This was no ordinary team of property graduates. The 14 Knight Frank graduates who decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for LandAid had the kind of track record that makes you feel exhausted just looking at it, ranging from marathons to Tough Mudders, long-distance cycling to epic canoe races, sky-diving to bungee-jumping, and even competing in athletics internationally.
But had their experience prepared them enough for Africa’s highest mountain, a steep climb of nearly 6,000m, with climates comparable to travelling from the equator to Antarctica? We spoke to Victoria Prew, one of the Knight Frank ‘Reaching the Roof’ team, to find out.
You’re clearly an energetic bunch. What training did you do to prepare yourselves for Kilimanjaro?
We decided to take on Mount Snowdon as mountain climbing practice. We were all fairly underprepared (fitness and kit wise!) and it was surprisingly difficult! The weather was atrocious and our waterproofs proved not to be very waterproof. The majority of the team are used to taking on extreme challenges, but we’d never done something like this as a team before, so it was quite competitive!
How did the Kilimanjaro climb compare?
The trek was a lot more intense! We took the Machame route which meant getting to the summit in four and a half days (half the time that some routes take), which makes it difficult to acclimatise. As we ascended, we kept seeing other mountaineers who couldn’t go any further being escorted down the mountain – sometimes in wheelbarrows!
Sounds tough! What was the hardest part?
Definitely the final climb to the summit. We had to start the climb at midnight, and the aim is to summit as the sun rises. So when we started, it was pitch black and about -20°C. We ascended over 1,000m that night to reach the peak at 5,895m, and the altitude really hits you – some of the team suffered from severe Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), with oxygen levels at about 50%. We had to walk incredibly slowly, because the amount of energy it takes to climb means that you burn more calories than you consume.
How did you get through it?
It took a lot of mental strength. Our experience of other extreme challenges meant we were prepared physically, but you can’t prepare for how the altitude will affect you – some of the fittest in our group were the most ill. Unlike Snowdon, where we were full of energy and quite competitive, we really had to support each other and keep morale high. A few renditions of ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough’ from our Guide helped!
Most importantly, did you make it to the top?
Yes, all 14 of us reached the top! Our travel company Action Challenge were even quite surprised, as normally only 60% - 70% of one group manage to summit. It didn’t sink in at first. We were too delirious, and overwhelmed at finally reaching the moment we’d trained so hard for. The views were incredible over the glaciers – we were standing on the highest point on the African continent! We couldn’t stay at the top for long enough to enjoy them though. At that height, the lack of oxygen means it’s only safe to spend about twenty minutes at summit before heading back down.
It’s an amazing achievement! When did the feeling of success finally sink in?
Only when we got back to the bottom. We had a celebratory dinner, and the local mountain guides put on a Tanzanian ‘congratulations’ dance for us. We returned this with a pretty good rendition of the Macarena! We’re so proud of what we achieved, and have raised over £37,000 for our three chosen charities. It was an excellent bonding experience for the team as well. It’s definitely something we’ll remember when we’re 80 and looking back on our lives!
Victoria Prew and her fellow Knight Frank graduates have raised over £37,000 so far for their three chosen charities, including LandAid. All money raised for LandAid will go towards projects that are working to end youth homelessness. If you’d like to support the ‘Reaching the Roof’ team, please donate to their mission and join the fight against youth homelessness.