"Never insult an alligator until after you have crossed the river."
20 February 2005 11:16
Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa at 5895m and the third highest in the world. Flat-topped Kilimanjaro dominates Tanzania's northern border with Kenya. Composed of three extinct volcanoes - Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira - its highest peak, Uhuru, is 5895m. It's the highest free-standing mountain on earth and its towering snow-capped, symmetrical cone is a world recognised image of Africa. The Rongai Route ascends from the Northeast, Kibo Peak via Gilman's Point and Uhuru Summit, Africa's highest point at 5895m.
The Rongai route retains a sense of untouched wilderness lost on some of the other more crowded routes, but accommodation is in portable tents at bush camps with no facilities. It's a fairly easy route with relatively gentle gradients and short daily stages, affording some marvellous views over the Amboseli Plains and genuine possibilities for wildlife viewing. The Rongai route begins in attractive farmland and delightful forest, with the possibility of viewing wildlife and passes through several different climate zones, adding considerably to the interest of the trek. - So says the blurb!
Cape Town Tuesday 18th Jan to Friday 21st Jan 2005
A couple of really bad nights sleep in Cape Town; so hot, bitten, worried about corruption amongst the guides on the mountain and altitude sickness! Booking some cheap airline tickets on the next flight out sounded like a good plan!
While running in Cape Town heard on the news about a massive iceberg that had grounded in Drygalski Fjord in South Georgia! This was our last excursion before leaving South Georgia! We did then spot a massive ice berg which the Captain reading the radar reckoned was 1.6 miles across. I wondered if it was the same iceberg!
I was taken to a delightful lunch at a vineyard in the Constantia wine region hosted by Ian Smith and Derek Coop (both of International Marine Managers). Friend Sue Russo had arranged the lunch and also was kind enough to fly over from Johannesburg to Cape Town to see me. After lunch they gave me a lift to my cousin Suzy's house, Suzy also lives in Constantia. Suzy's friend Ali (her son had just done Kili) insisted that I needed Diamoxin and Suzy kindly took me to a pharmacy to get some. (I had read an article about altitude sickness and the use of diamoxin and I wasn't sure about it at all. I actually decided it was best to cut the 250ml tablets in half, which I painstakingly did in the hotel in Moshi.)
I then spent a happy hour with Suzy drinking champagne and showing her my photos to date from my flash drive (sounds impressive doesn't it?). Suzy arranged a car to take me back to my hotel, where I got on with the odious task of packing.
Friday 21st Jan
On the flight to Nairobi for 4 hours and was confused about the number of days the trip will take. I think it is 6 days plus an extra day equals 7, but the schedule they have provided is only 6, so not sure when extra day occurs! When I land in Nairobi there were two men with the name "Judy Crick" standing side by side! The corruption begins! They both said they were my driver and in fact one said that he had picked me up before, but I had never been to Nairobi before. I said I needed to phone the hotel and made my way towards a hotel desk I spotted. One driver disappeared and the other offered to phone the hotel from his mobile. As he could have put any number into his mobile I declined! The hotel desk phoned the new number for the hotel Boulevard (the one I had been given was wrong) and it appears Harrison was my driver - he had left his photo ID in the car. When Harrison had calmed down (for some reason he was upset with me for doubting him!), I asked him what would have happened if I had gone with the other driver. He said he probably would have taken me somewhere else other than the hotel and then charged me to get back there! I was paying the hotel direct for Harrison's services.
The Hotel Boulevard was horrible - but exhausted after two sleepless nights, I went straight to bed and slept really well with the aid of a glass of wine and earplugs!
Saturday 22nd Jan
Pick up to take me to Moshi (a 7 hour trip) was supposed to be at 7.15 am so I was up eating a good breakfast early and all packed and checked out waiting in reception.
Buses and people came and went but no one asked for me and eventually there were two of us left (others were going off on safari) - Wayne from New Zealand and I. We were both waiting for the same tour company and shuttle service. I asked reception to call a couple of times and eventually they turned up an hour late. When the driver took my name, he said he had been to pick me up early. I asked why he hadn't asked for me, as I had been in reception for an hour!
Sat in the back of small dirty minibus with Wayne. The other occupants were an Indian Family of 3 from Toronto who were getting off at Arusha - I thought "great! Lots of room" - no such luck! At the airport we picked up 3 more people and luggage and there was no room. There followed a truly uncomfortable journey. One of the new arrivals, Dave, who was from Long Beach was also doing Kilimanjaro - he was meeting 6 friends who were already at the hotel in Moshi.
