Part five and Day four of a bloody long walk
This is it! The big one!
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!