At the summit – now that all the yahooing, crying, tears, handshakes and hugs are all over we can hear the head guide telling us not to go to sleep and to start to make our way back down. I’m physically and emotionally shattered by this point. All I really want to do is have a feed and lay down for a sleep. Closing my eyes seems soothing and a blessing.
Standing up is hard, however, I just have to do it or never leave. And that wouldn’t be a good look. Plus the paperwork, LOL! So we’re off down the same path we walked up. One foot after another and those boots didn’t lose weight, they seemed to gain it. The sun is up and I’m keen for breakfast. Knowing there are no cafes up here you have to move!
Back to lifting my feet and instantly judging the ground. You definitely don’t want a broken or sprained ankle at this altitude! Time was slow enough going up the night earlier, now that the sun is up my eyes are stinging and want to close. My guide grabs me and says we have to go. Over rocks, around rocks, along narrow tracks where you need to bend over to slide between boulders. And, finally, we get to the top of the scree. My guide tells me it’s like skiing. Cool. I’ve never been skiing before! This’ll be fun. I worked out to take big steps. At times you slide into the scree up to your knees, then you throw the back leg forward and do it all over again. Oh, and don’t forget to listen out for someone yelling out “rock”. Time to stop, look and stand aside as it rolls past you. An interesting sight for a person who can see, and an interesting sound for me. The air is extremely dry and your mouth dries out really quickly! I’m thankful for my gaters as they help to keep the scree out of our boots.
On arrival, the hut at Camp Kibo is a lovely sight, even though I can’t see it. Unfortunately, we’re asked to get our gear packed, go to the toilet if you have to, have a drink of water, and prepare to move on. There are lots of tired and excited voices around all looking forward to a feed and sleep but that’s not till we get to the Horombo Hutts, 3700m above sea level.
As the group leaves Camp Kibo the first snow of winter begins. Such a lovely sight for the sighted persons to see, especially for those who haven’t been in snow before. I can hear the snow hitting my rain jacket. A very settling sound. No trees, no shrubs, no grass. Just rocks, dirt, snow and a number of tired, excited trekkers.
That afternoon we make it back to the Horombo Huts and are allocated cabins for the night. With my guide I find mine and get inside to unpack and pack the days clothing. Sit on my bed, actually more like fall onto my bed, which is on the floor. Another trekker askes if he can sit beside me. “Mate, I don’t care where you sit, just not on me, I’m shattered!” He says that he’s no better. That was a bloody long day!!!
There’s dinner and a regroup that night. The next morning the alarm is set for 6:30am. Bottles are left outside for the porters to fill for us. Down to the food hall for breakfast where there is no milo and the porridge is very watery. Just add salt to flavour! Then we’re off again. The track hasn’t changed except for the grasses, shrubs and foliage. We’re beginning to hear birds again and a bird similar to a crow. Around lunchtime, we stop at an area with timber picnic tables and benches. We are presented with, I think, pieces of chicken and what felt like french toast. Kind of rubbery, but tasty. You’re really looking forward to a cafe to order something you can recognise!
We made it back to the 2700m above sea level Mandara huts. Another welcome sight. We’re given the opportunity to relax for the afternoon and explore to the near lookout at Maundi crater over lookingKenya and Northern Tanzania. You can see a very long way.
The next day, we’re off to the gate this time back the way we came. Taller trees are gathering around us, more birds and monkeys in the trees. Before leaving the Mandara Huts we are advised that near the gate leading out we may have children on the track about 5 or 6 years old selling chocolates. We have been given stricked instructions not to look them in the eye. To look straight forward and ignore them. With money in my pocket that was difficult and I did shed a tear. “Chocolate for a dollar”, “Chocolate for a dollar” is what they are saying. That’s their living.
Well, we’ve made it out and wait for the trek leader to sign us out of the National Park. We’re loaded into the bus to take us back to the resort with the eight-foot fence and barbed wire to have a shower, change and then we can go into Moshi to buy a souvenir. Now that’s an experience! I’ll tell you about it next blog.
The day finds us still at the Horombo Huts. As per usual, the alarm is set at 7 am. Around this time of the morning, you are asked to leave your water bottles out on the front step of the hut for the porters to refill for you. You then are able to collect them at the food hall. I had a nervous nights sleep and ensured I drank my water through the night. At that altitude at night, there’s only the silence of the night if you need to go outside.
