I stepped in the shower, turned the hot water on and like a prisoner who had just tasted freedom, I let the water run down my body. I was having the first “proper” shower in 7 days. I closed my eyes and let my mind wonder. How had I arrived at this point? Fast rewind to January 2016. We were having an AGM for our running group and the issue of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro came up. One of the members Maureen(Mo) said that she had always wanted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and asked if there were others interested. I was going to turn 40 sometime towards the end of the year. On my bucket list for that milestone were two Ultra marathons which I was training for-The two Oceans 56 kilometers in Cape town and the 90 kilometers Comrades marathon in Durban South Africa. Like many other people in the group, I jumped onto the bandwagon. July was set as the tentative climb month so that I could have enough time to recover from the grueling Comrades, which was to take place on 29th May.
Fast-forward to July 2016 and the date had been changed to August and out of the 7 prospective climbers we only had 3 of us left-Mo, Nick and myself. Shopping for hiking gear turned out to be an extremely expensive affair. Eventually we managed to get what we required from various shops. There was a plan to do two hills as training before Kilimanjaro but our schedules were too tight. We eventually dropped the plans and decided to go in Faith.
In July, two weeks to the climb date, we got news that a South African rally driver had died climbing Kilimanjaro. A lot of thoughts went though my head. I was fit for sure, but I have a lot of issues with tonsils and used to nose bleed a lot up until around age 35. How was I going to cope with the extreme cold and the reduced pressure at attitude? Faith it was-I soldiered on…
Departure Nairobi – Arusha date 06-07/08/16 night
On 6th afternoon, the Saturday before Sunday departure, I parked my car in Yaya centre to run a number of errands. At some point I went back to the car to pick my wallet and a guard pointed at my front bumper. The number plate was missing. This was the car I was to use to Tanzania. Had I dropped it or had someone stolen it? Was it a sign to drop the trip?
“Excuse me sir,” the guard said. “Some gentleman parked too close to your car and ripped off the number plate when leaving. We detained him for a long time hoping that you would come to the car sooner. We eventually let him leave but he left his contact”. He then handed me the number plate. The mount plate had been ripped off the bumper but the bolts were still there. I took the number plate and headed to a garage. The mechanic did his magic and the plate was back on. I called the gentleman who had caused the damage and told him I had repaired but was not going to pass the charge to him unless it worked loose en-route. I then headed home.
One of my neighbours saw me putting bags in the car and inquired where I was travelling to and on learning that I was going to climb Kili she told her daughter to wish me goodbye because I may not come back. When I politely spoke my mind about that comment she quickly changed the statement to I might not come back okay just like some relative of theirs who had attempted the climb. I had a number of comments to make but I kept them to myself. One person’s opinions were not going to bring me down
I had planned to sleep early since we were to leave in the night but there were lots of loose ends to tie. Eventually when I set the alarm for 2:15am, I had 2:55 hrs to wake up alarm.
I left home around 3 am, picked up Mo then Nick and we set off for Namanga at about 3.40 am. The drive went well, border crossing at that time was fast and we were in Arusha at 7:40.We had breakfast, linked up with two Ugandan ladies that were part of our team, locked our car and left in a bus for the Machame route gate. The clearing/weighing process took a long time but we finally began climbing at 2pm. A photo at the start point marked the beginning of the climb.
We started the climb bellowing out the Shosholoza tune which we had learnt during the runs we had earlier in the year in South Africa and eventually some other East African hits to keep the climbing psyche up. I expected that the climbing would be slow. But this was way too slow. Nothing like I had ever done before. I had to constantly remind myself that I hadn’t trained and needed to be disciplined and follow instructions. After some time, we started getting exhausted and the songs died out. This was supposed to be an 11 km walk, which was to take 5hrs.
Every now and then, we discussed various issues, the high school children burning schools back in Kenya as the O-level mocks approached, our growing up and the kind of beating we used to receive etc and how kids of nowadays were getting away with murder. In our days a burning school was never a thought that crossed our minds leave alone the thought of us having something to do with that fire starting.
Our first indoctrination to the mountain life came in the form of bathroom calls. The ladies would struggle to find a hidden spot but the guys only required to look the other way and do their business. We kept joking about snakes and spiders in the vegetation but they still went so far out of the paths.