At the border I was in for a shock. No problem with the Kenya side, but found I had to pay USD 50 for a Tanzania visa and while waiting in the queue, realised that I had only a single entry stamp in my passport for Kenya - did this mean that I would have to pay a further USD 50 to get back into Kenya to get my flight home? I would not have enough money! This was the subject of much discussion and Wayne said he would lend me some money. I didn't really want to do this as I didn't know how I would pay him back. I hoped I would be able to get some money at the hotel. Finally arrived at our hotel Springlands at 4.00pm, very hot and dusty having had to change buses at Arusha for a larger, but equally crowded bus. Springlands was an oasis of green gardens and fountains. But the welcoming speech was very unwelcoming! No credit cards! And nothing is free - you pay for safety deposit box, internet, dinner, sauna etc. etc. and everything is in cash! I continue to be anxious about my limited cash flow!
On arrival - told we have a meeting in 5 mins and we were asked to go and sit in different groups for different routes. Wayne was not doing the Rongai route! We had spent all day on the bus together, me talking about the Rongai route and assuming he was doing it too! Rongai route meeting was in the shaded open air restaurant area and I find the 7 Americans (including Dave from Long Beach) and they are not very friendly! Just to set the scene, they are all in their late twenties to mid thirties (with one older woman who was probably my age) and three of them were some expression like "Adventure Pioneers" - which means they are extremely fit and do these sort of challenges all the time! Maybe the reason they are so dismissive of me is because they consider themselves to be superior beings!?!
Francis explained what the climb would involve each day, over the next six days. We will be sleeping in tents and when the American's questioned how many in each tent? A discussion began and Francis said "well there are 7 of you (4 women & 3 men), he said there would probably be dividing them up into three tents I interrupted - could not keep quite any longer: "but there are 8 of us" I said. I was beginning to feel invisible. He said "oh you'll have your own tent" to me. He then went to introduce us to the guide. He brought forward Wilson and the Americans shook hands and when I went to, Francis said "No, this is your guide, Stephen". I was very taken aback and tears sprang (fortunately wearing sun glasses), Stephen started to explain (in broken English) that we had 3 porters, a cook and an assistant cook, and was there anything I needed? "Just a sleeping mat" was all I could think of to say…. I was really upset! I didn't want to do this alone - the Americans ignored me. Another complication is the fact that I have paid for 7 days and everyone else seems to be doing 6 days. I was close to tears and Stephen took me off to talk to Francis, who assured me, all was ok and I would get my extra day at 4500m and I really had no choice but to go with Stephen, I couldn't join another group.
I find a bikini and swam and swim in cool refreshing swimming pool for 20 minutes and I try to convince myself that it WILL all be alright. Then I begin the major task of packing luggage into three bags -1 for the porters to carry, 1 day bag and 1 to leave behind. Before I can even contemplate this major task, I need a drink. I have a litre bottle of red Wolf Blass that I've carried since I left Sydney. I knock on Wayne's door and asked if he would like to share, we go down to the garden and have a drink before dinner. I wasn't going to have dinner, but Wayne insists - so I say I will add it to what I owe him. He will change some traveller's checks in the morning. We had nearly finished a cold dinner (outdoor buffet with very strong wind blowing out the plate warmers!). This hotel only caters for people doing Kilimanjaro and everyone there is either extremely nervous because they are about to do it! Or extremely elated because they have done (there are a few that are not happy because they failed). Our neighbours at dinner were a father and adult son, who had done it and so we pick up some good tips; such as insulate the tubing to your camel pack, or the water in the tube, will freeze up there! And we hear some frightening tales; such as the girl who went blind on the summit, when she took 2nd half of Diamoxin and the woman camping in the crater, who died only last week in her sleep. She had asthma.
And then three people join us, who at first glance, are a couple in their early thirties and an older man. Martin immediately introduced himself and the older man was in full flow of getting us to guess what nationality he was (he had a strange eastern European accent!), when I rudely interrupted him (must have been the litre of wine Wayne and I had just shared!) and followed a guess of Hungarian by launching into the Monty Python's Hungarian phrase book sketch! In which a translation of "Please can you tell me the way to the post office?" becomes: "my hovercraft is full of eels!" at which Martin immediately (and impressively) rejoined with:
"Mi aerio de sliziador esta completa des anguilas", which for those of you who are still with me, is a translation into Spanish of "my hovercraft is full of eels!" Proving that Martin was also a complete Monty Python Anorak! Poor Stan (for that was the older gentleman's name) was left speechless by all this, a very unusual state for him, I later learned - his is quite the extrovert. Once we had our fill of Monty Python, we discovered these three were father (Stan) from Poland, resident of Toronto for many years, son Martin now living in New York and daughter Ania, living in Toronto. They are also doing the Rongai route, and I looked forward to seeing more of them. By 9.00 there was no more putting off this serious packing chore, so I say goodnight and depart.
