The journey down the mountain – 01/03/2010

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.

Wish I could linger here a little while longer, it was fun!!

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:-

  1. Creating a very big snowball with you in the middle of it, and
  2. 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.

Let's get the hell out of here..............

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.

Close to Horombo after 36 hours of up and down at the summit

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.

On the mountain, day four, 27/02/2010

So today we woke up at the quite beautiful Mawenzi Tarn in the shadow of the crater of Mawenzi itself (Mawenzi being a subsidiary peak on Kilimanjaro at 5,100m
, or 16,830ft) at 6.30am with tea in bed as usual.  The tents are covered with ice, and it was brutally cold.  The sun didn’t take long to come out though, and we actually ate breakfast outside:

Morning at Mawenzi Tarn

A pensive breakfast at Mawenzi Tarn

Breakfast is the usual porridge, eggs, fruit, sausage and toast combo. We never eat the sausages but they keep on appearing. Maybe they are the same ones every day, I am never brave enough to try them. Oh and breakfast is usually accompanied by a ‘Diamox tingle’ – one of the two main side effects of Diamox (a raging urge to pee the other one) is tingling fingers and toes, although this only lasts usually about 15 minutes or so.

So today was acclimatisation day, where we follow the ‘climb high – sleep low’ policy.  This means that you sleep lower than you have climbed to give your body a relatively oxygen rich experience.  We were therefore to descend almost 1,000m.  Part of me thought this a waste to lose all of that height we so painstakingly gained, by I suppose you put your trust, your safety and your health with these people, so who am I to argue?

We set out at about 8.30am and climbed to traverse the saddle in the shade of Mawenzi Peak, before beginning our descent for the day.

Stopping for a breather past Mawenzi Peak

The views were amazing of Mawenzi, but Kibo was to elude us for the whole day today, shrouded permanently in cloud.  En route, Caroline told us the tale of ‘Feeding Pipe’ a friend of hers, and so much hilarity was had along the way with reference to hoses etc. I shall leave the details of the story on the mountain, as it were, ahem.

The landscape has changed quite significantly now, and is much more barren, but here we all are at the crossroads before descending into Horombo:

On our way down to Horombo huts

By around 11 we arrive at Zebra Rocks, formed naturally by salt seeping through porous rock.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, it is quite amazing:

Assistant guide Samuel takes a breather at Zebra Rocks

Then slightly further on the descent into Horombo Camp we came through a load of senecio plants, which are apparently indigenous to the slopes of Kili and found nowhere else. They are about 15 feet high, and the leaves apparently come out during the day and close at night:

A Senecio plant

The walk into Horombo is fairly dull, and the weather closed in on us by the time we were arriving:

The descent into Horombo, back down to 3,720m

We had lunch at the camp at around 2 by which time it had started raining fairly heavily.  The porters really earn their monies by digging channels all around the tents to stop the rain from being too intrusive.

Horombo Camp is unlike all of the others we have seen.  There are (albeit fairly primitive) huts here as it is part of the Marangu route up the mountain.  There are also flushing toilets here, an absolute luxury from the stinking ‘drop off’ huts that we have experienced so far – think ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ toilets and you are there.

Horombo Huts - pretty they were not.....

So we know that tomorrow will be one of the most brutal things any of us have faced – certainly for me. I meet a couple of Scottish guys wandering around camp – they have just summitted (well eight hours before anyway), and they are looking for beer. They look absolutely exhausted, and pale, and soaking. They look like just one beer would finish them both off for good, and I hope that I do not look that bad the day after tomorrow. Maybe I will…

The afternoon is spent playing cards, – more ‘Oh hell’ and then after dinner we play Mafia, taught to us by Twigga.  It is much fun.

Just gimme one more piece of popcorn will ya?

We retire at about 8.30 and I lie awake until probably 11 or so, and a huge electrical storm lights the sky.  We will be served our breakfast tea tomorrow at 6am, before we ascend 1,200m to Barafu Huts, the last point before the summit assault towards midnight, a further 1,200m.  This is the most fitful night’s sleep yet.

Tomorrow we, me especially, would find out what we were made of. It would be the culmination of everything we had done, all rolled up into one brutal 36 or so hour period. This is it – the day of days.