We arrived at Machame camp at around 7pm, signed in at the Camp office and then went to the tents are. There were lots of tents. It looked like a refugee camp, we were shown to our tents.
A number of thoughts go through the mind when you open the tent. Size is the first shock you get-and to make it worse, its shared with another person and all your bags. You sleep on the floor, get in or out crawling, you dress either on your knees, seated or bending. You can’t stand. It dawned on me that even standing could be a luxury. (Picture your bedroom or any room for that matter that you get in on all fours, and the next time you stand up is when you go out…. if you get in to sleep, you only stand when you are outside.) We had to fight a bit of the depression that all this conditions brought. They were self-inflicted. This was day 1 of 7.We couldn’t let the mind give up this early.
I was going to share mine with Nick. We got our sleeping bags, which we were hiring from the trip organizers. The sleeping bags looked small, the mats very thin. We asked for the toilets – long drop it was… There was no telephone network, no tap water, no electricity; no TV around there was “nothing”! This was going to be our home; our lifestyle for the next 7 days. We got in and started arranging our stuff. We needed to change and remove the clothes that had gathered dirt on the first sector of the climb. Of course later on we had to adjust to staying with not very clean clothes. We didn’t have enough to change after each sector especially bearing in mind that we had to wear a number of sets to keep warm.
After some while, one of our crew members ‘Juma’ opened the zips to our tents. “Haya…kujeni muoge”(come shower). The guy had two small containers with about 2 liters of water in them. I thought he brought soup.” This is your shower water” he said. Still in shock I got my bathing towel out-(I love my showers…guys curse when I get into the shower in the gym before them because even my quickest shower to make way for the rest takes time.
Yet here we were having to make do with less water than could satisfy my thirst in a very short run). We had to revisit those high school “passport only ” shower days. The water was steaming hot but within two minutes owing to the cold temperatures, the heat was already going down. I mopped the areas that mattered-the face, the armpits and you know what else, dried and changed.
We then assembled in a tent that was bigger than the rest. This was going to be our mountain dining room-and here we could stand. We got some tea and as we waited for dinner to be serve,Nick walked out. After about 30 seconds he called me outside.” I’m feeling nauseated ”, he said. I took his hand and led him to an area that had some grass. Keeping a safe angle not to be the landing point of the accident if it happened. (No water here. Remember?).He then said, “I feel weak”. I put one of his hands over my shoulder and wrapped my hand on his waist…”The nausea is going. But I need to use the bathroom”. Things were degenerating fast. I led him to the toilet very worried that he may not manage to squat in his weak state. I now mentally prepared to assist in whatever way I would be required to-but with fingers crossed. He however went in, did his business while keeping one hand that held the tissue paper in my view I guess as a flag indicator for me to tell if he was still on his feet .He eventually came out. Suddenly he said, “I feel weak” …I wrapped my hands round his waist while standing behind him. He then started going on his knees. I had heard that human beings get very heavy when they pass out. The little guy felt like an elephant…I let him get on his knees and kept the support struggling to make sure he did not fall. He then passed out and was making strange noises and convulsing. This drama was unfolding fast. ….
Some guy came to the toilet and I requested him to run for help in our dining tent. I thought help was taking too long. I shouted.”Mo please call the guide” Luckily, Nick started coming around…. there was a blank look on his face…I helped him up. (Later on he would tell us that when he came about and looked up, he was wondering why there was a sky over his head). Eventually, the lead guide came and we helped Nick to the tent. The guide ordered for some hot water with lemon for him which he took and then a bit of food. When we were sure that he was ok, I joined the rest in the dining tent for dinner.
Lots of thoughts were going through my mind…was this mountain sickness; this was one of the only two climbers who had already climbed Mount Kenya…. I hadn’t climbed any mountain other than a hike in Ngong hills like two years ago, which would not be equated, to this kind of climb. If this guy was suffering on day 1, how would I manage…would this mountain monster come for me too?.Anyway I let the thoughts fade away and promised myself once again that I would follow all instructions to the letter and keep looking out for any odd signs. We then left for bed.