Sunday 23rd Jan
In the morning have my last shower and wash hair for the next 7 days - which was a complete waste of time - by the end of our 6 hour bus ride to the Rongai gate, I am so covered with red dust stuck to sweat (delightful), that I look like I have a great tan!
Wayne has managed to change some traveller's cheques and very kindly lends me USD 60. I join the melee in the courtyard at our appointed departure time of 8.30. Of course nothing happens for a while eventually those doing Rongai route are told what bus to get on. The Americans barely speak to me, they were all excitable and ignore me and I find a seat at the back. Ania, Martin and Stan (The Polish Canadians) soon arrive in high spirits and are extremely friendly. There is no sign of my guide, Stephen. Eric, the Polish Canadians guide was there, and Wilson (American's guide) was also absent. I'm anxious and Eric, says to me not to worry - we would pick up Stephen on the way. At 9.15 we set off. Within minutes we stop to pick up porters, cooks, assistant cooks, assistant guides and hangers on along the road. And then a long stop at Zara's (tour operator's office) where more bodies appear, including Stephen. Eventually there is standing room only and we lurch off again. Oh and there's another stop for petrol! And we're off again and this time it's not a false start. Six hours later (3.30 pm) we are at the Rongai gate having suffered the last three hours at a snail's pace (something wrong with the bus' suspension) on red dust, unmade roads. Lowlights of the journey included: a loo stop at the back of a kind of pub in a village, where the toilets are the kind of holes in the ground (which I can cope with), but the fact that they were right next to where food was being cooked and served was not good; The other off putting thing were carcases of meat (beef I think), hanging in the open air either under a veranda in one village, or in a doorway in another. Made me glad I am vegetarian. We pass through banana plantations (for the first time, I see that the bottom of a banana bunch is a delightful burgundy coloured flower!) and all sorts of lush vegetation. Through villages, where brilliantly, colourfully dressed women and children wave to us. It's Sunday and they all in their Sunday best.
Finally we are at the Rongai gate and another hour of chaos follows while everything is unloaded and allocated amongst the porters and we all sign in. At 4.00pm we set off, the Americans have already departed and Stephen is still trying to organise things (as is Eric), so he tells me to go with the Poles, so off we go. I chat to Ania, who is carrying a huge day pack (it's a wheelie suite case type rucksack and the whole thing probably weighs 15 kilos), she says it's her security blanket - she has stuff for every eventuality!
Ania tells me that this trip to Kilimanjaro was a sixtieth birthday present to her father of 18 months ago and Martin had decided to join the trip later. She wants the trip to be a family bonding exercise. I can tell already that they are a lovely family, so warm and affectionate and extremely amusing. They are the kind of people that like to sing and make up amusing words as they go along - no don't feel sick - they are not like the Von Trapp Family! I soon leave them behind. Stan joins me for a while, but feels he should stay with Ania and Martin. I climb alone for the better part of 2 hours, through fields of maize and potatoes, pine forests and then above the tree level (2,500m) heather to the first camp, Simba at 2,700 metres.
There are lots of tents and people milling around, I can see the Americans sitting on the ground waiting for their tents to be put up. I sit down near them and they ignore me. After a while I'm getting cold - the sun is setting and it's colder at this altitude. I wander around trying to find Stephen and can't, so I wonder back to a stream and wash my filthy legs and feet. Stephen finds me and takes me back to my tent and they bring me hot water and I have a proper wash. The water is red with dust! The rucksack, everything is covered.
I find that the Poles are near me and they invite me to join them for dinner. Very weird - my dinner is served by my cook in their tent. I had mushroom soup which Stan takes a shine to, and fried potatoes and a vegetable stew, followed by fruit and hot water. All very acceptable and they are excellent company. Stephen and Eric were sitting on stools in the doorway to the tent, where the four of us sat on bedding mats on the floor of a very small tent. Eric speaks excellent English; Stephen's was not so good. The Poles have taken pity on my lonely status and ask me to join them for the next couple of days until our paths part (I have a 7 day trip which means I spend an extra day on the way up acclimatizing - their trip is 6 days). I am delighted and accept. After a while we are all too uncomfortable and cramped over, in the tent, so we go outside to stand and chat and look at the incredible moonlit sky. But it's cold, so we all turn in, I'm in bed by 9.00pm and surprised to fall quickly asleep and have a good night. There is a very large and noisy porters' tent next door to me, where all conversations are shouted above the noise of the blaring radio. With earplugs, I have no problems.
