African chief guide Whitey cock a doodle doo's loudly across the camp waking us up ready for our summit attempt.
Having put on all of the clothes we had neatly organised earlier in the afternoon by the light of our head torches. We went over to the dinner tents for porridge, popcorn and biscuits. I could only manage a couple of spoonfuls of porridge.
We were a sombre group of silent padded giants gathering outside in the pitch darkness, howling wind and colder than freezing temperature ready for the off. I suddenly had an urgent need to go to the toilet, when I came back from the loo the group had already started to head slowly, single file out of camp. I therefore found myself once again in my regular position near the back.
I looked ahead of me into the darkness as we made out way out of camp, all I could see was a procession of bobbing head torches and flourescent jackets snaking up the mountainside in front of me at a worrying 45 degree angle.
The first hours climb was up uneven rocks and boulders, the effort involved was making my heart race and breathing heavy. I knew that I would not be able to sustain this level of exertion.
I was finding it difficult to drink my water. The restriction of movement in the stiff mittens made it difficult for me to hold the drinking tube up to my mouth, this was coupled with the annoyance of the balaclava - in order to uncover my mouth to take a drink I had to pull the balaclava down under my chin, in doing this the hood of the balaclava was then dragged down over my eyes so I couldn't see. Therefore, in order to take a drink I was having to stop walking, take off my mittens, pull down by balaclava, take a drink, adjust my balaclava and put back on my mittens. This was too much hassle. Consequently, I wasn't drinking enough. I also noticed that I was having to chomp through ice crystals that were forming in the mouth piece to suck out the water, within 45 minutes of leaving the camp the camel back tube had frozen up completely, any further water would have to be from the spare bottle that I had tucked inside my down jacket.
After an hour and fifteen minutes we took our first rest stop, only for a couple of minutes so that we didn't get cold. I had just enough time to have a drink and swap my mittens for gloves. I would have to wait until the next rest stop to remove my balaclava. I went to the front of the group, hoping that I would meet up with Lisa and Justin but couldn't see where they were. Moving to the front of the group was a mistake, the pace was too fast for me, I felt under pressure to keep up with Whitey who was singing really loudly and shouting out to other porters further down the mountain which was giving me a headache. I slippped further back in the group trying to go establish a comfortable pace.
Over the next hour the surface changed to a frozen scree path with only occasional rocks/boulders. I was still having difficulty drinking enough water and therefore started to sway with dizziness from dehydration. Ritchie, who was keeping a watchful eye on all of us noticed this and instructed summit porter Ishma to take the weight of my rucksack off me. Ishma spoke very little English therefore communication was stilted but I did ask him if he enjoyed his job - he said "No, not really. It's the money" It was only at the end of the trek when we were handing the tips out to the African staff that I understood why he didn't enjoy his job. Ishma was the toilet porter - surely the worst job in camp.
Having swapped to gloves my fingers were now tingling uncomfortably with cold, I even considered putting the dreaded mittens back on. At the next rest stop I finally removed the horrid balaclava, what a relief.
From this point on I started to feel much better, I had settled into a comfortable slow pace co-ordinating my poles, breathing and steps with metronomic precision. Alison asked if she could borrow my mittens at the next rest stop as her fingers were freezing in her inadequately insulated gloves. It was at this point that I realised that my fingers were now so cold that they were no longer tingling - they were completely numb. Good news!
As we slowly climbed up the mountain, it became clear that some of our group were now really struggling with the altitude. I passed 21 year old student Joe doubled over at the side of the path retching. I passed the always smiling and upbeat Macmillan 'Boss Lady' Sarah (who had climbed Kilimanjaro before and also acclimatized to altitude in a trip to Peru earlier in the month) slumped on a rock, head in hands, saying that she felt sick being comforted by her partner Mark. I later passed Steve, also slumped on a rock who said he had nothing left in him and was waiting for the Doctor (who was bringing up the rear), I assumed that his summit attempt was over but later learned that he was the fourth person from our group to make it to the top, so I can only assume that the Doctor gave him rocket fuel in tablet form. Scottish Paul, the youngest of our group at age 20, who had been up and down the Munroes like a yoyo all year in training was also suffering.
Altitude sickness can affect anyone, no matter the age or level of fitness or for that matter even experience.
