Grandfather Del Singh was forced to turn back part way through his climb of Africa’s tallest mountain after developing a chest infection - and he had a ‘near death experience’ during the dangerous descent, when he was left hanging over a 25 foot drop with rocks below.
Del, who made the trip after changing his life when he lost a huge amount of weight, made it back safely, and raised an incredible £4,500 for Sue Ryder’s Thorpe Hall Hospice.
Del said: “I wish I could say my Mt Kilimanjaro trip was an enjoyable one but the truth is the whole experience was quite brutal.
“The climb is not an easy one and mine was made doubly difficult by the fact that I was climbing with the chest infection that I had whilst in the UK some three weeks previously, and which hadn’t fully cleared. As we arrived in Tanzania on Boxing Day the chest infection came back with a vengeance, with sinusitis thrown in for good measure – the worst timing possible. I was hoping to shake it off as we started to climb in the heat and sun but the weather turned and we ended up climbing in constant rain, sleet and snow, so we had no dry or warm clothes throughout.
“Thankfully I was with a great bunch of strangers also climbing for Sue Ryder who became real friends, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ as I called them who, along with our team of guides and porters, helped me immensely with encouragement to get up the mountain over a three day period.
“I made it to 4,600m (15,000ft) around three quarters of the way up Kilimanjaro but I was advised by a doctor passing my tent as I was literally coughing my guts up that I had really ridden my luck to get so high with two lungs working at well below 100 per cent capacity, and a sore throat with swollen glands that were now stopping me from eating and even drinking water in the quantities I needed to stay hydrated.”
Following being spotted by the doctor, Del started to make his way back down the mountain, with the help of experienced porters.
He said: “I was given no choice but to descend via the Umbwe Route which I later found out is the hardest of all routes both up and down Kilimanjaro, the strict preserve of experienced climbers as it is pretty much a punishing 17km vertical drop.
“For a novice climber with one previous climb of Snowdon under his belt and who was ill and weak this became my ‘near death experience’.
“Climbing down steep slippery rocks I lost footing and fell more than a few times, as did the porters accompanying me, and at one point I thought I had broken my ankle as my foot became trapped between two tree roots as I fell, and was left hanging with a 25 foot drop down rocks below me.
“Having managed to eat only a small bowl of watery millet porridge that morning as my throat was so sore, and nothing else throughout the day, by the time we reached the bottom of the mountain I was dehydrated, hungry, exhausted and hallucinating.
“The descent had taken around 12 hours and the last three hours in pitch darkness had me dragging myself through the muddy jungle floor in a state of semi-consciousness.”
Del carried out the climb between Christmas and New Year, and spent his New Year’s Day in hospital suffering from dehydration and exhaustion.
He said: “If part of my goal was to push my now ‘fitter’ body after my weight loss to the limit, then I did this and it went way beyond what I imagined it could do, and most importantly it came through for me.
“I never planned to put myself under so much pressure and there were times when I simply wanted to collapse and give up but I didn’t – thanks to my training, conditioning and mental resolve. I am proud of the way I reacted both mentally and physically to being put under such duress and the fact that I consumed only 200 calories (porridge) and expended 6000 calories in a single day and walked/climbed some 15 miles through the most challenging terrain is a testament as to how far I have come from being physically unfit and hugely overweight two years ago.
“Upon returning home I noted that I had lost 7lbs in weight, but on the upside I have gained around £4,500 for Sue Ryder – so thank you to everyone who sponsored me and donated, I am very grateful.
“Since my return I have been asked on more than one occasion whether ‘I would do it again?’ or ‘What advice I would give to others considering climbing Mt Kilimanjaro?’. In terms of my doing it again I would consider it, but I’m not sure my family would let me do anything like this again because of the real risk to life. Unlike celebrity survival shows with big crews and helpers my experience was unplanned, unrehearsed and very nearly cost me my life. So, in terms of advice to others, I would say climbing Mt Kilimanjaro is an amazing experience, but should only be attempted if you have trained hard and are in peak health when you travel, as Kili will find the smallest chink in your armour from a health perspective and make it worse very quickly. “