Monday 24th January 2005 from Simba Camp (2,700m) to Second Cave (3,300m)
Wake at 7.00, having spent all night fighting not to slide of the mattress - I am camped on a slope. This did not affect my having a good night. My washing water comes late - they are already having breakfast. I rush to get ready (with everything packed) and join them for breakfast - bread, cheese, omelette and then porridge which I reject as it came last. I am given my water bottles filled and transfer some to the camel pack. This is boiled stream water but I also add water purification tablets.
Leaving at 8.30, walking with Stephen, soon ahead of the others and did the 4 to 5 hour walk in 3 hours, arriving at Second Cave at 11.30. I wait while Stephen gets tent sorted and then unpack a bit and get diary out with grand intentions. I am camped quite a long way from the Poles and I go and pay them a visit. If I stick to my plan with Stephen, I will not see them again after tonight. Ania says that Eric has suggested that I join with them for the ascent and take my extra day coming down. I am overcome by their generosity and say so, but say I will think about it - only because I have the extra day and I don't want to fail. I go back to my tent for lunch, which the waiter grandly spreads out on a tablecloth on the ground at my tent door. While I eat, Tony (one of the Americas) arrives and with the merest level of friendliness that politeness dictates, asks if he can have my "Milo"? I don't know what he is talking about, so he points to a tin on my "lunch table". It's a milky chocolate drink - apparently they are mad about it - they think it will be their salvation - the only thing that will get them to the top. I have no use for it, (I don't like milk) so I give it to him. I 'm not sure it actually belongs to me - surely it belongs to my cook and guide - but never mind!
When I join the Poles later they relate that one of the American women had actually stolen their Milo off their breakfast table and Eric had gone and asked Wilson (their guide) for it back. Wilson had refused to get involved and so Eric had had to go and ask the American woman to hand it over - all very embarrassing! Apparently they have already gone through two large tins that their cook bought with them and we are only on day two. I told them about Tony coming and asking me for my Milo. Thereafter the Americans became known as the "Milo junkies"!
It started to rain so I close the door and pull my diary towards me and before I know it I'm asleep (hope you are not!) for hours….so surprised. It rains and thunders and rains. Eventually I get up and go to their tent and we all play cards including Eric and Stephen. Very funny and it's agreed that I will join them for the ascent and have the extra day coming down. Feeling so much happier we go for a walk at 6.15 and it's getting dark, because of the dark clouds. On the way back thunder and lightening starts, we sing all the way back and I am so glad I will be with them.
I thought I would have dinner with them, but Stephen says it will be too difficult in the rain, so I eat with Stephen in my tent, then over to theirs. Now it's a wonderful clear night and beautiful full moon. They are too full and cramped over to spend long in the tent, so we go outside and the snow capped Kilimanjaro peak looks fantastic in the moonlight and we all wish we could somehow take a picture. Mount Mawenze (5,150m), a neighbouring snow capped mountain, is also magically displayed in the moonlight. But again it's too cold to stand around for long so we go to bed - it's only 8.30. Surprisingly after all the sleep I had this afternoon, I'm asleep in no time. At some time in the night there is an earthquake.
Tuesday 25th January 2005: from Second Cave (3,300m) to Third Cave (3,800m)
Up at 7.00 and breakfast with the Poles and lots of shouting "pass the Milo" to annoy the Americans, who are camped near by! Ania says the earthquake happened at 2.00 am and she got up to look around then and then had vivid dreams of being chased down the mountain by lava flows. They say altitude can cause very vivid dreams. Stan complained of being cold in the night, he sleeps alone in his tent. Martin might move in with him tonight. He and Martin have rented sleeping bags and they are not very good! Ania has every "keep you warm" gadget known to man, including foot warmers and a Russian fur hat! Her pack that the porter carries is over 20 kilos! It's supposed to be no more than 15 kilos. Pack and leave by 8.45 and the three hour walk to the next camp only takes me one and half hours! The walk is through heather and many pretty flowers. Near the near campsite there is Stan, above us, on top of a very large rock. I want to climb the rock, so we go round and find a bloodied Stan who has fallen down the last bit of his descent. Have I got "Band-Aid"? (What are they?). Many wet-ones, loo paper and plasters later he is repaired. I try to climb the rock but it's too difficult. We are camped far apart again. Ania comes to say hello and I have lunch alone. Sleep - seem to be able to sleep so much! I go and play cards with the Poles and guides and then a walk and amused ourselves playing a kind of skittles - throwing stones to knock over a pile of rocks.