A daily task is repacking your backpack. Rolling up the camping mattress and your sleeping bag. This I didn’t find a chore and rather enjoyed the challenge of making it fit! The only silly thing I did was to keep putting the sleeping bag at the bottom of the backpack, which meant making a mess each time I pulled the darn thing out. A lesson is learned eventually! A mate who came along on the trek had trouble every morning. He was sighted and just couldn’t pack the pack so everything fitted. I’d usually be sitting there hearing him struggle and complaining how he couldn’t find something.
Breakfast each morning consisted of porridge, I think! with tea, coffee or Milo, whichever you chose. If anything runs out that’s it. Some people just couldn’t grasp that as our team run out of Milo the last morning of the trek and they complained. Their fault!
By this day, the consistency of the porridge was getting more and more watered down and I think by this point there was more water and salt added than substance. There may have been toast too… I can’t quite remember now!
Over breakfast, we are given the brief for the day’s events – it’s walking from here to the Kibu Hut which is 4700 m above sea level. At Kibu hut we are to find a bunk and rest for a while till all of the climbers have arrived, then dinner and introductions to the porters who will be summitting with us. Due to my sight impairment, I tune in to the sounds of boots on the floor, people’s excited chatter, nervous conversation and their anticipation of the day for which we are about to embark!
At Kibu hut we snack on biscuits and tea till the food is presented. Right after dinner we are provided with instructions as to what to expect and what to do in case you feel ill. If you get a headache, keep moving. If you throw up, do it and keep moving. It’s only altitude sickness. Keep breathing. Be controlled and breathe deeply and drink plenty of water. Carry an extra litre if possible.
Temperatures are expected to be below zero and the water in backpacks may freeze. If you use a water bag and hose you’re advised to blow the water back into the bag when you’ve had a drink. This saves the water from freezing in the tube.
We’re encouraged to be out by 11:30pm ready to go. Our major backpacks stay at the hut and we only take our day packs. Not too long into the walk, we hit the scree. Man, this shit is like walking up a sand dune with dry soft sand. Three steps up and one step sliding back. The leader is up front and we are encouraged to follow the trail. Occasionally you’ll hear “rock”. Which means a rock has been dislodged from the trail and rolling down the track we are walking. It’s quite an experience to dodge solid soccer balls. They don’t do your shins much good! Looking to my right I have enough sight to see a full moon rising. Massively huge and bright as a button. I treasured each moment I could see it. This also gave me the opportunity to judge the time of night.
The scree just didn’t seem to stop. It was relentless and tiring. Occasionally we heard “No sitting down. Keep walking and keep breathing deeply” Also, “Do not go to sleep at this altitude as you won’t be going home the conventional way. You’ll die.”
Just quietly, I think they were worried about paperwork…
Finally, we get past the scree and hit hard ground. Although this sounds like a blessing, your legs are burning from the scree. There are more rocks and boulders to move around, more instructions as I can’t see what is coming. My boots feel so much heavier than the day before and our emotions are beginning to get messed up. Physically you’re knackered, psychologically you feel like telling everyone to get stuffed and walk out! But if you do that you’re out the gate and waiting for everyone else! Your head is heavy and feels difficult to hold up. You’re tired and really want to sleep. Hungry, your stomach is churning and I began to think “Why?!”
Bloody obstacles everywhere. Then it’s time for a rest. We’ve made it to Gillman’s Point. Finally, some time to sit and gather yourself. The sky has brightened up by this time and you begin to appreciate what you’ve achieved to get to this point. I can hear the chatter of the other climbers but I don’t want to talk with anyone. All of a sudden I get a slap on the back with a “Congratulations, you’ve made it to Gillman’s Point, 5685 m above sea level. Here is a cuppa tea.” SERIOUS!!! A beautiful cuppa tea in a glass cup heavily sweetened with honey. By God it was nice! No firewood, no running water, no stove, no shack to store all this! The porters carried this all up here and they carry it back.
Gillman’s Point represents one of our targets. If you chose to go back you can. A young man on our team from South Africa chose to go back as this is the biggest thing he had ever done in his life, and it still wouldn’t be recognised by his family. He’s been blind from birth and his parents were embarrassed by him living, but that’s another story.