The silence on the mountain was broken by an argument in Swahili between Ishma and another African porter who was lumbering Ishma with another heavy rucksack. It was obvious that Ishma was not happy about it. At the next rest stop I handed my mittens to Alison and decided to cheer Ishma up by offering him a Jelly Baby. From this moment on Ishma could not do enough for me - an encouraging pat on the back, a motivating word, a supporting arm, at one point he seemed to be trying to drag me up the mountain. I believe that if I had needed him to he would have lifted me over his shoulder and carried me up to the summit!
Dawn started to break just after 5am. As we took another rest break, it was a sorry looking, exhausted bunch around me perched on rocks like gargoyles. I on the other hand was now feeling as fresh as a daisy and broke into song "I am on top of the world looking down on creation". One glance at Kev's face and I knew singing was not a good idea - he looked as if he might throw me off the side of the mountain!
As the sun rose, the views were spectacular.
The final push up to Stella Point was steep and walking on the scree was hard going. I reached Stella Point at 7.15am and my legs felt very heavy and tired.
From Stella Point the Uhuru peak is visible along a ridge, it is about an hours walk along a path that would be nothing more than an easy stroll if we hadn't just had climbed up a steep mountainside for over 7 hours.
I sat down for a short break and ate my Mars Bar to give me a boost of energy to make the final push for Uhuru.
I set off for Uhuru at barely more than a shuffle. About 20 minutes from the summit I met Lisa and Justin who had reached the summit and were walking back down, it was the first time that I had seen them since leaving camp.
I had imagined how I might feel when I saw the iconic Uhuru sign - emotional, overwhelmed, overjoyed. The reality was that I felt completely numb...too knackered to feel anything.
Several of us arrived at Uhuru at the same time, including Macmillan Sarah and her partner Mark and Jo Henderson a Discovery Adventure leader. They had brought the Macmillan flag with them so we posed for a group photograph.
Top: Jeff; Mark Haynes; Sarah Morrison; Ian Easteale; Jo Stych; Ashley Halls
Bottom: Alison Robinson; Emma Allen; Kerry Matthams; Sarah Williams
We then took individual photographs of each other. Macmillan Sarah and her partner Mark, who she had met on a Macmillan trip to Peru last year, had a photo taken. After which Mark surprised Sarah by going down on one knee and proposing! Ahhhhhh! Thank goodness Sarah had managed to overcome AMS and get to the top.
|View of receding glacier from the summit|
Photographs taken and hugs all round we now faced the prospect of walking back down the mountain. The sun had melted the frozen ground and it was now thick dust and scree. The clouds of dust being kicked up by our descent billowed into the air and filled our lungs, ears, noses and seeped into every pore. In many ways the descent was equally as difficult as the ascent, hard on the knees, easy to slip or fall over, particulary with tired legs. Ishma held my arm tightly for support all the way back to camp.
We finally reached camp at 12.30pm, exhausted and filthy. Leader Ritchie told me that I had just one hour to rest and then I was to pack up my bags, have some lunch and we would then be walking down to the Millenium Camp.
We finally reached Millenium Camp at 4.30pm in the afternoon. Kilimanjaro beer and Coca Cola were on sale at the camp which was much appreciated by all.
We were all in our sleeping bags by 7.00pm. The snoring coming from the tents during the night sounded like a chorus of frogs.
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Next morning, last morning of our trek was bright and sunny. We stood around in the morning sunshine drinking tea discussing our experiences, laughing and joking before the seven hour walk off the mountain.
Of course, it had been a tough - both mentally and physically challenging. But, despite that, it had been great fun, we had had real belly laughs. Such a diverse group of individuals all thrown together, back to basics, with home comforts stripped away and we all got on so well.
I have enormous respect and admiration for all of the African support staff. I also enjoyed their company. What a fabulous bunch.
There are three essential ingredients for a successful and enjoyable Kilimanjaro trek:
Sense of purpose, sense of perspective and moreover....a sense of humour.
Would I climb Kilimanjaro again?
When asked this question immediately after the summit climb my initial response was one shared by general consensus amongst the group. No thank you! Never again!
|Been there. Done it. Got the T Shirt!|
However, now that I'm home and have had a chance to reflect.
Kilimanjaro will always hold a special place in my heart and my mind.
........It was such a fantastic experience ........Never say never.
Bring on the next challenge..........!!!!!!!
PS: News update Jan 2011
Trek to Everest basecamp - March 2012 - Booked!