Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sun 19th Sept - Day 6 Last Day! Horombo hut (3720m) to Marangu Gate (1980m)

Early start today - we have about 27k to go to get to Marangu gate - its another absolutely stunning day and we're all up and about and feeling really good
Guess what?

I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro!!!!

How cool is that!

Its amazing what 13 hours of sleep and a big fat breakfast can do to for your perspective on life! :-)

I'm amazed that I've recovered so well - my calves and legs are not sore at all - looks like the steps really did help after all. Still coughing up goo, but I don't care about that now - lets go!

The scenery is beautiful - its lush alpine moorland as we head down hill and catch our last glimpse of Kilimanjaro


Last view of Kili

 We are now on the Marangu route also known as the 'coca cola' route because the trail is well laid out, well maintained and the campsites all have huts with shops where of course you can buy - you guessed it - coca cola! 
After a few hours of having the route to ourselves we start seeing groups heading towards Kili, it amuses us that they're so clean and bright and sparkly and soo naive - just like we were only 2 days previously - now we're in a different space, part of a different club and right about now we're all feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. We look like we've been through hell -  our boots are all scuffed, clothes and packs are totally filthy and covered in dust, our fingernails are black and we're wearing grins as wide as the Cheshire cats. 
As we descend it begins to get hotter and more humid and shortly before lunch we enter into some beautiful cloud forest and suddenly it gets alot cooler and misty, theres wispy curtains of mosses dangling from the dense forest

Lunch is at the Mandara huts - essentially today we are doing 2 days worth of the Marangu route in one go which is why its such a long day.We don't stop long for lunch, I think we're all keen to just get to the end now - the porters want to go home to their families, we want to get back to the hotel for a well earned shower, so when we came across a sign that said 1km to Marangu gate I think we pretty much ran that last bit but it still seemed to be the longest 1km ever!

At Marangu gate we have to sign a register and then we get given our certificates - handily there is a shop at the gate which does laminating and it sells beer which everyone makes a beeline for!
We're not quite sure what is supposed to happen next, at some point we're supposed to give out tips to the porters and guides, but we're not really sure what the protocol is....Vincent isn't terribly forthcoming about what we're supposed to do so we decide that we're going to have our photos taken at the gate with our certificates and then we'll get a group photo of all our porters before handing out the tips. The trouble I somehow lost $120USD and Ian didn't bring any money so we just about had enough to cover all the porters, the cook and Juma and Mike but we had to explain to Vincent that he would get his tip when he came to the hotel to collect the kits bags and equipment.
Vincent also then decided to tell us that we had to give more money to the kitchen helpers than they guys who just carried stuff - well how do we know who did what job?
oh dear, it all started to go a bit pear shaped - Vincent translated that we didn't have any money for the porters, who quite understandably got a bit upset. After much confusion, we eventually just showed everybody the money which helped and then we finally managed to get Vincent to call each porter out 1 by 1 and we handed them each their tips. Ian then said a few words on behalf of all of us then we loaded up the kits bags for the last time and headed back to the hotel, back to normality and the end of what has been a wonderful trip.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fri17th / Sat 18th Sept - Day 5 The Ascent..

This is what the itinerary said about today...

(Summit Attempt) Kibo hut (4700m) - Uhuru Peak (5895m) - Horombo hut (3720m)
Hiking time: 8h to Uhuru, 6h to Horombo
Habitat: Stone scree / ice-cap summit
Distance: Approximately 6 kms ascent, 21 kms descent
You will rise around 23h30, and after some tea and biscuits you shuffle off into the night. This is where the going really gets tough. The first section of the trail consists of a rocky path to the Hans Meyer Cave (5150m), also a good resting spot. The path then zigzags up to Gillman's point (5 681m), which is located on the crater rim. This section is very steep with a lot of stone scree, requiring a great physical and mental effort. This is probably the most demanding section of the entire route. Do the Kili shuffle and move slowly. From Gillman's Point you will normally encounter snow all the way up to Uhuru peak (5895m), the highest point in Africa. Total exhilaration and satisfaction - you made it. Weather conditions on the summit will determine how long you can spend, taking photographs, before the 3-hour descent back to Kibo hut. After a short rest you gather all your gear for the ascent and head down to Horombo hut (3 hours) where you will overnight. The return to Horombo hut will seem surprisingly fast compared to the ascent. The total time spent walking on this day is around 14 hours, so be prepared for a very tough day.