Martin and I joke about "When we last climbed the twin peaks of Kilimanjaro!" (Monty Python).
We have dinner in their tent, very cramped. I ask Stan if he intends sleeping alone tonight, because if he did, I had a present for him! After much merriment he said he would be alone and I give him a foil blanket that I got from one of the marathons and he is delighted and goes off to try it out. We try to play some more games, but it's so uncomfortable we give up and gaze at the stunning summit in the moonlight until cold and apprehension drives me to my sleeping bag at 9.15. Very cold but slept ok, turning over many times. I have discovered the metal Sigg bottle makes an excellent hot water bottle, wrapped in a walking sock it lasts hot until the early hours.
Wednesday 26th & Thursday 27th January 2005: from Third Cave (3,800m) to Kibo Camp (4,703m) Alpine desert to Ice Cap
Summit day! This is a very long day so bear with me!
Wake at 6.40 to thick frost making the tent door cardboard as I wrestle the zip with freezing fingers - once I'm out its stunning, sparkling everywhere as the sun appears over Mawensa Mountain. I go and have breakfast with them - or rather my breakfast is delivered to me at their tent! Martin had not slept well and was on a rock painting the summit and he showed me a great picture he has done of Eric. Martin is an artist (as well as a qualified architect). Stan has had a good night and even said he was too hot at one point, with his new foil blanket! But his problem last night was sleeping on a slope - he had his head up hill, but felt he was continually sliding down the tent.
We set off at 8.55 "Pole, Pole" (which is Swahili for Slowly, Slowly) as we climb to 4,703m. A three hour climb takes me two and half hours, including a stop for a packed lunch picnic.
Kibo Camp (4,703m) is very crowded with those that have done it and those that are about to do it. This is the final camp and there are huts here, which people stay in on Marangu routes and proper toilets - sort of - still holes in the ground, but there is the promise of electric lighting (light bulbs), which it later turns out don't work in our toilets, but work in the segregated guides and porters toilets - one up for the guides! Stephen guides me to my tent and I sort stuff - its starts raining and hailing. The landscape here is like the moon - lava gravel and the only way to be comfortable is to be on the mattress. While I lie in my tent I hear Martin and Stan (right outside -today they are camped right next to me) discussing how to stop Stan sliding down the slope tonight. Martin is hauling rocks to place at Stan's feet (outside the tent), so that as Stan slips down he can push on the rocks. Only problem for me is that where he puts the rocks is where my head is! I keep quiet, I'll be sliding down my tent too!
I write out my contact details for Ania and just seeing my address written down suddenly fills me with a wave of homesickness. Such a keen longing for this to be over and to be home. But I put a stop to this by asking myself "home to what?" Job search? Rejection? Stress? English winter? And guess what? More sleeping and then say hello to the others. It's quite late by then and Stephen appears and says dinner will be at 5.00pm. I ask for it to be changed to 6.00 and go for a walk with Ania, Stan and Eric, we go a short way up the way we will climb later tonight. We come back at 6.00pm to find that in the spirit of reconciliation, Wilson (the American's guide) offers us their eating tent (yes they have an eating tent complete with table and stools), for our meal. In the spirit of reconciliation because Wilson and Eric had had a big falling out over the accusation of the Americans stealing the Milo. Oh it's all drama up here!
What luxury to sit at a table (even though it has major sloping problems!), so I rush of to find Gemma's (sister) Christmas candles. Despite the luxury we are all very subdued and apprehensive.
We go to bed at 7.00pm, but by the time I sort out everything I think I'm going to need for the summit its 8.00pm. I go to bed in thermals and socks, with pyjamas over the top. My metal Sigg flask filled with boiling water (wrapped in a sock) acting as a hot water bottle. My day pack emptied of all necessaries except a very nutty cereal bar, extra gloves, two cameras and spare batteries for cameras and off course the essential toilet paper. Head torch at the ready. To my surprise and despite the noise all around me I drop off. Porters are conversing at a shouting level over their radios blaring! Thank God for earplugs! When I wake again it is 10.40 and I get up slowly (things are an effort at this altitude) and empty the still hot Sigg flask into my camel pack (a camel pack is a thicken plastic water bag that fits in your rucksack and has a tube which clips to one of your shoulder straps - this means your hands are free and you don't have to carry a water bottle). I also transfer all batteries to my trouser pocket, where they'll stay warm. When the waiter arrives with tea and biscuits I only drink hot water and then get my Sigg flask refilled with boiling water. The Sigg flask goes in a sock again and in my rucksack. I now have two litres of water for the ascent. I dress in a wick away T-shirt, 2 thin long sleeved polar fleeces, thermal top, water proof and breathable walking jacket on top, Thermals (already on), double fabric walking trousers, coolmax socks, boots and gaiters on the bottom. For my head and hands: hat, turtle neck and ski gloves. Talk about Michelin Man! Stephen helps me put the tubing from the camel pack inside my jacket, so it won't freeze and takes one of the cameras of me. I tell him to be snap-happy and use the whole film. 11.30 when I come back from a final loo visit the Poles are leaving. They say "don't worry you'll soon catch us up!"
