these because I brought them, they weren’t necessary).
– Brimmed hat (I wore this because I brought it, it wasn’t absolutely necessary).

I’m a last minute packer and 2 nights away from leaving, I still wasn’t anywhere near being ready. As I entered panic-mode, Ryan offered to come over and help, but let’s be honest, I ended up watching and occasionally helping as he eliminated my unnecessary items and packed my gear for me.

The Daily Routine

6:30am: Wake up
7:00am: Breakfast is served
7:50am: Meet outside for pre-hike stretching
8:00am: Hike begins
12:00pm: Lunch is served
3:00pm: Arrive at destination
3:15pm: Start acclimatization hike
4:30pm: End acclimatization hike
6:00pm: Dinner is served
6:30pm: Trek briefing about the next day and what to expect, Medical briefing with out doctors
7:00pm: Down time: rest and prepare for the next day

*Times varied depending on the length of our hike.

The Journey

Upon Arrival:

I arrived a night before the rest of the team and I was greeted by our tour guides at the airport; they shuttled me to Nakara Hotel in Moshi. It was late and I knew I wouldn’t get much rest due to the time difference; I was also buzzing to meet the rest of the team. The next morning, I wandered around the hotel to explore and observe the landscape:

There were still a few hours left before the team would arrive, so one of the guides took me on a short walk/hike to the nearby Marangu Falls.

Shortly after getting back to the hotel, the rest of the team arrived. After a quick meet & greet, we arranged and weighed our duffel bags (14kg weight limit), sorted out our day-packs, and met for dinner in the dining hall.

During dinner, we celebrated a fellow team member’s birthday; he was the youngest type 1 diabetic in our group, of 2 years.

After dinner, we were debriefed by the leader about what to expect in terms of terrain and conditions for the next day and what we should have in our day-packs. We were then put into groups and debriefed by our assigned doctor/medical team member. My goal was to reduce my basal rate by 50% and to pick up more snacks for the hike. On local hikes, I never reduced my basal rate and managed my blood sugars by staying hydrated and correcting only a portion of my snacks. This worked well so I thought it was crazy to reduce it by 50%. Nonetheless, I accepted the suggestion.

As expected, I had another sleepless night and spent much time reflecting on the trek to come. On top of helping JDRF raise funds and helping the type 1 community raise awareness, I was about to take one of my favorite hobbies worldwide! I was nervous about the possibility of not reaching the summit and I was excited to push my boundaries and complete a very personal goal.

Day 1: Marangu Gate to Mandara Huts

After breakfast we were debriefed by the leader and medical team re: health and safety. We were then shuttled to the Marangu gate where we each had to sign in and complete the necessary paperwork for our trekking permits. This gave us some time to explore:

Once everything was in order, we started the ascent. The trail followed through dense forest filled with unique scents and sounds. All around us were magnificent varieties of tall trees, giant ferns, and wildflowers:

We took a few short breaks along the way and made a longer stop for lunch:

As we sat around the picnic tables, chatting among ourselves, we gained sight of the porters carrying up our duffels and supplies. I was blown away by all the energy and effort they must have put in. More views along the way:

Mandara Huts:

After settling into our rooms, we dropped our packs and continued on to the Maundi crater for an acclimatization hike. The views were beautiful:

Our amazing medical team at Maundi Crater:

We returned to camp and had some time to unwind before dinner. A typical dinner consisted of hot soup to start, followed by stew and rice/pasta, fresh fruit, and tea or coffee. Dinner was followed by a debrief of what to expect the next day, then bedtime.

I caught a glimpse of the stars on my way back to the hut. Much like an overnight trip back home, the stars were brilliant. I wasn’t 100% sure of what I was looking at, but it was interesting to see constellations I normally do not:

Day 1 Stats:

Including the acclimatization portion of our hike, we climbed to 2744m and slept at 2700m. Our total hiking time was approx. 4.5-5 hours.

Google Earth View:

Thoughts for the day:

Blood sugars were stable but I was not eating and hydrating as much as I should have; this caused an obvious drop in energy. I experienced some shortness of breath and I rested as much as possible; we were taking short breaks almost every hour.

We have a diverse group of all ages and experience levels. With majority of our members being from the UK, I thoroughly enjoyed the dry humor I listened in on from time to time.