Here's how it all panned out:

Ok its 11pm and we've just been woken up to get ourselves ready for the climb, we set off at midnight. We had our pre ascent tea at 5pm yesterday - I made a point of eating as much as I possibly could cos I dont know when we're going to get fed again! So I've had about 3 cups of tea with lots of sugar and cook has made me some fried plantain so lots of honey on that and we've got a small snack pack with a juice drink, an apple, and some chocolate yay! I dont normally like chocolate at sea level - hardly ever touch the stuff, even the smell of it makes me heave...but up here...can't get enough of the stuff!

The Kibo huts area is a hive of activity all the groups are preparing for their ascents as well - its quite odd to be surrounded by so much activity as in the lead up we're virtually had the whole route to ourselves. Vincent is keen to get going at midnight on the dot - I think he's quite concerned that the slower members of the group are not going to make it to the top in a reasonable time.

My pack seems ridiculously heavy can't work out why - I've got 4 litres of water, I've got puffy down jacket, windproof pants, an extra beanie, an extra pair of socks and gloves and some mixed fruit and nuts to eat - thats about it otherwise I think I'm wearing every other item of clothing I've brought - its bitterly cold.

There's a nervous tension in the air and anticipation, I think we all just want to get started.

At midnight we set off Ian and Louise vote me to go up front behind Vincent - apparently I'm the strongest! Am really not feeling terribly strong or confident right now, my cough has come back with a vengeance and I'm coughing up green goo - I'm really worried that breathing this freezing air is going to cause it to turn to bronchitis or worse - pneumonia. I've got 2 balaclava's on and am trying to breathe through my nose so at least there's a slight chance the air will be a bit warmer before it reaches my lungs. All I can see in front of me in my torchlight is Vincents heels and he's going even slower than ever, which is good because its quite steep and I'm definitely beginning to struggle with my breathing. Looking down the mountain there is a line of tiny white dots which is quite cool - everyone has their head torch

Why is my pack so heavy? I'm having a sip of water every 50 steps or so - am trying to keep my mind occupied because I'm really starting to get in a tizzy about my breathing - this cough is sapping my energy badly and my throat is already sore - I've no idea how long we've been going, it seems like ages all I can see is Vincents heels, its very monotonous - step, breathe, step, breathe, step, breathe - in my own little bubble totally focussed on just putting one foot in front of the other - the trail is loose scree that is packed down hard so the grip is really good its very steep though - i'm hoping that all the stair work will help my calves cope!

After another eternity all of a sudden out of nowhere I start to panic - I'm totally overwhelmed by a wave of fear that I'm going to get pneumonia and die, I can't breathe and I have a massive coughing fit and I start to cry - I have to stop and step off the trail and lean on my trek pole to hold myself up - if I sit down now I dont know if I'll get up again...what is going on?

The rest of the group also stops and waits until I calm myself down which I eventually manage to do - that was really freaky, I've never had a panic attack before...scary stuff - unfortunately I think i've freaked out the rest of the group as well, including the guidesl - I think they saw me as one of the strongest and now they're wondering if they can make it.

So we set off again, this time I stay behind Ian and Louise and am going a little slower than them - our group is starting to straggle, Heather is next behind me with Juma, Fritz is further back with Lucas who is a guide for the night and last is Sarah with Mike.

After yet another eternity, Louise suddenly stops - she is feeling nauseous and faint - and she is now panicking! Its altitude sickness which she hasn't experienced before so we talk her through it and wait until she feels she can go on.

We haven't even got to the rest stop yet and it feels like we've been walking for about 5 hours! This is sooo much harder than I expected.

Eventually we get to the Hans Meyer cave - bit of a grand sounding name for what is really just a slight rock overhang! I just collapse onto the nearest rock - am absolutely knackered and we're not even half way to Gilmans Point - bloody hell!