Stephen and I leave at 11.45pm. It's a magnificent moon-lit night with an amazing halo around the moon. I couldn't have planned this better if I had tried - it never occurred to me to look up full moons in the planning stages of this trip. I am wearing the head torch over my woolly hat and it is on. Stephen asks me to turn it off, we don't need it; the moon is so brilliant and there are moon shadows everywhere.
There is a signpost as we leave the camp, "Gilman's Point 5,685 metres - 5 hours"
We walk up, up, up and overtake people, even though we go really slowly. The slope is very steep and the path zigzags back and forth across the slope. The terrain is lava gravel and rocks and it is hard going. There are many groups zigging and zagging their way up, some with their headlights looking like trains, some just dark moon shadows. At Hans Meyer Cave (5,150 metres) which is the halfway point to Gilman's Point, altitude sends me stumbling off over rocks to disappear behind larger rocks for a loo stop. I feel so much better after. A figure scrambling over the rocks above me, only just gets his pants down just in time with lots of farting - poor bloke! Altitude has a lot to answer for. Back at the cave lots of others have arrived and stopped for a break - so we set off ahead of them. Gradually we overtake everyone and then increase the distance between us and them. We just keep going, no breaks, and the going gets steeper and steeper as the gradient increases. We zig and zag and sometimes it's one step forward and slip back half a step in the loose lava gravel. It's so steep now that I am saying to myself "Don't look up", instead of "Don't look down". I know that if I look up I will be defeated by how steep and how far it is. I follow Stephen's footsteps and his moon shadow. I remember everything I have read about altitude sickness and I drink from the tube every other zag and eventually I've drunk a whole litre. I breathe lots - I need so many more lungfuls of air. I try singing the Beatles "lend me your hand…." to keep my spirits up, but it's a struggle on my own and Stephen doesn't join in. Despite the "Don't look up" manta in my head, I do, and I see that the terrain becomes worse - above the lava scree is metres of massive boulders - all the more daunting in the moon shadows. I'm not sure I'm going to make it….. but eventually we are climbing over the first of the boulders and it still seems unattainable but "pole, pole" we climb over the crater rim and onto Gilman's Point at 5685 metres. It's 3.50 am and we have climbed just under 1,000 metres in 4 hours. We are the first ones up here and well ahead of any others. Stephen gets going with the Camera and I sit down to eat the nutty cereal bar. Not a good idea - it was too difficult chewing and swallowing the one mouthful I try. I can't get enough saliva around to swallow - eventually I manage it and gave the rest of the bar to Stephen. Stephen helps me refill the camel pack from the still warm Sigg flask and we set off again - it's too cold to hang around. My hands have already gone dead, despite gloves. Stephen tells me it's another 2 hours to the Uhuru summit at 5,895 metres and another 200m climb. The path skirts the crater rim round to our left. The going is much easier - occasionally small downward stretches! There is lots of snow around and suddenly an immense glacier dominates the horizon to our left. Massive snow cliffs seeming to appear out of the mountain, shinning brilliant white in the moon light and I realise that the sky is also brightly lit by the stars. Before I reached Gilman's I had been desperately trying not to look up.
We pass Stella Point and I notice trains of people snaking their way up the Machame route. It's all breathtaking (excuse the pun) up here, the glacier to our left, snowy crater to our right and all brilliantly illuminated by the moon and stars - I'm having trouble taking it all in. Suddenly there is a pain in my stomach and my mouth gets a metallic taste and I know I'm going to be sick. I tell Stephen and start retching and bring up the one mouth full of nutty cereal bar (I told you it was a mistake, but I suppose at least it was something to bring up!). Stephen produces a roll of toilet paper and I clean myself up. I again remember everything I've read about altitude sickness and my research tells me we should immediately descend. I seek Stephen's opinion; He asks if I have a headache? I don't. He says we should carry on - it's not far to the summit. I know the guides know very little about altitude sickness, but I feel ok (the sickness was all so sudden and now I feel better), so we carry on. And in another 20 minutes we are there. The time is 5.09 am and we have come from Gilman's Point in 1 hour and 9 minutes. We are completely alone with the summit, the moon, the stars, and the frost forming on our arms, heads and rucksacks. Stephen is ecstatic, hugs and kisses exchanged and he rushes about taking pictures for me. I'm elated, but it's not really sinking in that I have done it!