Day 2: Mandara Hut to Horombo Hut

Today was a longer day with more elevation gain.

The team packed up, met for breakfast, and set out after a few minutes of stretching. This section of the trail was a little more steep than the previous day. We left the forest for uneven and rocky terrain. From the start of our trek, we quickly passed by Maundi Crater and turned north to emerge out of the forest and into the moorland. 

Each day offered different views and terrain. As we watched the clouds roll in, we saw how quickly the weather could change. We trekked along slowly and our first break was in a beautiful meadow where views opened up:

Our first views of Mt. Kilimanjaro:

Sinai, our pace-setter:

With Sinai’s help, I was able to pick up on a few, very important, Swahili words: “pole, pole”, meaning slowly, slowly and “hakuna matata”, meaning no worries.

More views along the trail:

Upon arrival at the Horombo Huts, we were greeted by our porters and guides; they sang the ‘Kilimanjaro Song’ and danced for us in celebration of reaching the huts. We were tired and exhausted at this point; it’s beyond me how they had the energy to do this:

Pics of Horombo Hut:

Shortly after the celebration, we dropped our packs and continued on for an acclimatization hike. At this point, I was not excited to continue and I would have loved to rest instead!

On my way to the dining hall for dinner, I was sidetracked by a gorgeous view. As the sun began to set and reflect its colours, I realized we were on an ocean of clouds. It was breath-taking!

I went to bed shortly after dinner; day 2 had taken it’s toll on me.

Day 2 Stats:

We climbed to 3761m and slept at 3700m. Our pace was slow and steady and our total hiking time was approx. 8 hours.

Google Earth View:

Thoughts for the day:

Shortly after we left the meadows, I had a low blood sugar which sent me from the front of the group to the back. After consulting the doctor, I found I had to further reduce my basal rate and cut my insulin-carb ratio down to about half for corrections. I was taking very little insulin compared to what I normally take.

I was learning there are no consistencies in how altitude affects type 1 diabetes; some people were experiencing blood sugar drops and others were experiencing spikes. I could feel my training paying off; I experienced some muscle soreness, but I was able to push through despite the lower oxygen levels to aid with recovery.

Day 3: Acclimatization Trek

Altitude sickness hit me today.

We woke up a little later than usual for an 8:30am start. In the dining hall, during breakfast, I started feeling nauseated. I ate as much as possible, which wasn’t much. I told a nearby medical team member I wasn’t feeling well and left the hall.

Feeling sick when you’re out hiking is one thing, but feeling sick on an epic trip and knowing it may cost you the summit is very disheartening. Stuck in the moment, I didn’t find it in myself to suck it up. A dozen things went through my mind: I was worried about my blood sugars, not having enough energy for the acclimatization hike, slowing down the team, feeling worse as we gain elevation, etc.

I met up with my doctor and we treated the symptoms; to ensure it was altitude sickness and not diabetes related, I had to keep a close eye on my blood sugars.

Until now, I made a point of trying to stay near the front of the group for personal preference. Assuming I would be moving slowly until symptoms clear up, I decided to pick up the rear. Our team manager and doctor noticed I was at the back of the group and forced me to the front; reason being is I’d feel better hiking with my regular partners and I could help set the pace for the group if I needed to slow down.

Today we hiked to Zebra Rock; an upper Kibo trail. Shortly after leaving Horombo Hut, the path split into two branches. The left branch was our way to Kibo Hut (used on day 4) and the right branch lead us through wide areas of grassland and rocky terrain with minimal vegetation, to our destination.

Views along the way:

Zebra Rock:

The team at Zebra Rock:

More views:

We returned to Horombo Hut for lunch and relaxation and spent the night at the hut again.

Evening views:

We lucked out with a more clear night than usual; Moshi under the stars:

Day 3 Stats:

We climbed to approx. 4200m and slept at 3700m; our total hiking time was about 5 hours.

Google Earth View:

Thoughts for the day:

Being able to continue hiking through altitude sickness made me realize my months of training really was paying off. On top of the sickness, I was tired and sore, but I still found the drive to push through. I felt relatively better during the hike and felt 100% better by the time we came back down to rest.