I scoff down some trail mix and quickly add another fleece and my puffy down jacket - its really freezing and we're just not going fast enough to generate any heat - not that we can go any faster, its just too steep and there is not enough oxygen.

We wait to see if the rest of the group arrive, but after about 5 minutes we tell Vincent that we want to get going - its just too cold to stay sitting there.

The terrain also starts to change, the scree that was hard packed is now becoming much deeper and more loose - its really slippery - for every step we take forward we slide half of it backwards! this is a complete nightmare - I thought it was hard already, now its just got a whole world worse! And we've only been going 2 hours...

step, slide, step, slide, cough up goo, spit...step, slide, step, slide, cough up goo, spit

...step, slide, step, slide, cough up goo, spit..and so it goes on...and on...and on.

I'm really beginning to struggle - I have no energy or strength in my legs, my calves are on fire because of the steepness and the constant sliding, the trail is zig zagging and I have to stop at every corner to rest. Louise is not faring much better she's just one zig ahead of me and Ian and Vincent are a zig zag ahead of Louise. Ian doesn't seem to be having any trouble at all, he's just found the zone.

This is where mental strength really comes into its own - I'm having arguments with myself whether this is worth it - half of me just wants to throw in the towel and head back down, but I can't let myself do that - I've come all this way and put in so much effort, I know that if I did quit I'd hate myself, I'd feel like a total failure - I'm sure this is all altitude related but this is all the shit that is going on in my head.

At one point I look behind me - there is still the string of lights all the way down the mountain - but the gaps between them have got much larger. There are also little dots zig zagging vertically above me for what appears to be a very long way - I wish I hadn't looked, its very discouraging knowing that I've still got all the way to go.

And to add insult to injury we now have to clamber up boulders - could this get any worse? how can I do this - I haven't got the energy, my legs are numb, I literally have to haul myself up with my arms on some occasions.

Now I'm getting angry - what the fuck is the point of this? Are we EVER going to get to the top?

Its starting to get light - I can see the crater rim outlined against the slightly less black sky - I turn round and notice that there is an orange stripe on the horizon - the sun is coming up - we must be close to Gilmans point now.

Just when I'm seriously finished with this - I've totally had enough - I'm going back down - one last boulder and I fall into Gilmans Point! I made it this far and just before sunrise...

and then I have another panic attack and start to hyperventilate - I'm in a total state of fear and overwhelm - I seriously can't breathe now so I panic even more and again I start to cry - I can't believe this is happening to me, what is going on? I'm a complete mess emotionally and physically - it wasn't supposed to be like this!

Sunrise Gilmans Point

Me, Gilmans Point

Louise, Gilmans Point

After I calmed myself down again, had my juice drink and a bite of chocolate, Vincent wanted to know if we felt strong enough to go on to the summit - Ian was really keen and still didn't seem to be suffering any effects of altitude. I was unsure if I could make it but Vincent explained that it should only take 1 1/2 hours to get to the peak and it there was no more scree as we would be walking around the crater rim. We also only had another 200m of altitude to gain which in the light of what we'd just come up was nothing. Louise was also hesitant, but after a discussion we felt that we could go on which I think Vincent was quite relieved at becuase if myself and Louise had decided not to go on, we would all either have to wait till Juma arrived with Heather so Vincent could go on and Juma could take me and Louise back down or we would all have to go back down and Ian wouldn't get the chance to get to the top either.

In the event it was just too bloody cold to sit and wait for the next person in our group to arrive - keeping moving was the only way to stay warm.

Thankfully there was no more scree, the trail was solid and rocky and relatively flat - what a relief. However we were going so slowly - Vincent let Ian go on ahead because he was clearly doing pretty well. Lousie and myself would stop every few steps to rest and catch our breathe - progress was painfully slow.

Again it seemed like we'd never get there - every time we went round a rock outcrop or got to the top of an uphill section there just seemed to be more trail - people were coming past us on their way back down and kept saying 'its not far now' but how far is not far?!!

By now the sun was fully up and I have to admit that even through my complete exhaustion its absolutely stunning at the top - we were so far above the clouds which formed a fluffy sea way down below us as far as the eye could see.