We start to descend and it's quite a while before we meet anyone ascending. The first few, we meet Stephen tells the guide (in Swahili) what time we summated and the guide shakes my hand and hugs me and everyone in the train behind congratulates me. I wish them good luck and we carry on. This is repeated many times. At some stage we meet the Americans and Wilson and muffled congratulations are received and Good Lucks exchanged! We must have overtaken them on the ascent, but I didn't see them. And then one guide asks Stephen what was wrong with me and why did we have to turn back? Stephen delights in telling them; there is nothing wrong with me and the time we were at the summit. Off we go again and eventually just short of Gilman's we meet Eric, Ania and Martin. We exchange news and they congratulate me. Ania is very concerned because her father had to turn back, would we look out for him? We say of course. He is with their assistant guide, Messenger. Apparently Stan was overcome by a desire to go to sleep. Eric asks to borrow my sunglasses, which I dig out of my rucksack.
We are back at Gilman's point by 6.20 am and the sky is just starting to turn red in a horizontal broad band behind the snow capped jagged peaks of Mawenzi (5,150m). The band is between two horizontal banks of clouds and it broadens and changes colour in a most spectacular way - the sky in this band is on fire. We both snap away at the sunrise with my two cameras. Gilman's Point is crowded and some of the people don't look too well, in fact some are being supported by others and some are in a zombie state. We start going down the rocky boulder stretch and I ask Stephen to stick with me as I hate going down. We meet lots of parties still on the ascent to Gilman's and often the one at the end of the train is the walking dead. I ask Stephen if they have been walking since midnight and he says, no, probably not. Some guides don't like the cold on the top in the night, so they leave at 3 or 4 in the morning. so that they have the sun on the top.
After the boulders Stephen suggested we ignore the zigzags and just sort of run straight down. I fall over loads, until we hold hands and go for it. I still fall over, but we go faster! It not actually too bad, as the gravely lava scree gives under my feet, so it's not jarring on ankles or knees. It's just a long, long way. We are down by 7.45, so after nearly one and half hours descending in this fashion, my knees are shaking. We pass a sign that marks 5000 metres; I missed it on the way up. I'm getting warmer and warmer and eventually, when we stop for a drink, I realise I'm still wearing my headlight on top of my woolly hat! I take a few layers off and really wish I hadn't given my sunglasses to Eric - we are descending directly into the sun. It's amazing as we come down through the cloud level. It's all happening so quickly - it's all very well doing the whole climb and descent in 8 hours, but you don't hang around much! And no, in case you are wondering, I never took the Diamoxin.
We see Stan near the entrance to Kibo Camp. I go and see if he is all right. He is still dazed, but he is down and demanding washing water! I do some stretches to get rid of the shaking knees and ask for some washing water. Water is a scarce commodity at this camp, as there are no streams and all water had to be carried from the last camp.
I go to bed and sleep until 10.am. Its very noisy with others returning euphoric or frustrated. Plus the usual porters conversing at a shouting level, over their blaring radios. Then an early lunch, of which I don't manage much. Pack up and leave at 11.00. I say goodbye to Martina and Stan and hope to see them later. Martin got back at 10.30 and says Ania and Eric are still on their way, back expected to take another hour. We are on our way to Horombo Camp at 3,725 metres; it is a three hour trek. We are going back down the Marangu route. Stephen euphoria is over and he hardly speaks to me. Maybe he is just a moody person. Eventually I ask him where he plans that I should take the extra day? (You may wonder why I keep on about this extra day - the reason is that I was advised to take it by the travel agent and it cost UKP 95 and a local payment of USD 90, so in all about USD250. I knew that it would not be possible to get a refund. Other alternatives were changing my flight home etc., but there were complications here as well, such as having no keys to my house if I arrived prior my intended arrival date.) I don't really want to stay in the mountain any longer and I know that the Poles will be back at the hotel celebrating the following night and I'd like to be there too. Stephen doesn't seem keen on the extra day either and I suggest to him that if the hotel could be persuaded to give me a free night, at the hotel in exchange for the extra day, I would be happy to finish the trip tomorrow. He agrees to phone the hotel from his mobile.
We arrive at Horombo in two and half hours and now I'm really tired, feet hurting, hips hurting! This is a very crowded camp - with many huts (like a town) with proper toilets (you can sit on) segregated into men and woman and there is running water.