With the cuppa finished it’s time to move on. It’s a struggle to stand as you are so sore all over. But I know I have to keep going. Although the climb is only about another 200 meters straight up, it’s roughly a 1.5 km walk from here to the summit. When you’re emotional, mentally and physically stuffed and, sleep deprived this seems so hard. Oxygen levels at this latitude are only about 50% of what you’re breathing right now near sea level.
The terrain is marginally different up here. The path isn’t so flat with large boulders to navigate around and traverse. However, once you reach the top IT’S WORTH IT! You’re crying, your colleagues are crying. People you didn’t get on with leading up to the climb are crying. Everyone is hugging, shaking hands, back-slapping and congratulating each other. There’s no flat ground up here, just rock, boulders and more rocks. And, the head guide calling out “No sleeping” and, “we have to leave.” They don’t like people to hang around too long up there because of the low oxygen.
There’s no escalator, no concrete stairs, no lift, no cafe with hot coffee and toasties. Just the fact you have to go back! Next time – the way back. Till then, keep breathing and enjoy life!
This day finds us still at the Horombo Huts at 3700 m above sea level. It’s an acclimatization day. We are asked to relax and take in the fresh air, allowing our body time to adjust to the altitude, mind you the alarm is still set for 7am to have breakfast! We’re given the option, which I took, to walk to Mawenzi Ridge and Zebra Rock at a height of 4100 m above sea level.
On arrival, those with sight admired the scenery. The South African trekkers had the opportunity, if they choose, to climb the rock and have photos taken. As this rock is considered sacred to the local people, I chose to respect the Tanzanian people and not climb.
We mulled around for about 20 minutes to half an hour then made a slow walk back to the Horombo Huts for lunch. There are plenty of great scenic views from this altitude to admire. The high altitude makes itself felt in the thin, low oxygen air that you breathe and we’re reminded to prepare for the trek on the following day which is the big one! You’re suggested to drink an extra liter of water throughout the day and also another through the night as dehydration is a contributor to altitude sickness.
The afternoon passed slowly and a fellow sighted trekker told us of a climber from a different group who was experiencing altitude sickness and had to be evacuated by the local ambulance. This consisted of a steel bed-frame with two handles at each end. The trekker was wrapped in their sleeping bag and strapped down. Under the bed frame was the rear end of a motorcycle suspension and wheel. With a porter at each end they then ran back down the track to the gate, where hopefully, an actual ambulance was waiting. No machinery up there. Everything is carried in and everything is carried out!
From there we just relaxed, waiting for dinner and contemplating what’s coming. The next day. This is the big one!
The walk to the summit will be in the next update.
If this is your first time reading these posts I’ll let you know I’m blind.
Leaving the Mandara Huts, 2700m ASL (above sea level), this day took us to the Horombo Huts, 3700m ASL. This day was extreme for me. I’m not sure why but it just seemed to be never-ending. The path was rougher with larger rocks on the path to navigate (as mentioned previously the path is not concrete or smooth) added to this were timber bridges, gutters, rocks and the fact I put on the wrong clothing.
The occasional light rain showers didn’t help! The altitude started to play a role and with the little sight I had it all seemed to be very bleak. Thinking back – I may have been dehydrated. Keep in mind that I was trying to stay in arms-reach of my guide, therefore holding my arm up to keep in contact while we were walking. Believe me – this gets painful after several hours! Try holding your arm out in front of you in the one position for an hour, walking, and see how you go. Added to that was the concentration of traversing the gutters and rocks of all sizes and shapes!
From our guides, I’m told of what the terrain looks like around us – valleys and more shrubs, the plant life mostly low ground cover. There was apparently a bird similar to a crow at the Horombo camp. Only one though. I really don’t remember hearing any other bird life up there!
I distinctly remember the feeling of humidity possibly because we were walking through a cloud and lots of greenery. Note to self for next expedition; Don’t wear the thermal undershirt too early. Just makes the job harder!
We were able to fill our water bottles in streams on the way, always asking the porters which were safe to drink as some are poison to us due to vegetation rot tainting the water. Arriving at Horombo Huts it was possible to see the summit of Kilimanjaro, or, Kibo Summit as it is known in Tanzania. We were encouraged to drink an extra litre of water through the night preparing for the major walk to come just two nights away.
I will be back with the next days walk in the New Year. Please have a most lovely Christmas and New Year period.
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Source of probiotics
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