Going round the crater rim, crawling our way to the top was surreal - physically I was completely numb - on total autopilot - step, cough, step cough, stop to rest repeat - numb! but my mind was totally alive - many eons ago I did a geography degree and for some bizarre reason it came flooding back to me - I noticed the angularity of the rocks we were walking on caused by freeze/thaw action, I noticed the terrible state of the glaciers - boy are they in decay or what - they really are not going to be around much longer! I noticed the layers in the glaciers of good snow fall years, or bad snowfall years, I noticed layers of pure blue ice and whispy thin layers of black - caused by what I don't know. I noticed how arid it was, how the wind and sun combined to suck the slightest hint of moisture out of the ground - there was no vegetation of any description, not even lichen! It was a total moonscape.

At some point during this bizarre out of body experience, Heather caught us up - she was doing really well too, fresh as a daisy! she stayed with Louise and myself which was really sweet and eventually we all got to the top together - at last - 3 HOURS after getting to Gilman's Point we finally made it to the top. The whole Gilmans Point - Peak return leg is supposed to take 3 hours, not just getting to the peak!
Now I can look back on the experience and feel very proud of myself, but at the time I just didn't know what to do - I was so out of it that I couldn't function and just stood there looking at the sign not quite believing that it was real - and then all of a sudden Vincent and Juma came up and gave me a big hug - I think that was the most surreal bit of it as for the whole trip they'd been a bit aloof

WooHoo! Did It. Not letting go - will fall over

Heather, Me, Louise

We didn't stay very long, probably no more than about 10minutes, we'd taken such a long time to get there that Vincent and Juma were keen to get us back down - we still had to pack up our tents at the Kibo Huts and we had to be out of there by 12 noon so new groups could set up camp. It was 8:30 when we reached the top and it normally takes 3 hours to get down to Kibo - we were cutting it fine!
Mind you now were on the downhill section I suddenly got another burst of energy and if my legs were capable of it I think I would have run back to Gilmans Point!
We made it back to Gilmans Point in about an hour, then once we'd navigated down the boulder section we were back onto the scree - this time however I was excited to be on the scree, because as Louise had been telling us, we could 'ski' down it - because it was so loose, each time you took a step it you slid. On the way up thats what was so tough, but on the way down...
Woohoo!!!! Screeing!
It was like skiing in deep powder snow - just get the left right swinging movement going and it was fantastic - I literally flew down the mountain - made it back to Kibo huts in 2 1/2 hours in total! Even had time for a quick video and a nap!

here's the raw take on climbing Mt Kilimanjaro....

By the time I get back to Kibo huts its about 11am - I'm tired and hungry - we haven't eaten anything since 5pm yesterday!!! and get this - there's no lunch either!! WTF!!!
We have to walk god knows how much further to the Horombo huts and no food? the snack we were given is long gone and the climb was so bloody hard that I am completely running on empty.
I didn't get much of a nap because we had to pack up and leave.
Leaving Kibo was quite cool - we were all cocky cos we'd done it and knew exactly what the new groups were letting themselves in for, but we all gave out friendly advice -get some rest, eat a big meal, drink plenty of water - but we didn't let on just how frigging hard it is - they'd discover that soon enough!

After about 1/2 hour, I couldn't keep up with Vincent, Ian and Louise and dropped back to go my own pace and soon I was practically sleep walking - I'd literally look ahead of me to see if there were any obstacles and then shut my eyes for about 10 paces. Juma took my pack off me because I was going so slowly and was weaving about like a drunk. Even though the trail was well laid out, well maintained and downhill, I just couldn't go any faster...I had nothing left, I couldn't even think...
and we walked for hours! 5 hours it took me to get to Horombo...where I literally collapsed into my tent and was instantly asleep.

The Itinerary lied...17 hours of the most physically and mentally demanding day I've ever faced - 'tough' just doesn't begin to cover it! I was so out of it by the end of the day, I didn't feel anything - I didn't feel exhilarated or satisfied - I was just numb, incapable of processing the the entire experience.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fri 17th Sept - Day 4 - Mawenzi Tarn camp (4330m) - Kibo hut (4700m)

Ok this is where it gets serious - today we head to Kibo huts - base camp for the ascent. I slept really well, my headache has gone I'm not getting breathless, no nausea, I'm eating like a horse in general it looks like I'm coping with the altitude really well. Still got this stupid cough but otherwise I'm feeling pretty much back to normal.