I fall asleep till 5.00ish. It rains while I sleep and I am sitting in the cold sunlight writing my diary, when Stephen tells me that I can have the free night in the hotel. I am delighted - I will go down with the others tomorrow. I see Stan and Eric come down the hill at 5.00 and go to meet them. Ania and Martin are an hour behind. The camp is so crowded that their tent is pitched a long way away. Stephen and I have dinner outside my tent and then we go and play cards with them and tell our stories. Stan says that he was hallucinating at Gilman's point - he thought rocks were people or tents and he just wanted to crawl inside one and go to sleep. At 9.00 we make our way to our camp, its very cold and the sky is beautifully clear and starry. The moon hasn't risen yet. I don't sleep that well - I am on sloping ground and am continually sliding down towards my feet.
Friday 28th January 2005 from Horombo Camp ( 3,725 m) to Mandara Camp (2,700m) and then Marangu Gate (1,800 m)
I'm up and packed and over to have breakfast with the others by 7.30. They are very subdued. Martin is not feeling well, Ania is concerned and Stan is very quiet. Stan jokes that he didn't sleep well - perpetually on the slide and with no Judy's head (where Martin had put the rocks the previous night) to stop him sliding! I wait for ages for Stephen who doesn't appear, so I start walking with Stan. Ania and Martin have already gone as they want to reduce the altitude and increase Martin's well being as quickly as possible. The walk is beautiful through strange lush green vegetation that only grows above 3,000 metres. They are small trees and they look like a cactus tree trunk (but they are not cactus) with palm tree leaves on top. We leave at 8.20 and arrive at the Marangu gate at about 3.00pm. The last few hours are through lush forests and I see blue monkeys - adults and babies. I walk sometimes with Stan and sometimes alone and sometimes with Ania. The more we descend the more pressure on hips, knees, soles of feet. Ania has invited Eric to join them for dinner at the hotel - did I want to invite Stephen? Reluctantly I explain my money predicament. I will try to get to an ATM and I will invite him. I invite him and he accepts. The route is very crowded - people going up and down. Some very friendly, a couple of people on wheelie stretchers. The day gets hotter as we descend and at last we reach the Marangu gate and we all get our certificates and Ania kindly buys beers for everyone. There is a fantastic satellite photograph poster of the mountain with all the different routes marked on it. It was USD 20 and I couldn't afford it. Stan buys one. Maybe I'll be able to get one when I get back. Stephen asks me for money to tip the porters. I get out the USD 90 I have, which the instructions had said was the correct amount, at USD 15 per day. He is not happy and says it should be USD25 per porter. I tell him it's all I have and it's in one 50 dollar bill and two twenties. If he wants me to hand it out to them he better get some change. When he gives me the change I suggest he keeps what he wants for himself (he takes USD 40) and I hand out USD 10 to each porter, cook and assistant cook. I feel it's not my fault that I was not part of a group. We get in a Landover and travel back to Moshi in an hour on a decent road. We stop at an ATM and my cards are rejected - it's a VISA ATM! Ania comes to my rescue and I am even more in debt! We are in the hotel by 5.0 and having retrieved my bag and found a bikini, I am in the pool by 6.00. We meet for dinner at 7.30 and doesn't everyone clean up well? Martin is now beardless, Stan is continuing with his. Ania and I have gone very feminine, after days of wearing indiscriminate mutli-layers. Eric and Stephen arrive looking very smart. The Poles gave Eric a whole bag of goodies and I gave Stephen a tiny radio, which I use when I run. Most of the guides (and Stephen was no exception) and porters have a large radio blaring (doesn't seem to be a signal problem anywhere on the mountain) with them, wherever they are - in the camp or walking. We eat, not very good again, but we have fun. Martin is still not on form and retires to bed at 9.00. Stan orders some cheese to go with the red wine and it arrives grated! We move back to the outside bar area and play cards and drink loads.
I meet them for breakfast and Ania and I pour over their travel schedule. They are coming to London next Thursday for one night. We discover we can cancel their B&B with 24 hours notice and they will come and stay the night with me in London, and I can repay Ania. I say goodbye to them at 1.00pm and they go to Zimbabwe. Later I go into town with Stephen and meet a group of six Germans, who are also staying at the hotel and I have another enjoyable night with them, after I have done that horrible task of packing.
On Sunday I leave Moshi for an eight and half hour journey to Nairobi. When I cross the border back into Kenya there is no issue about my single entry visa into Kenya and a whole week of worrying was for nothing. I look out for Wayne at the airport, to try and pay my debts, but there is no sign. Finally I end my trip, when I board the 11.20 BA flight home that night.
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