Following the unforgettable experience of climbing Kilimanjaro, I talked to Justine Gillen who gave her insight on the epic journey she faced of climbing Kilimanjaro with running friend Caroline. 


What preparations did have to do prior to climbing Kilimanjaro?

I would say there were three phases of preparation. Firstly the organising phase where I had to take injections to make sure I was protected and immune to any diseases I might catch during the climb, as well as organising a visa to visit Tanzania where Kilimanjaro is situated. Secondly, the kit and equipment needed for each stage of the climb. Obviously I couldn’t clean any clothes so I needed to be organised for what I’d wear when. Each incremental climb, the altitude would be higher and it would become increasingly colder. Therefore I had to organise the correct clothing for each day based on this. Lastly there was the physical training, which simply involved going on arduous and longs walks with both my husband and Caroline, which would prepare me for the challenging climb I would face.


What was the purpose of the climb, why did you want to climb Kilimanjaro in the first place?

Well, I had just turned fifty and wanted to celebrate by doing something different but extraordinary. Caroline and I somehow came to the conclusion that we were going to climb Kilimanjaro! We decided not to be sponsored by a charity as we didn’t want the pressure of reaching the summit as lots of people don’t make it, but instead did it for our own personal achievement.


What were some of the surprising and extreme measures which you had to take throughout the journey?

There were some amazing and strange moments along the climb. Firstly we had to drink three litres of water a day and were put on a diet of lots of carbohydrates so we kept energised for the tough mountainous climbs we faced each day. As a result we were constantly eating and drinking throughout the climb which was unexpected, but we soon got into a routine of taking breaks to keep fully energised and fuelled. When it came to sleeping, I was wrapped up in lots of layers and we used sleeping bags which were almost like a cocoon the way they completely wrapped around my body. This was necessary, as keeping warm was essential for the climb. The moment you became cold everything became a lot more difficult and challenging.


Were they any other people helping you along the climb – how important were they?

There were actually eleven other people who were amazing during the climb! They knew exactly what to do and had been doing the climbs once a month for the past couple of years which really showed in our climb of Kilimanjaro. They helped us take the right decisions and were experts in what enabled a good and successful climb. There was a guide for both me and Caroline and nine other people all helping with equipment and other things, for the eight days of the journey.


Were there any funny moments along the climb?

There were actually quite a few! One time I had pulled out my metal flask holding my water and earlier I had wrapped a sock around it to keep it warm in the below- freezing temperatures. However, it must have leaked as when I pulled it out the sock which had absorbed all the water and had become frozen. I couldn’t open my water because of this – Caroline found this rather amusing while I was left in despair with no water!


Would you encourage other people to climb Kilimanjaro and why?

Absolutely, yes! Climbing Kilimanjaro was mesmerising and breath-taking. It is something which I’ll never forget and the enjoyment with the mix of challenge is something I relish, and I know lots of other people would do too.


What was it like reaching the summit?

The flood of emotions on completing Kilimanjaro was an unbelievable feeling. The climb to the top had been scheduled for sunrise; we saw the sun gleaming down on the clouds – which were below us. It was so cold we were only allowed up at the summit for a short amount of time, even the corners of our eyes had become frozen from the freezing temperatures! But the views, even when freezing and shivering from the cold, were indescribable and a picture in my mind I will never forget.


After catching up with Justine, it has fuelled my mind to do something as adventurous and inspiring as her in the near future and I can't wait for the challenges ahead!