My blood sugars were a little unstable; I had to increase my correction units and I stayed with the 50% basal rate.

Our mornings were still warm and our nights were getting much colder. I started off hiking in a polyester tank and found myself layering up throughout the day. At night, I slept in wool long johns and a down sweater, and I was just comfortable enough.

The tour leader was playing a big part in everyone’s success. He constantly had an ear to ear smile and knew just what to say when anyone was feeling under the weather; he is a truly motivating person.

On a funny note, I’ve discovered a correlation; as altitude increases, so do my emotions!

Day 4: Horombo Hut to Kibo Hut

Off to base camp!

The weather was very interesting today. We were told to bring layers in our daypacks and be sure to have waterproof clothing sitting near the top for quick and easy access. The terrain and temperature changed drastically as we left the moorland and entered the desert zone of our trek. The route followed a gentle slope through picturesque flora and fauna; there were cacti everywhere. We passed by the last water point on this route.

We tried hard to keep up our usual slow and steady pace, but I found it increasingly difficult to catch my breath. Every now and then I would hear the odd team member yell out “pole, pole!” I hit a point where I had to spend a few seconds to recoup each time I took a sip of water.

Along the trail, we experienced strong winds, hail, and snow. This was common for the area; warm, beautiful mornings and cold, stormy afternoons.

At last, Kibo Hut was within our view:

Day 4 Stats:

We climbed to 4732m and slept at 4700m; our hiking time was approx. 8 hours.

Google Earth View:

Thoughts for the day:

The cold hit me hard at night; I wore a polyester tank, 2 wool shirts (smart and merino), a down sweater and a fleece sweater, and I still couldn’t warm up.

I felt nauseated once again. After treating the nausea, I filled a metal water bottle with hot water and slipped it into my sleeping bag. I was out like a light and experienced the best sleep I’ve had in 2 nights.

Most team members were experiencing higher blood sugar levels – insulin resistance seemed to be affecting everyone. Putting your body through the stress of adjusting to a lower oxygen atmosphere releases stress hormones – which is the cause for insulin resistance.

I realized no amount of training could have prepared me for how I was feeling at 4000m elevation; my attitude changed. I was tired, sore, and irritable. My introverted side surfaced; I socially withdrew myself and focused on resting every chance I had. I just wanted the trek to be over and done with at this point. I was constantly feeling sick. I lost my appetite, I had no energy, and I had to worry about my blood sugars on top of everything else. My morale was dropping quickly.

As terrible as I felt, it wasn’t long before my spirits were lifted by my team members. We were able to draw strength from each other and it was great to experience this with other type 1s. We were constantly checking up on each other and no matter how tired we were, someone was always cracking a joke to lighten things up. I was happy to be able to share the ups and downs with such a supportive group.

Day 5: Acclimatization Trek 

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today; I wasn’t happy about a 5 hour acclimatization hike just before the summit. Though I rested well the night before, I thought my time would have been better spent resting as much as possible during the day, considering our final ascent would start at 11pm tonight. In any case, we were advised this short hike would significantly increase our chances of reaching Uhuru Peak; I proceeded cautiously.

An eerily beautiful morning:

We hiked along the same route as our final ascent.

During the hike, we practiced ‘summit walking’; we hiked in single file and our goal was to stay on the heels of the person in front of us. If we had to stop for any reason, we were to step out of line and cut back in when appropriate. The idea was to keep the team together and not lose pace.

Once we returned to Kibo Hut, lunch was served and we had our last debrief of what to expect and how to prepare for the final ascent. We spent a few minutes acknowledging how far we’ve come and how close we really are – we could see Gilman’s Point from the hut!

Our tour manager suggested stepping outside at some point after dinner and having a word with the mountain; maybe ask for permission to summit to help get ourselves in positive mind frames. I’ve heard of such climbing rituals, but did it really apply to us? I spent a few minutes reflecting on the past 6 days; we’ve endured powerful climate and temperature changes, most of our team has made it without any major complications, I’ve managed my own blood sugars successfully, and I am on one of the Seven Summits, afterall. I better not push my luck and have a word with the mountain.

