You cannot spend long at the summit. Firstly you don’t want to, as you really don’t feel like it due to the lack of oxygen. Secondly your guide/assistant guide won’t let you. Every extra minute up there is not good for you. You have 40% of the oxygen that you would have at sea level. Oh yes and thirdly it is (at least for us) blizzarding snow like nobody’s business. In fact just getting the camera out gets it wet, and although I need this moment and these photographs I don’t want to ruin the camera either. Your brain works reeeeaaaalllyyy slowly here. After about 10 minutes at the sign proclaiming the “World’s Highest Free Standing Mountain”, Raymond suggests we get away. There are no arguments from us.
To get down we have to get to Gilman’s Point, which is the eastern most point of the crater, and almost 1000 feet lower than Uhuru. The journey is scary. There are precipitous drops on both sides, and we are walking on snow and ice with perhaps two or three feet each side of us at times. To add to this we are nearly four miles up in the air, have been awake for over 24 hours, have just climbed Kilimanjaro, and are just dead on our feet. Oh and I have run out of all drinking or eating materials, and it is snowing like crazy.
I don’t even dare get my camera out. You need poles here badly, and thankfully I had mine (in fact I had been clinging to them for dear life all night long), and was still capable of them. But we cannot stop to rest at all – time is precious. We reach Gilman’s Point after I do not know how long, and began edging down, pole by pole, step by step, on icy, steep scree. If you fell here you’d end up:-
- Creating a very big snowball with you in the middle of it, and
- It’d be the last thing that you ever did.
After about perhaps 40 minutes of painfully slow, toe curling, twitchy moments, the scree turned more loose, and less icy. This enabled us to scree-ski and make huge gains. It was actually fun!!!!!!. It was also hard, but by leaning back and basically jumping each step you were carried down by the weight of your body at each step.
The desire to get to lower altitude also took over, and so the effort was worth the reward, on a ‘no pain – no gain’ basis. Altogether it took probably 3.5 hours to get down to Kibo Huts, at an altitude of 4,700 m, where we would have lunch. By the time we reached there we were exhausted but still elated by all that had happened during the night. We all made it, which was fantastic beyond belief.
After probably not the best lunch we had ever had, which was described to us as French toast and cucumber soup, although it really looked like neither, we set off back to Horombo camp, where we had left the previous morning some 18 or so hours before.
The walk was long and dull and wet. It was also across what must be Kilimanjaro’s only ‘boring’ terrain known as The Saddle. The walk was a further 12km or so and it rained pretty hard for about two thirds of the way. Some 3.5 hours later we were back at Horombo. When we arrived I was immediately greeted by Kevin, my porter. He had lugged my bag and watched my tent for me every day for the last six days. Porters cannot go to the summit, but news had been telephone ahead of our success. He was clearly delighted and we hugged each other. It was a lovely moment.
We had dinner at about 6pm and I have no recollection of what it was. Tiredness had basically overcome all of us, and by the time dinner was completed, and a brief interlude to sort out tips for the following day, everyone headed straight for bed.
From 8pm or so I slept until 6am the following day. Someone asked me if I had heard the gales during the night. I said that if a herd of rampaging elephants had stampeded through my tent I would not have heard them. In fact, it may have been the best night’s sleep I ever had, and I do not believe I moved a muscle all night, which is a good thing, as everyone of them had been used to the point of not wanting to be used any more.