Night one was one long night. Too many changes from the norm in one go. Being in a sleeping bag was like steeping in a toothpaste tube. Turning was hectic. Every time I turned the bag twisted and I had to do lots of work untwisting the bag. I had one of my little daughters blankets that I pinched from their closet the night before departure acting as a pillow. My shoulders hurt, the cold was eating into my nose and neck. My feet were numb. I hoped that there was something that each day would bring in terms of getting used to the circumstance.
Then there was Nick. I wasn’t sure what had made him faint and was worried that the same “thing” would come for him in his sleep. I was constantly listening out for his breathing to confirm that he was still “with me”
I kept looking at the watch. The hours seemed to move more lazily than the lazy walks up the mountain. I got up at midnight to go for a short call. I could not locate the zip for the sleeping bag. After twisting and turning to a point of getting a stiff neck, I finally located it and got off. I unzipped the tent zips and was “met” by the cold mountain wind, which almost knocked me down. Wearing the boots was a mission.
The skies were clear, but the place was quiet and scary. I was wondering what animals live in the mountains. I walked a few meters from the tent looking in the direction of the toilet. I had no intention of going there. I did my business albeit the freezing winds and rushed back to the tent. I tried to get some sleep but that took a long time. Eventually I managed to sleep for a few hours then sleep “disappeared”. The next few hours were spent listening to Nick snoring until daylight. Bingo …. Day two was here.
Machame camp (2835m) – Shira camp (3850m) – Day 2
The climb started at 8 am. We woke up at 6:30 “showered”, had breakfast and left this was to be one the most difficult climbs. We started off at a very slow pace.
The route went through some hectic and rocky terrains. The course was tough. The climbs never ending. The views were awesome though the clouds eventually caught up with us and every now and then there would be some rainfall. I got to use my poncho(rain jacket)-at least it was worth buying. The ladies inhibitions had reduced. They were no longer having to walk a mile to pee and any way even a mile away was still open ground. A rock would do to screen the crowd off.
Somewhere in the climb, I thought about how we go about our day-to-day business oblivious of what other people have to do to make a living. The porters kept overtaking us with heavy loads on their backs. I couldn’t help but imagine how much life can be unfair. These guys were working so hard to make us realize our dreams. They broke their backs carrying luggage from one camp to the next one higher up to ensure that we enjoyed our stay at the camps-for a fee. But at this point I almost felt that the fee was too little. The discussions they had as they passed us at times were disheartening..About some of the issues they left back home, bills etc. When there was telephone network, you could overhear their conversations explaining to someone on the other end why they had not paid for this or that bill that they had to leave abruptly because they got called for a job that they had not anticipated. Despite all the hard work they put in, and all load on their shoulders, they were always polite as they passed us on the way. The guides cook etc were all very pleasant and accommodative. They even assisted to carry water bottles when some of the climbers felt that the bottlers were weighing then down (altitude made stuff feed heavy) without fussing.
We eventually got to Camp Shira at around 12:30pm, and had lunch. The guys didn’t offer water to shower and we didn’t ask. Guess most of us had so much fatigue. I kept thinking at this rate we would get grass growing in between our legs and toes. Anyway, day two was done. After lunch we asked the guides if we could take diamox the acclimatization tablets. The chemist lady who sold them to us had said that we needed to take them after day 2. The guide however asked us not to. We should have taken the day before start. The first thing that came into mind was that we were doomed.No training, no diamox, fainting day 1= no summiting. Then again I reminded us that our lives were not sustained by being in our comfort zones nor taking medicines but it was God who kept us alive and he was going to see us through.
Night eventually came and with it the same stress of so many hours available for sleep in an uncomfortable environment. The cold this night was a lot. I wore most of the clothes I had carried including three pairs of socks, balaclava and gloves. This was a hectic life. Couldn’t someone make a road to the summit and charge for guys to drive there, those who wanted to torture themselves climbing could still do so. Mine would be a summit business only. I mean- guys had gone to the moon decades ago, what was complex about making a road to the summit…anyway back to reality, we were here, no road and a mountain to tick off bucket list..
Shira camp(3850m)-lava tower (4600m) – Baranco camp (3900m) – Day 3
The day began with a wake up call at 6.30. Climb started at 8 o’clock anticipated time 4hrs to lava camp and 2 to Baranco. Although Baranco was almost at a similar elevation to Shira Camp, this was arguably one of the most important days as we were going to climb high and sleep low, which the guides said, was important for proper acclimatization. It was meant to be a big determinant of whether we would be able to summit.