Later in the evening, I made sure my gear was in order and I had enough diabetes supplies and back-up supplies to last the next 12 hours. I placed extra test strips in my pockets and in my pack. I continued to use my insulin pump for the final push and kept a back-up of insulin vile in a wool sock in my pack; temperatures were expected to reach as low as -25 degrees Celsius tonight. For water, we were told our bladder should last a few hours before freezing over and we were to keep atleast 1 litre of warm water in a bottle with a wool sock around it. I packed enough snacks to eat every half hour and I kept a handful of shotbloks in each of my pant and jacket pockets.

Everything looked good to go.

***Squeezes in a 2 hour nap***

Day 5 Stats:

We gained 300m, hiking halfway to Williams Point. We topped out at 5,000m and slept at 4,700m. Our time was approx. 5 hours.

Google Earth View:

Thoughts for the day:

With each step, hiking become increasingly difficult as we gained elevation. I had to put myself in autopilot mode to make it up. I had completely lost my appetite and I was fairly dehydrated; drinking water didn’t seem to make much of a difference, but I assume it was the only thing keeping me from getting strong headaches.

The combination of high altitude trekking over multiple days, altitude sickness, and trying hard to manage my blood sugars had significantly worn me out. All we could do now was dig deep within ourselves and find the motivation to keep pushing.

We were almost there.

Night 5: Summit Night 

I woke up in an emotional state tonight; summit night was finally here!  I was excited, nervous, stressed, and happy all at the same time. I had a strong case of the butterflies.

We had a cup of tea and a light snack before setting off at 11:00pm to embark on a slow, final push up the steepest and most difficult part of the challenge. Our first destination goal was Gilman’s Point at 5,685m, sitting on the crater rim. Everyone who reached the point qualified to have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and had the choice to return to Kibo Hut or continue on. The second option was to continue to Uhuru Peak at the high point of 5,895m.

Here’s a quick shot of our team preparing outside, just before we arranged ourselves to commence our summit walk:

It was a beautiful sight to see; the team bundled up in layers, headlamps shining, everyone checking up and asking each other if they’re alright. Before we knew it, we were on our way, marching in single file. As we gained elevation, we truly looked like diamonds in the sky.

I turned my ipod on within the first 5 minutes of hiking. For me, something as simple as listening to music played a very big part in summiting. I kept coming back to one specific line that I ended up chanting over and over again, after my battery died, as we pushed to the top:

“We can stop the universe with our heartbeats tonight; don’t let go, we’re moving up in the speed of light.”

About an hour in, my water bladder had frozen over and it was much too cold to stop each time I needed a sip of water. The porter who had paired himself with me took hold of my water bottle and kept it available; tipping water into my mouth every 10 minutes or so to keep me hydrated. Our team of porters were absolutely heaven-sent for each of us tonight. They continued pushing and pulling us forward (sometimes literally). They never stopped singing songs and working at keeping our energy levels up.

At one point, I pulled out of the line because my hands had become painfully numb. It was a painful cold, the kind that caused me to tear up at the idea of not being able to deal with the pain in order to summit. My porter and another team member pulled out of line with me to see what was wrong. When I complained my hands hurt and I was too cold, they helped remove my mitts to insert new hand warmers. After removing my mitts, we realized my hand warmers had turned into ice! I had 2 warmers in each mitt, one on each side of my hand – it was no wonder I was in so much pain. A valuable lesson learned! We were advised not to use oxygen activated hand-warmers on summit night as they may not activate and to use gel based ones instead. My gel warmers froze, causing numbness and pain and the oxygen activated hand-warmers worked as well as they would at normal altitude, though they took a little longer to warm up.

Time seemed to go by slowly as we continued on. The combination of lower air pressure, sore muscles, and inability to breath properly made me feel colder and weaker than ever before. The trek was relentless and the effects of high altitude seemed unforgiving. Each and everyone one of us had to dig deep to find the motivation and effort to push through the night.

The bond we created within the  team and with the porters and guides shone through as we supported each other during the ascent. When I realized why my hands were numb from the ice inside my mitts, my team mate offered her hand warmers, glove liners, and layers to help stay warm – I declined the liners and layers, and borrowed some oxygen activated warmers. The thought of someone I barely know offering help to that extent was uplifting. The doctors amazed me as they were experiencing the same effects as us, but put our health before their own by constantly checking up and asking us if we were ok – even when they didn’t seem ok themselves.