So after brekky we head out of the corrie away from Mwenzi peak and now directly towards the main peak of kili.

 This is nice easy walking, downhill to start with then across the saddle which has a very gentle incline for the most part. There is virtually no vegetation out on the saddle - its bone dry and by about 9am its actually quite hot with the sun baking the rocks and it reflects up from the ground at us - there's even a heat haze! The wind is constant and blows up dust devils across the moonscape.
 There's not much to see really - Kili is a constant presence that dominates the whole landscape, reminding us what we've got to do tonight - its quite strange to think that we'll be setting off in darkness to climb it. The route up the mountain is so clear and from down on the saddle it looks ridiculously steep - the top bit looks almost vertical!

About 1/2 way across the saddle we come across the site of a plane crash - its the wreckage of a small sightseeing plane and unfortunately 6 people died. It was 3 years ago, but because its such a desert and is so dry, the wreckage has not deteriorated - its looks like it only happened a few weeks ago

As the morning wears on it gradually starts getting more cloudy, we've noticed that in general early in the mornign the cloud base is way down on the plains and we start off the day in brilliant sunshine. Then as the plains warm up the cloud base lifts and rises up and gradually starts reaching the altitude we are at from about 10am onwards. So as the morning wears on it starts to get less sunny, cooler and more windy. Across the saddle there is no shelter so by about 11:30 its really getting quite cold and because we're walking so slowly I'm not generating much body heat and for the first time I have to break out the gloves and goretex jacket and add my fleece beanie.
For some reason Vincent doesn't seem to want to stop for lunch, so I'm also getting really hungry - mind you to stop and just sit in the open would probably not be a good idea, but it would be good to stop and eat something!
We eventually stop about 1:30 at the only rocks in sight - its got really cold by now and has even started to snow! not nice fluffy snow, its to dry for that, but small sharp ice ball type snow - the sort that really stings when it hits you. Its actually not very pleasant so we all stuff our lunch down as quickly as possible - my hands are absolutely frozen by the time I've finished and I'm really cold so in about 10 minutes all of us are keen to move on to the Kibo huts so we can get to our tents and get some rest. 

About an hour later we arrive at the Kibo huts, and again our porters have managed to secure front posy and the most sheltered spot for the dinner tent :-) 
Its really busy, there are tents everywhere - this is the main base camp that all groups congregate at before making summit attempts. For the 1st time on the trip we don't have the place to ourselves. 

There is a nervous tension in the air - all the guides and porters know what to expect, they've seen it so many times before - Vincent reckons he's been up Kili at least 50 times! 
None of us tourists have a clue what to expect and we've been advised to rest as much as possible and try to get some sleep, before tea at 5, but there are people standing around talking - mostly guys being all bravado and macho about how they're going to cruise up the hill. Funny thing is its usually the people who are most full of themselves who come, I just potter up to the start of the ascent route - it looks even steeper than ever when you're right up close. And theres a handy sign telling us that its at least 5 hours uphill to Gilmans Point. Am filled with apprehension about this, its snowing even harder now and has got really cold. Am not looking forward to heading off at midnight. 

Thur 16th Sept Day 3 - Kikelewa Cave (3600) - Mawenzi Tarn camp (4330m)

Its another lovely clear morning with a beautiful sunrise - down below us looking across the Tanzanian plains all you can see is a sea of cloud - you know when you look out of a plane and its all white and looks soft and fluffy below? its like that. really cool.

We're all getting really good at the morning packing routine - as soon as Lucas comes round with the morning tea its all a bit of a mad flurry to get everything into the kit bags before brekky at 7. Vincent likes us to be packed before brekky because it means our tent porters can get a really good start and get to the next camp site before any of the other groups - so far this seems to be working well as we always seem to get the flattest pitches :-) Maybe thats why I'm feeling so much better - after 2 days of good hearty stodgy trek food and good sleep I'm definitely feeling more normal. I've still got the nasty gungy cough, but I think its freeing up a little - I hope so, its only 2 days now until the ascent.

