The mountain, the last day – 02/03/2010

So for our final day on Kilimanjaro we are awoken at 6am without the customary tea in the tent.  I shall miss that from hereon in, even the sleeping in a tent part. We have a long way to go today however, (approx 22km), and it is necessary to get on with things.  And so after a briefish breakfast, we do the tipping ceremony:

Raymond arriving to be presented with his share of the spoils.

We had 27 staff altogether and the money gets presented to each one in turn, ranging from US$50 for the porters to just over US$100 for our guide Deo.  It amounted for us to around US$200 each.  The porters and guides apparently earn about the same in tips are they do in wages, and for the work they do it is a pittance in my opinion, even allowing for the fact that we are in Tanzania.  They are all seemingly extremely grateful.

Not all of us were entirely unanimous on the level of tips to give – I’ll leave it at that, as it was the only point of contention that the seven of us had all week, and when you consider that at least some of us knew none of the others before we started, and then spent 24 hours a day with each other, that could have been sometimes stressful.  It actually never ever was – we all got on great at all times. And money is, after all, a rather emotive subject.

We set out for the descent at about 7.30am finally, and the walk down was tiring to an extent, as you use different sets of muscles going down than up, and we also went at a fair old pace.  We had also just done the summit and another 30k or so over the previous 36 hours, so muscles were definitely well worn at this stage. Deo told us the walk would take around six hours, and Heather, Ronan and I did it in five.  The ‘tweens’ however, with ‘newcomer’ Caroline finding her legs and joining them, did it in a incredible four hours, running in part.

The walk once past about a third of the way down was absolutely stunning.  Far and away the prettiest (if not the most stunning, that being reserved for any walk with a view of Kibo) walk yet, as it was through tropical rainforest.  It was very hard to believe we were still on the mountain.

Me and Deo in the forest on the way down

We also saw quite a lot of flora and fauna indigenous to Kili – such as more Senecios, some small flowers whose name escapes me (someone please help me here?), some parasitic climbing lillies, waterfalls and Spanish moss. I really must learn to write down names of things before I forget them:). Here are some pictures on the way down anyway:

The Senecios grow an extra limb every 25 years apparently...

Spanish Moss, I can remember that one:)

I remember that this ends up crawling up the forest canopy...

I asked quite a few questions about things on the way down, and Deo would stop and tell us things that we might have otherwise have missed. It was nice to be educated in this way by him.  This is the mark of a great guide for me (without of course any experience of bad ones) as when questions were asked he was almost always able to answer them.

We reached the gate at 12.40pm, and registered at Marangu Gate where certificates were issued to the guides on our behalf.  As I passed through Marangu Gate my emotions were very mixed.  I was delighted to finish seven days of very hard work, where I had pushed myself to the very limits of my own physical capabilities.  I was also so outrageously happy/content coming down.  Kilimanjaro was more that I ever hoped it would be.  On the other hand I was however quite sad to be leaving.  It did not want this to be over, as needy as I was for a shower, and the comfort of a bed, and a celebratory beer.  Those things, attractive as they most certainly were, were just not important any more though. I walked through the gate and off the mountain, perhaps and probably for the last time…..

Kilimanjaro had taken over pretty much all of my thoughts for six months – I made the most of it, respected it, loved it.  And I always will….

Kilimanjaro – on the mountain, day one (24/02/2010)

The morning of 24th February 2010 – this is what it is all about. This is the culmination of everything that I have planned for over six months now, and it is finally here. It all feels slightly surreal however, like I am not really there. Maybe it is the altitude that I am not properly used to yet, or the heat, or the food, or whatever. It definitely feels like a dream though.

As we are waiting for the bus to arrive at about 7am, we are surprisingly greeted at the entrance to the hotel by none other than Henry Stedman himself! He has been on safari in Tanzania, is staying close by, and drops in to wish us luck, which was really nice of him. Henry if you are reading this – a thousand thank-yous! Here we are ready for the off, picture actually taken by Henry:

Are we ready - you bet!

So before we know it we are loaded onto one of the most rickety buses you will ever see – it is probably thirty years old for starters, and has about 14 seats and has us plus 27 porters on board. oh and it will only start if you bump start it in reverse:) Here are some of the sleepy guys who came with us:

A long way to go yet....

After a short while we met Tamara, Tayma and Kamal, our three remaining trekkers – all considerably younger (and fitter) than me, but we all got on really well from the get go. After about two hours we arrived at Marangu Gate, which was to be our finishing point for the mountain, but it was also necessary to register here too – and so this is our first picture together as a group:

Ready for action - Marangu Gate

From Marangu Gate we spent another two or so hours heading around Kilimanjaro to get to the Rongai Gate on the Northernmost (Kenyan, if not actually in Kenya) side of the mountain. The road is a dirt road and it just about passable in places – I have no idea how the bus made it at all.

When we arrive we are treated to a big lunch of soup (to become our staple diet), grilled cheese sandwiches, boiled eggs, fruit and the like – it was all great. Meanwhile the porters divide up between them all of the luggage, tents, food, camping and cooking equipment etc., and it is a huge operation – you realise then why it needs so many of them:

Glad I don't have to carry all this stuff too.....

And before we know it, we are off and away – we are trekking on Kilimanjaro! The first walk is a short one – up to the first campsite is just about 7km, and a three or so hour walk, principally through forest. It was also very very hot. This is how it looked, and it was hard at times to even reconcile the fact that we were on the mountain at all:

The path begins for Caroline and Heather, with assistant guide Raymond

Before long we get our first view of Kibo from the mountain itself – we had seen bits of it from bus, but now it was much more real. It is also strange as it looks so far away and so high as to be out of reach. It would of course take us five days to get up there from where we stood, so this was not surprising really. The walk was fairly straightforward, and almost before we know it we are at camp, at about 6.30pm. When we arrive our tents are already set up, the porters having long since gone past us, almost unnoticed as they would every single day. We had four tents between us, and so Tamara and Tayma shared one, Caroline and Heather another, I shared with Kamal, and Ronan got to be on his own, which I think he was happy with.

Camp on first night....2,700 metres

We soon got our first camp dinner – more soup, and seemingly endless supplies of stew etc. The cooks had their work cut out with us as we had one vegetarian, and two more non-red meat eaters amongst us, but they did fantastically well throughout.

After a great feast we get our nightly briefing for the following day. Deo would brief us on what time we would be woken up (with tea or coffee in bed every day!), then what time for the washing water, then what time for breakfast, and what time we would set out walking. He’d also advise on diamox, how much drinking water to take, how cold it might be, or whatever, and ask if we were all feeling OK. the whole thing was like a military operation.

For us the next day would start at 6am, as we had a long way to go, and it would take us to 3,700m already. We were all in tents by around 9pm, and I wondered if I would sleep. Deo had told us there may be animals around at this camp, possibly buffalo I think, although maybe I dreamed that. But I needn’t have worried – sleep came very easily, and other than a necessary pee break in the middle of the night, I slept like a baby – my first night sleeping on the mountain. What a place to be – the next morning would greet us with fantastic weather and breathtaking views…….