The walk was extremely slow.we lazily rocked left side to right side. Terrain was rocky and hilly. We had many rest stops. As the air thinned, everyone was getting quite tired. I was fine though. I kept checking how my breathing was- looking for any signs of trouble. Probably expecting a big thing. Every now and then we would belt out some songs to keep the spirit up… Valu valu by Chameleon, Vanity by Daddy Owen…etc .One the team that had a Rastafarian with a music system playing reggae music passed us.That really felt nice on the mountains.
The porters chats continued to liven the otherwise boring climbs. It must be their way of killing the monotony of the climb. These chats to me were the official mountain radio station. Radio Kili. The stories continued- stories of which guy was dumped and who took away the others girlfriend etc. Another was telling his colleagues how some girl complained that he was always away in the mountain. I thought to myself, that she should be around to see what the guy goes through to put food on the table and she would never complain again.
We eventually got to Lava camp, had lunch and proceeded for the descend to Baranco camp. Somewhere on the route my phone rang. We were walking fast downhill so I couldn’t take the call. When we took a break I got the phone out and saw that it was Capt Nyanjui a helicopter pilot friend who had called. I had asked him to be on standby to come and look for us if we got lost or had a problem. His call was some comforting relief. At least he had taken my issue seriously. This guy had once crashed in the Aberdares forest in a helicopter and a massive search was carried out for him.Probably one of the biggest rescue searches ever in Kenya.He was found after 9 days very week and with a number of fractures. He knew what it meant to be in a life-threatening situation. There was no network at that point so I sent a text and moved on.
Eventually we arrived at Baranco Camp, signed in and went to our tents. We asked for our bath water which we had not taken the previous day and had an awesome shower. We had adjusted to the bowl circumstance-or was it resigned to it?
After the bath we had tea, chatted for a bit as we waited for dinner. We learnt a lot about Uganda cultural expectations of a woman, she was to treat a man like a king, there was a program of how you receive and treat a man right from when he gets home to when he eats etc.He was met at the door by the wife with some sweet words to calm him after a hard days work, helped to remove his coat, walked to the seat and assisted to remove shoes and socks. Food was always to be served warm-even if he came past midnight. The ladies had established a way of moderating the fire so that regardless of what time the ‘King’ came home, the food was warm. No microwaving, no heating.
Dinner menu was pasta, mince meat and a nice vegetable soup . We then left for bed after we got a briefing for the next day, we were to start off at 9 the following day.I had almost 12 hours to sleep. What was I going to do?? The night was long as expected. I slept probably 6hrs and was tossing and turning the rest.
Baranco camp (3900m) – Karanga camp (3960m) Day 4
The climb began at 9 o’clock. The route started with a climb of the famous Baranco wall. This is a part of the mountain that is almost at 90o to the surface and the route meanders through all manner of rocks. This climb was tough and due to the number of people (climbers and porters) and the fact that the paths were narrow, the pace was extremely slow. At times we could be held up in one position for over 10 min. We pitied the porters who with loads of cargo on their back or neck tried to maneuver through the human traffic and narrow paths. Every now and then we let out a melody to kill the boredom of the slow climb.
The area was very windy and cold but had been well advised during the previous nights briefing of the expected weather conditions. After the hectic climb we went down, through a flat area and up again a number of times. Eventually we came to a very dusty section of the last down hill and took a last water/rest break as we prepared to climb the last hill that was going to bring us to Karanga Camp. To get our minds of the steep incline, we sang some bongo songs (Anita, Kigoma etc) and also discussed about how we would take home some of the issues we had heard about Uganda women’s treatment of their men and try to implement some. I joked at how I would probably be hit with a pan on my face if I as much as suggested that it would be nice if we tried out some of that treatment. Many laughs later we ended up at Karanga camp stretched, registered and were shown to our tents. We had our usual sponge bath, changed and had tea and lunch after which I went to take some photos as others went to rest in their tents.