We finally reached Gilman’s Point, where I stopped for a minute or two to catch my breath. So far, so good, everyone looks cold, tired, and most importantly healthy. We were told the sun would be rising upon reaching the point, but as I looked around, the skies were still black and there was no sign of light. I was still too cold to stop for pictures and we quickly continued on to Uhuru Peak, which was atleast 2 more hours away.

At this point the group separated a bit. I stayed with my porters and the few team members I partnered up with earlier on as we maintained a similar pace. As we walked further along the crater, the winds picked up and temperatures seemed to drop even more. We were told the moments just before dawn would be the coldest, this was it.

As we approached Stella’s Point, the halfway point between Gilman’s Point and Uhuru Peak, I started thinking to myself that this will be my turn around point. I felt nauseated, I was cold, and I was too tired to keep going. I kept looking back, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. If the sun came up, it meant within moments we would start feeling some warmth. I kept looking back and saw nothing but dark skies.

When we reached Stella’s Point, I turned to my team mate and told her I would turn around here. I was sick and tired and didn’t think I could reach the summit. My eyes welled up as I explained my symptoms. She stopped and said there was no way she would let me turn around after being so close to the summit, we stopped to rest for a few minutes and continued on. I continued on at a slower pace and we all managed to stick together.

As we continued, I saw something from the corner of my eye and immediately stopped. There was a glacier beside me reflecting a fiery orange colour. My heart dropped as I realized where this glow was coming from. The next few moments passed by in slow motion; I spun around to look behind me and there it was, on a perfect Winter’s Solstice morning, the sunrise. I burst into tears as I watched it light up the horizon. It was, by far, the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever witnessed and this was, by far, the warmest I’ve ever felt.

More views of the sunrise:

I caught a second wind and almost had to be careful not to push too fast to the summit.

As the sky lit up, I could see the official summit sign on Uhuru Peak ahead! Each step provided a different view and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of everything around us. We were surrounded by an ocean of clouds, glowing glaciers, volcanic terrain, and the most breathtaking of all, the Earth’s curvature:

Only minutes away from the high point, I pressed on. I could feel myself tear up again as the sign grew closer and closer. I tried to wipe away my tears, thinking I’d look silly if anyone saw me crying at the summit. As I approached the final stretch, I ran into team mates who had made it there before me and we all hugged and congratulated each other as we passed. At this point I couldn’t control the tears, nor did I have to. As I took a closer look, I realized many of my team mates were in the same emotional state.

After such a long and strenuous journey – one that required stamina and endurance with every step, I’d be surprised at anyone who didn’t shed a tear. After a few more congratulatory hugs, I finally made it myself.

Uhuru Peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, on the Winter Solstice, June 21, 2014:

Summit Selfie:

Summit Views:

Summit Panos:

As much as I enjoyed being on the summit, the winds were still strong and the temperature was still cold. I eventually had to make my way down, but not before sharing one last emotional moment with our tour leader, Henk Blanckenberg, the man who pushed us to the top:

Summit Night Stats: I’m not sure of exactly how long we spent to summit or what distance was covered, but does it really matter? You can see here we made it to the top!!

Google Earth View:

We had little time to rest when we returned to Kibo Hut. We were back at the hut by late morning, where we enjoyed a glass of juice and a snack.

Before leaving Kibo hut, we were asked by our tour leader to stop approx. 1km away from Marangu Gate and wait for all team members to catch up. The idea behind this was we started as a team, we summited as a team, we’ll end the trek together as a team. I couldn’t think of a better way to end an epic week. We continued the descent for another 3-3.5 hours to Horombo Hut to rest for the night.

The next morning we had breakfast and continued down quickly to Mandara Hut and another 3 hours down to the Marangu Route Gate. Our guides did an incredible job of preparing us for the ascent, but no one warned us about how painful the descent would be. My feet were killing me by the time we reached the gate!

When the team gathered near the end of the trail, we approached the gate together. A banner at the trail head caught everyone by surprise:

As we crossed the gate, yelling and clapping, we were sprayed by bottles of champagne and cheered on by our tour guides and porters. As soon as we made it through, most of us dropped our packs and headed straight to the champagne:

Celebratory group shot:

After what seemed like an eternity back to our hotel, before anyone rushed to the shower or any form of running water, the entire team sat down together to enjoy what seemed to be the world’s greatest beer.