I'm a bit surprised that I haven't felt any symptoms of altitude yet, no headache, no nausea, no breathlessness - maybe its because I'm taking diamox? mind you nobody else appears to be showing any symptoms either and the only other person taking diamox is Heather. It's also getting noticeably colder at night and in the mornings now - I haven't had to stick my feet out of the sleeping bag to cool down and sitting at tea or brekky I need about 4 layers to stay comfortably warm

Today is a short day, only 3-4 hours, but its going to be very steep and rocky, which will test out boots and heels. I've decided to stick to just one pair of thin socks - it hasn't been cold during the days so there hasn't been any need to double up yet and since switching back to 1 pair of socks after lunch yesterday my boots haven't been rubbing so my heels haven't come up with blisters which is another good thing.

  As we leave camp we start heading steadily upwards, we're heading up through moorland vegetation and its turning into another warm sunny day. I'm really liking being in a small group - we seem to get out of the camps before any other group and again we have the trail to ourselves. Its so peaceful and quiet, with just the sound of the wind and our boots - I'm quite surprised that there doesn't seem to be much animal or bird life. There certainly isn't any song birds up here. Pretty soon the vegetation starts to thin out and its getting more and more scrubby and more barren and rocky and by the time we stop for group catch up its pretty much looking like a moonscape with the odd stunted bush or clump of grass clinging onto life in any sheltered spot out of the wind. Its very arid here, the wind is constant and just sucks out any moisture in the air or ground.

By now the group is pretty much shaking itself out into an order - its usually me, Ian and Louise up front on Vincents heels, then some way back is generally Fritz - I think he's beginning to find it quite tough and is not really eating well enough to keep up his strength - could be a symptom of altitude sickness, but he says not. Myself, Ian and Lousie are all eating anything and everything that gets put on the table and then we have 2nds or 3rds! lack of appetite is a symptom of altitude sickness so looks like the 3 of us are doing just fine! :-)
After Fritz generally comes Heather, she just ambles along at her own speed accompanied by Juma, then lastly is Sarah with 'Mike' (his name is Lucas, but for some reason we all call him Mike!)

Up till now the trail has steadily been leading towards Kili and its looming bigger and bigger each day, today however, after the rest stop we start to head away from Kili towards the jagged spikes of Mwenzi peak - it looks very stark and bleak but quite stunning. Today we'll be camping by a tarn in the bottom of the corrie.

We arrive into camp about 12:30 - not all of the tents have arrived yet, mine included so I amble around taking a few photos. There are lots of white necked Ravens at this site - apparently they are quite a nuisance and very aggressive. We've been told to make sure our tents are closed at all times as they will go into the tents and take things!
  My tent turns up after about 1/2 hour, so I go and get my sleeping bag laid out and stuff before lunch.

 After lunch we have a short 'optional' (not really..) acclimatization walk in preparation for tomorrow. We're currently at 4300m and the acclimatization walk will take us up to 4500m - the theory is that by going up an extra few 100m we will then be sleeping at a lower altitude which will help our bodies adjust to the altitude. Having said that, we'll only be spending about 10mins at that altitude so I really don't think its going to be very effective.

For the acclimatization walk we head up the side of the corrie going even more slowly than ever - its very steep and we're on scree so our footing is quite slippery - our calves are getting a very good workout. Apparently the terrain is similar to what we'll experience on the climb itself, which is not encouraging - if we have to be climbing up scree its going to be very tough. By the time we get to the top of the climb I am a bit breathless and my cough is worse, I also have a slight headache so it looks like I'm getting the 1st symptoms of altitude. I'll have to make sure I drink lots of water this afternoon - I've got through about 3 litres so far, but 4 is recommended.
At the top of the corrie, we have a fantastic view of Kili - we can really see the route up from Kibo huts

its starting to look very daunting, so I'm a little bit apprehensive right now.

This afternoon is rest as much as possible, then tomorrow is about 6 hours across the saddle - the bleak moonscape that is in these pictures. We only go up about 400m in altitude so that should be relatively easy, but we're now at the pointy end of the trip and with the beginnings of altitude effects its going to be even more important to take it very slowly and gently and try not to over exert myself.