The evening was extremely windy. We were worried that our tents would be taken away. Sure enough one tent for another group was blown away. We joked that the tent with Uganda ladies was safe because they were more physically blessed than the rest of us. Mo’s tent was most vulnerable due to her weight. The wind was so strong the light in the dining tent was shaking violently with the whole tent making our shadows shift like a scene from a horror movie. The joke was that the gods of summit were scaring away cowardly climbers. We eventually had dinner, had a briefing and went to sleep. This night was extremely cold. My alarm registered 8 hours 15 min to wake up time.
By about 2 am, all my sleep was gone and I kept tossing and turning. At 2.30 I needed to go to the bathroom but on opening the tent zip, the outside was so cold, decided to pee while kneeling in the tent directing the business to a sloppy part of the “tent veranda”. There was no way I was going to go out there.
Karanga camp (3960m)- Barafu camp (4680m) – Day 5
We got up, had our usual shower and did it a bit more thoroughly. We had been informed during the previous nights briefing that there was no water source in Barafu camp. The porters had to carry all the water required up from Karanga Camp. For this reason; there would be no shower water. We had breakfast and started off at around 8.30. The journey started with a steep incline right from the camp in such a slow pace that we had not done a kilometer in an hour. The climb was also very hard on the body because we were moving from an elevation of 3600m – 4600m .The steps were labored and there were many rest stops.
The road snaked through a number of ups and downs with the last uphill being extremely steep.The whole area was scenic; beautiful rocks some stacked one on another almost by design. The summit was to our left hand and every so often we stopped to take photos from various angles. The clouds passing by the summit erected a beautiful background to the summit.
Eventually we got to the last point where our camp was but the walk from the point we finished the climb to our tents took another almost half hour due to the terrain. We took photos at the Barafu sign post, went to the tents, changed and then had lunch.
Finally we were here I thought. Summiting is tomorrow. We were expected to relax in the afternoon then have dinner at 5.The brief in the evening was an elaborate and tense one. After dinner, the three musketeers (as we had started referring to the three guides)-Amiry,Paulo and Majaliwa came. The usual question of how we felt after the days climb was asked and all commented. There was apprehension and anxiety regarding the following days climbs. Most guys had a headache, which I wasn’t sure whether it was as a result of the low oxygen or the combination of all the issues we were going through. Some paracetamol that I had carried came in handy. Everything about this day was tough-a different kind of tough. Even a walk to the toilet required effort. It took a lot of negotiation between mind and body to take that walk to answer a call of nature.
We were all asked how we were feeling and we each had some issue or the other.I however commented that many people had come the far that we had and made it so they couldn’t have been more special than us. We would make it.
The guides took us through the expected dress code. We were to layer with 5 sets of tops. The temperatures were to drop drastically between 2 and 6am. We were to wear tights, a trouser and a wind breaker for the bottom, a balaclava and cover that with the jacket hat for the head, sun glasses because of sunlight, gaiters for dust and stone, heavy gloves with a woolen one inside and two pairs of thick socks. This was like my entire mountain wardrobe worn at a go. We were to carry our water bottles upside down. Water freezes from the top so by carrying the bottle upside down, we would ensure that the water on the drinking end did not freeze; we were to also carry our headlamps. The walk was supposed to be a steep climb for the first 5 hrs to Stella Point then 45min- 1 hr walk to the summit.
After some more chit chat, the Ugandan team of Jackie and Michel decided to depart earlier-at 11 am due to their pace. The rest of us were to leave at 12am and hopefully all be at the summit at the same time to see the sunrise.
At around 11 pm I “lost” my sleep due to the commotion of the Uganda team getting ready to leave. I wanted to go wish them good luck but before I left the tent, they shouted a goodbye and took off.
Barafu camp (4600m)- Uhuru peak (5895m)- Mweka camp (3100m) Day 6
I woke Nick up at around 11.15, dressed in almost all the clothes I had-two thermals, a running jacket, two fleeces a heavy jacket, two pairs of socks, one thick and another even thicker, a woolen pair of gloves and a winter one plus my balaclava and shoes.
The thought of how the lack of mountain climbing hikes was going to impact this day was somewhere at the back of my head. The only edge we were bringing to the party was fitness. Would this do us good in this hour of need? This however had already failed the test when Nick collapsed day 1.
We went to the dining tent, had biscuit and tea, filled up our water bottles, and picked extra biscuits. Paul the porter helped tie the gaiters on my feet, I had a last trip to the toilet and we all left with two guides Paul and Majaliwa. The guides carried Nick and Maureen’s day bag and I carried mine.