And I swear, the one in my hand was the best tasting of all!

After Thoughts:

The best way to explain my thoughts on this trip is in the fewest words possible; it truly was an incredible experience.

Google Earth images of the entire trek:

As this was my first time in extreme high altitude, I realized there was no way for me to train to my full potential in order to prepare for the symptoms and temporary diabetes-related road blocks. My training helped increase my chances of summiting, but I was blind sided by how demanding high altitude trekking really is – both physically and mentally.

My diabetes stood up to high altitude much better than I thought it would; this was due to meticulous blood sugar management during hikes at home. We were in the hands of an amazing medical team and I think I can vouch for everyone when I say we all went up and came down in the healthiest state possible.

My OneTouch UltraMini seemed to stand up to the ascent. I didn’t think of it at the time, but a good idea for my next high altitude trek is to bring a bottle of control solution to see if the readings are within the ‘normal’ range. According to my blood sugar readings, I did experience altitude-induced insulin resistance.

I had a few highs (in the 15+ mmol range) and I was able to correct them for the most part. Our doctors’ suggestion of reducing our basal rates to 50% or lower during the trek, increasing it back to normal post-trek, and further reducing again before bedtime seemed to work well. I changed my insertion site as I normally would back home, every 3 days (as long as there are no problems). I didn’t have any issues with the pump, no infections, no malfunctions, everything seemed to work fine.

I used a Medtronic Veo insulin pump and for the most part, everything functioned correctly. During the descent, I noticed a crack across the display screen and realized it may have occurred during summit night due to the cold. I’ve never dropped my pump and there weren’t any previous scratches or damage to the screen. It didn’t cause any problems for the duration of our trip, but I will have to keep an eye on it as condensation can become an issue.

The real management stress kicked in on summit night, when I didn’t have it in me to check my blood sugars and eat. I thoroughly enjoy any rest of any length of time when I’m out hiking, but I was so cold on summit night, I actually avoided checking my sugars for the first few breaks and opted to keep moving to stay warm. I’m not sure if a doctor noticed what I was doing or if he shifted his attention by happenstance; during one of the early breaks, he asked me if I’ve had a snack, I told him it was too cold to remove my mitts and reach into my pocket to get it. He took out my shotbloks and made sure I ate them – I believe this saved me because when I checked my blood sugar levels at the next break (approx. half an hour later), my reading was 5.9mmol. I could have been experiencing a low during the first break and I didn’t feel it. The valuable lesson here is to ALWAYS check your blood sugars. Because of decreased blood sugar sensitivity in high altitude, it’s best not to make any assumptions and consistently check your levels.

Normally, I have high insulin sensitivity. I am confidently able to pick up on high and low blood sugars well before symptoms worsen. As we gained altitude, I noticed my sensitivity was ‘off’. I had to check my blood sugars more frequently to stay on top of levels and at times, I saw surprisingly lower and higher numbers than anticipated. The easy fix for this was to keep checking and adjust the basal rate as needed.

Despite the stress, the trek was well worth the extra diabetes management effort. By trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro, I was able to raise $4,125 for our local JDRF team and the group was able to raise a phenomenal £118,218, and counting, for JDRF UK. If you are interested in making a donation, it’s not too late:

*Please note, any amount over $20 is tax receipt eligible.

I can’t explain how proud I am of what we’ve accomplished with this trek. I hope we’ve helped open doors and pave the way for type 1 diabetics everywhere; we truly can do anything we set our minds to!

Thanks for taking the time to stick around, I hope you enjoyed my pics & perspective. Between pre-planning, training, and executing the trek, Kilimanjaro has left an inexplicable void in my world. What’s next, you ask? Maybe the next non-technical Seven Summit? Possibly a long, self-sustaining backpacking trip in my own backyard to prove we can ‘beat the odds’ once again? Maybe focus on trips where I can further develop existing skills and acquire new ones to gain new heights? Who knows; the possibilities are endless!! – And that’s the best part.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir


– Ash

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