As we started walking with our headlamps on we could see what looked like a train of lights all the way up the steep hill that was near the camp.
The beginning of the climb was steep. To reduce the angle of the incline the route kept meandering. It was extremely rocky and in some areas dusty. The walk was painstakingly slow.
The thing about mountain climbing is that people are not trying to complete unlike running. Each group walks one behind the other in ever-slow steps. Each step would probably at best take you half a foot forward. This was the pace that would take us to the top. No wonder they had an estimated 6 hrs for 5 km stretch. The first one-hour we had covered under a kilometer. I had to keep reminding myself to follow instructions. By the 1.5 km mark I started heating up. I removed one fleece. We would have rest breaks every now and then. At around the 2km mark. We started seeing cases of people being rushed at top speed down hill and others kneeling or seated down and vomiting. Amir the guide had said that there were possibilities of getting headaches and nausea as we went up. This mountain sickness was real-and it was not going to leave without company.
During one of the rest stops, Majaliwa and Paulo had a very animated discussion and then Paulo informed us that Majaliwa had to go back down because he had hurt his knee in a fall that morning and was unable to proceed. This was a worrying development. We were now three climbers with only one guide. What was going to happen if any one of us developed a problem? Was the guide to take that person down and hand us over to another group or what would happen? I didn’t ask the question. We would cross that bridge only if we got to it. We carried on.
We eventually caught up with Jackie and Michelle. At some point, Michelle started shivering and I gave her my extra fleece. We kept on walking and eventually left them behind. The temperatures were getting extremely low. My fingers and toes were really freezing. We got to a point about the three-hour mark and rested, had hot tea without milk and proceeded. The air was getting really thin and breathing was labored. Every step required effort. Nick was struggling and after every step that required pushing a bit hard to go over a rock, he would rest for some seconds. Mo was walking like a robot-the layers of clothes making her a bit bulky and stiff. I had been tasked with the duty of being the last watch person behind. Paul the remaining guide kept checking behind every now and then. I was feeling all right though I was also getting bit labored breathing. Mo kept asking how far we had to go to get to Stella Point. Nick kept making some intresting statements..”Ndio sisi hao”…(here we are) etc. He was probably using up his reserve energy though he said it was his way of distracting himself from the fatigue.
The climb looked endless going by the lights of other climbers that we could see way up. There were also lots of lights behind us. We soldiered on. Eventually we could see snow on the mountainside. At some point, Paul switched off our light. Daylight was almost here and with it hopefully Stella Point. But Stella Point seemed to have legs of its own. We were never getting to it. Guys wanted a rest, Paulo asked us to persevere and rest at Stella .20 min later we were still walking. Then eventually, we could see the billboard for Stella Point. After another 10 min of labored walking we eventually came to a flat part of the mountain-Stella point. Nick was exited-we all were. It was however extremely windy and cold. Some guys were taking photo on the board. We decided to take ours on the way back. We settled by a big rock and the Paul gave us some more tea. This hot drink was a welcome relief. We quickly drank it, as it was getting cold very fast.
Looking around one could not help but marvel at Gods wonderful creation. The way the rocks, the ice and clouds existed together. Then the sky was suddenly filled with a bright orange light.
Sunrise was here. I removed my one glove, took my camera out of the bag where it was wrapped in a scarf to keep the cold away and took a number of shots. A beautiful sight in the sky. The wind was however very strong and extremely cold.My fingers started paining seriously. I wrapped the camera again in the scarf and put it back in the bag. We then proceeded on to the peak.Enroute we met with the people who were coming back after summiting with grins on their faces. That of fulfillment of an extremely grueling last 6 days.
The walk to Point Uhuru was the most scenic of all the sights in the mountain. There was snow on the sides of the walkway, glaciers a bit away with some small lakes next to them, beautiful clouds etc. I told Nick we were at the same altitude with some aircraft that fly below 20,000ft. A wonderfully feeling – being above clouds walking and not in a plane.
What was supposed to be a 45 min walk turned out to be a 1 hr walk? Though it had been described as flat, it was actually not. The description was probably only in relationship to the steep climbs we had done earlier. The groups coming from the summit kept encouraging us on.
We eventually got to the peak and found a group taking photos. We let them finish and we got our turn at the billboard. When I stood in front of the board, I was filled with a gush of excitement. My mind played back through the journey, the thoughts of dying, the mental and physical torture we had gone through to get there and made it. The feeling was overwhelming. I took time and said a silent prayer of thanks giving.
We took a number of photos and prepared to leave. We had been told to take minimum time at the peak because people get altitude sickness even at the peak. Michelle got to the peak just as we were leaving and everyone congratulated her. She had really struggled to get up. As we took another group photo with her, Nick said that he was feeling nausea and needed to leave. We delayed a bit and he left. I assumed that he was going behind some rocks to throw up. When we eventually set out, we realized he was not around. Mo said that he had started going down due to the nausea. The guide panicked. Nick was not supposed to be alone. The guide ran ahead as we also started looking out to see if there was a chance he had gone behind any of the rocks (later on Nick was to tell us that when he started feeling nausea, his thoughts were to descend as fast as practical which was what the guides had said we needed to do -to where oxygen was more. He was not going to wait there for life to slowly squeeze out of him).
The guide eventually caught up with him and they waited for us. Somewhere On the route, we met Jackie who was later to tell us that she had to take rests every few steps due to fatigue. She also had to get ambulance help on the way down to expedite the descent. (These were two porters holding her under the shoulders and speeding down the mountain with her feet barely touching the ground).
We proceeded on to Stella point, took some photos which we had skipped on the way up. We then carried on with the descend which was quiet steep. Nick was still sprinting down. We used paths that had loose soil and stones so we were almost skiing down. A journey that had taken 7 hours up we covered in about 3hrs.We got back to camp at around 10:30 had some juice, showered and tried to sleep as we waited for lunch and for Jackie to get back.
I managed to sleep for around 45 minutes. We then had lunch and left at about 2:20 pm heading for Mweika camp 4 hrs away. The walk was uneventful other than the route being very rocky and steep. Everyone toes were in severe pain because of being squashed on the shoes due to the steep incline. A number of us were also having knee pains. We eventually got to Mweika around 6:30.
The place was a bit different from other camps. There were lots of trees and it wasn’t as cold as the other camps. We ‘showered’ had dinner and went to bed around 9PM and or the first time in the week I managed to sleep well. It must have been due to the combination of the deprived sleep that day, the fatigue of walking for 14 hrs, the warmer temperatures and probably the thrill of conquering the mountain. This was the last night in the mountain.
Mweka (3100m) camp – Mweka gate (1640m)
On Saturday we got up at 6 am and there was lots of excitement in the air. This was the last day in the mountain and we were heading home. It felt like the good old days when we were in boarding school on closing day, packing to go home for holidays. The plan was to depart by 7am so that we could get to Nairobi in daylight.
We had breakfast and then put together our tip contributions for the entire team. David who organized the trip had explained to us that this was a very sensitive issue and all amounts given were to be declared to all. We however did not realize how sensitive it was. Our initial assumption was that we would give the full amount and they share equally. This was however not the case and understandably so. The amounts to each group were dependent on the amount of money that each earned. Eventually after a lot of to and fro, we settled on an allocation but agreed to add a bit more towards the porter’s amounts. Like many other things in life the porters who did the most difficult job normally were the lowest on the pecking order but such is life. The tip amount was ‘announced’ and each note shown to all for accountability. The looks on the crews’ eye, especially the porters as the money was counted confirmed the seriousness of this tip business. I was looking out to see if their expressions would be on indicator of whether or not they were satisfied with the amount.
They all clapped once the counting was over but they looked contented of about 8 am we began the long to park exit gate. This was through the rainforest on a steep descent and we had the same problems with our toes. We eventually got to the gate signed out and headed to moshi for lunch there headed to Arusha and drove back to Nairobi safely. I dropped off everyone and went home. It was a great relief to be back home in one piece.I opened the gate and my family came running to me excited to have me back after all the fears they had harboured due to the many harrowing mountain stories they had heard. There were lots of mountain business questions to answer…
As I finished showering feeling accomplished and grateful to God for all, the good old feeling was again slowly sneaking in. The feeling you get when you reach one goal and then you realize that its not the end but just a point on the road where yet another goal beckons in the distance